2 October 2012

Arctic Sea Ice, Fram Strait

N 80 30.428

E 01 47.894

Today, we spent another day moored to the ice floe. The teams of scientists and students drilled more ice cores, monitored the CTD station and validated yesterday’s EM31 measurements (the EM31 is an electromagnetic instrument used to measure the thickness of the ice) by drilling dozens of small holes in the ice and measuring its thickness using a trusty, old-fashioned measuring tape.

A spectacular moon rise at 80˚ N.

A spectacular moon rise at 80˚ N.

One of the scientists aboard the ship is Dr. Cecilia Bitz, an associate professor in the Atmospheric Science Department at the University of Washington. Cecilia models sea ice and the role it plays in the global climate. Models are important because they help us predict, with a certain degree of accuracy, how sea ice will change in the future and how that will impact global climate and global weather patterns. For some time, the models have predicted that the Arctic would be ice-free in the summertime by the end of the twenty-first century. Now, as Cecilia mentioned today, the wild scale agreement in the sea ice modeling community is that by the end of this decade or the next, summers will be ice-free in the Arctic. Cecilia said the change happening right now in the Arctic is “one of the most dramatic changes in the world we know today.”  With what I’ve learned so far aboard the Lance, her words ring quite loudly.

So far, since leaving Isfjorden, we’ve traveled through nothing but low clouds and fog; however, just before dinner time today, we were treated to a breathtaking sunset. Like seeing a sliver of white ice for the first time, the sun gave a hint of its approach by creating a thin line of golden light across the far horizon. Soon it was splashing light over our entire view. I quickly scrambled up to the crow’s nest, scraping my way up through an inch of rime ice that coated the ladder. At the top, the view was astonishing: purple and golden patches of open water mixed with orange and blue sea ice stretching as far as I could see. On one side, the setting sun; on the other, the rising moon; directly below my feet, 25 meters away, another polar bear.

Polar Bear inspects scientific equipment

Polar Bear inspects scientific equipment

We’ve recognized a growing pattern: polar bear visits. With each visit, everyone quickly gathers their things and climbs aboard the Lance. Another curious visitor inspected the ice floe by picking up and sniffing at the weird metal and plastic science things stuck in her home turf. After the polar bear walked off into the fog, a few team members went back to the ice to quickly collect as much data as possible before she returned—which she did. In fact, as I’m typing, a polar bear is spinning the wind instrument like a Tibetan prayer wheel just outside our porthole. It’s crazy. Never in my life did I imagine I’d see so many bears in the wild. It’s a tragedy that such a majestic creature is being forced to try to sustain itself in a difficult and disappearing habitat.

We have drifted southwest almost 14 nautical miles and will sit one more night before removing all the weather station equipment and releasing ourselves from the floe. It has been nice living on the boat and having a beautiful frozen beach to explore; but I’m excited to see the new shapes that I’m certain the ice will offer tomorrow.

Matt Kennedy

Extreme Ice Survey

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