In The Field

On board the Amundsen: A bittersweet symphony

Having spent almost five hours out on the ice yesterday, I feel dog-tired today. People here are telling me that this is normal. (No, it was not a bar night yesterday).

In the wee hours of the morning we left Darnley Bay, where we had stayed put for the last couple of days, and set out into the Amundsen Gulf. Today is an open water day, with lots of sampling activity going on on deck, for nutrients, contaminants, seafloor sediments, plankton – the whole range. My cabin mate Mukesh, who’s never been in a boat on the ocean before, is getting bounced around on a zodiac they have just put at sea to do some optical profiles and deploy a drifting meteorological buoy. And the poor boy gets so easily seasick …

Here’s a picture of Dave Barber, our always busy chief scientist.


The sky is still perfectly blue, but a fresh easterly breeze is blowing, and the waves are not that small. The Amundsen is gently rolling and steaming, amplifying my tiredness and the sensation of dilated time. I have only been on board for six days now, but it feels like I’ve been seafaring for weeks.

This feeling of being astray in the otherwhere of the world … I guess at heart I am a romantic.

A number of visual artists and composers have been, or will still come, on board the Amundsen to try to evoke through their art the essence and mood of the Arctic. David Scott, a composer with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, is in the process of writing a musical piece based on impressions he gathered during his stay in spring. Another Canadian composer, Vincent Ho, will come on board during the next leg of the CFL study. He plans to write a piece for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, which will be performed during the Winnipeg new music festival in February 2010.

Together with his brother Doug, a retired professional photographer, Dave will also produce a coffee table book about the CFL. He showed some slides yesterday as a foretaste.

Dave is always keen to point out that one of the intentions of the CFL study is to merge western scientific knowledge with the aboriginal tradition of knowledge. In fact, the traditional knowledge team, which carries out surveys among the Inuit and other people living in the Arctic, is the largest of the ten CFL project teams.

In summer, a group of Inuit pupils will spend some time on board the Amundsen to team up with the scientists and take science classes, from meteorology to marine biology. I bet they will like it a lot.

Quirin Schiermeier


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