1 October 2012

Arctic Sea Ice, Fram Strait

N 80 41.070

E 01 56.834

I am deep in the Arctic, on a blue ship, docked to a huge piece of floating ice.

It took a whole day of nosing our way through the labyrinth of the ice pack to find an ice floe stable and strong enough to provide a safe working area. Eventually, the captain tied the ship to one he deemed strong enough. Ladder touched ground, and the first human footsteps made their marks as if they were the feet of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin making their marks on the surface of the moon.

A view from the crows nest of the RV Lance

A view from the crows nest of the RV Lance. One side a solid ice floe, the other, broken unstable ice.

Enthusiastic students and scientists descended from the ship and the peculiar process of scientific inquiry began. With ice core drills, measuring tape, thermometers, ocean current meters and plain old paper and pencil, scientists got down to business. In no time at all, the ice was drilled full of holes like swiss cheese.

I was fascinated by the process of these yellow-suited ice travelers (should they be called “cryonauts”?!?), knowing that the micro-scale measurements being made would eventually find their way far and wide to the global science community. UNIS provides a unique opportunity for their students, surely giving them a foot in the door to the field-science community.

RV Lance and Extreme Ice Survey Crew

RV Lance scientist returning to the ice after the bear departs

Meanwhile, polar bear guards kept watch from high on the ship, rifles on their backs, peering through binoculars. The precaution was necessary, to say the least, since a bear was watching us from a mile to the east.

As the team continued to drill ice cores (in the old, multi-year ice, some were up to six meters long) and make temperature, salinity and permeability measurements, a crack started developing through the ice floe. No wider then an apple stem, it still had the potential to fracture the ice and leave at least one of the research groups stranded.

But it wasn’t the crack that forced everyone to dash back aboard the ship; It was the polar bear the guards had been scouting, who decided to stroll over and pay us a visit. The grace and strength I sensed in this solitary and enormous animal left me feeling that I was witnessing something holy, amazing, otherworldly. His kingdom is this staggeringly large expanse of white. His (or is it a female? We can’t tell) presence carried a weight far beyond anything I have ever experienced in nature. He nonchalantly sniffed his way through the equipment and chewed on a brown leather work glove. After an hour, he gave up on science and sauntered back into the white oblivion.

Svavar Jónatannson

Extreme Ice Survey

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