29 September 2012

West Spitsbergen Current, Fram Strait

N 79 47.436

E 10 26.039

I’m at the point where the days are starting to roll into one. With only one hour of sleep last night due to a late-night deployment of a bomb-like piece of science equipment, I lay in my bunk, dead tired, as the minutes of sleep tick away from me.

Arctic Bottom Pressure Recorder on the Lance

At the ripe hour of 3am, Cecilia Peralta Ferriz (Scientist, Univ. of Washington) guides the ABPR (Arctic Bottom Pressure Recorder) over the side of RV Lance.

Today, we sailed up the northwest side of the Svalbard Archipelago, snow-covered and inhospitable mountains reaching up from the sea. The wind picked up in the afternoon, and the students, who were making CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) measurements at designated locations, started to get soaked with sea spray as they worked. The equipment for measuring needed to be lowered and heaved from the ocean at every location, which soon became harder and more risky as the swell grew. We spoke to Chief Officer Paul up on the bridge as the light started to fade and were told of how variable and fast-changing the ice is up there. In his raised seat he had a 180-degree view of what was in front of us.

After the usual feast of a dinner, it was clear that some of the students were feeling the growing swell of the ocean, with seasickness in its varying states affecting some. One of the ship’s crewmembers, an old and experienced seaman, offered up some free advice—dried bread takes the liquid out of the stomach.

The sea grew rougher as night fell, and measurements were cancelled. Students rested or played cards, while the boat’s course through the waves reached new highs and lows.

Conductivity, Temperature, Density instruments lowered from the Lance

Juni Vaardal-Lunde (Teacher, Univ. Center in Svalbard) lowers the CTD instruments (Conductivity, Temperature, Density) into the waters of Isfjord.

After an hour’s sleep, I went to the bridge at ten at night. The bridge was dark, and the green of the radar screen was the only source of light. The Norwegian captain, Johnny Hansen, sat calmly in his seat with his eyes fixed on the dark horizon. He told me that we were nearing the ice edge and would arrive there around three a.m. He turned off all the lights so that he would be able to spot ice that might be flowing in large, single pieces, and that might damage the ship if hit at full speed. The atmosphere was calm, but he had a sense of focus that carried with it great seriousness.

These are hostile waters in many ways. There are no other ships around, so caution is holy for a ship heading toward the sea ice. As I lie in my bunk, I hope for a sound sleep, as I have only four hours until we arrive at the edge of what most people see as the white top of the globe.

Svavar Jónatansson

Extreme Ice Survey

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