In The Field

On board the Amundsen: Working on thin ice

June 8, 2008

Perfectly clear skies, for the sixth day in a row now. Dave says that in he has never experienced such an extended period of sunny weather in the Arctic in 25 years.

Being exposed to intense sunlight 24 hours a day the ice just keeps melting away. We’re six weeks or so ahead of where we should normally be, in terms of climatology, says Dave.

We do have found a spot in Barnsley Bay where the ice has not yet broken up, but the melting ponds are getting larger and large. Some ponds have started to drain through the ice column, which weakens the ice even more.

Anyways, I went out onto the ice for the firts time today. I helped a team collecting water samples from a hole they had yesterday drilled in the one or so metre-thick ice.

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Leaving the ship by the gangway, wearing heavy rubber boots and the obligatory red Mustang suit, was a strange sensation. From afar, the mighty red hulk firmly locked in the ice is a majestic view. The morning air was fresh and not too cold, the silence overwhelming. Brent carried the gun that is mandatory for team’s heading out to the ice,. We didn’t encounter a bear, though, only a seal popped up its little head somewhere near.

The hole is in half a kilometre’s distance from the ship. We put all necessary stuff – canisters, hoses, some bars and a rather heavy battery – in two large plastic sleds which we dragged without too much effort across the ice and through the numerous melting ponds along the way. The greenish icy water through which we waded looked treacherous, but proved knee-deep at best.

While we recovered the water samples, from two metres and seven metres depth, the diving team that had set out with us began pitching a tent for the scuba divers which are supposed to start their programme in the afternoon. In the distance, small groups of red-clad scientists were busy deploying and reading all kinds of exotic instruments.

But there’s not much time left for doing exciting things on the ice, at least not in the area around here. We will likely stay here until Monday, and then steam to a mooring station in the Amundsen Gulf to do sampling work in open waters. Later in the week, Dave plans (but plans can change quickly here) to sail on into the fast-ice on the northern side of the Gulf, where the latest satellite images suggest that the ice is still more stable.

Quirin Schiermeier

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