In The Field

On board the Amundsen: Be flexible!

June 7, 2008

“On an expedition like this there’s always a plan A, B, C for what to do,” chief scientist Dave Barber said at the science meeting yesterday. These little meetings are being held every evening in the officer’s lounge to dicuss plans for the next days, lab time allocation, the ship’s course, and the like. “But sometimes you need to go along with plan I, J or K, ” he added, reminding everybody that field work in the Arctic doesn’t always go smoothly.

What had happened? Well, the condition of the ice had pretty much spoiled yesterday’s programme. When at around 7 pm we got to the spot of a former ice camp where a number of instruments had been deployed just three days ago, and where the teams (and I) were supposed to set out onto the ice to collect data and install new instruments, we saw that the ice had since broken in slabs separated by gurgling water. The only instrument still in sight was a meteorological measurement tower drifting on an ice floe, precariously close to a large pool of open water. This was not the spot where you would like to walk out onto the ice.


Dave had the skippy boat put to sea to recover the station. In the meantime, the helicopter hasd set ut in search of the other missing equipment. It turned out that most of the stuff, sediment traps and the like, had drifted some two and a half miles west. Everything was eventually found and recovered.

At first I was a little disappointed that I had to stay on board. But well, the little rescue episode, helicopter and all, seemed also quite dramatic. (Be assured that not even on an icebreaker exciting things happen every hour. The first thing really you have to learn here is that you’ve always got to wait) .

But then Dave said that such things happen all the time. The really remarkable thing about it was that all equipent was recovered. Normally, when the ice breaks up, pieces of equipment will just fall into the ocean and get lost.

Now, the problem is that the ice edge has become really quite weak. The strong wind in the last few days has sufficed to break up the ice in some areas.

What will happen next is not yet quite clear. The ship will likely have to relocate several times in the next days and weeks to find spots where instruments can be installed. We’re now supposed to steam to Darnley Bay, just east of Franklin Bay, and try our luck there. If the ice everywhere in the region turns out to have become too thin we might not be back in the ice at all, doing other things in open water instead. There’s quite a lot of action going on on the bridge right now. But as Dave said, whatever happens, there’s always a plan X available.

Quirin Schiermeier


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