5 October 2012

Oslo Airport, Norway

N 60 11.340

E 11 06.063

Last night, those of us not affected by the growing ocean swell had a feast of tender steak and red wine, while the final remnants of the ice pack floated by. This morning, I awoke to the pleasant rolling of the Lance while we cruised at 10 knots back to Longyearbyen. Now, I sit in a hotel near the Oslo airport, trying desperately not to look out the window because I am “landsick.” Landsick is the opposite of seasick. The balance mechanism in my inner ear rocks back and forth, imagining that it has to adjust for ship and ocean swells at sea. The sensation should pass soon, but, for now, I feel a little disoriented.

The Extreme Ice Survey and friends bidding farwell to the Arctic Ocean

The Extreme Ice Survey with all of the scientists, teachers, and students from the 2012 UNIS Air-Ice-Sea Interaction research cruise.

It’s a wonderful privilege to live aboard a ship floating inside the ice pack of the Arctic Ocean. Though crossing the Fram Strait produced seasickness in many people, once inside the pack, it is completely still, like floating on a calm lake. Even the most sensitive of stomachs could handle it. Sure, when you’re moving through the ice, the ship crashes into large floes with such noise and shuddering that more often than not you think, uh-oh, that’s the one; put on the survival suit! But, believe it or not, ice is quite plastic and forgiving. At times, the ship and its passengers were like a baby swaddled in a blanket for comfort, so great was the sense of security the ice provided. From one perspective, we were in the middle of nowhere. But looking at it another way, we were most definitely “somewhere,” at a specific place in relationship to ice and ocean.

After seeing the ice up-close, actually setting foot on it and bearing witness to the scientific processes of the UNIS team, I have a not-so-comforting new understanding of the role sea ice plays in our climate system. The Arctic and its sea ice are a critical part of our global thermostat—and it’s in the process of getting out of whack. As the air continues to warm, the ice won’t be able to form. Combine the absence of a bright surface to reflect the sun’s energy and an uncontrolled flow of warm water invading the Arctic from the West Spitsbergen Current, and the Arctic and global weather patterns will change more rapidly than humans and animals can adapt to them. A formidable path lies ahead.

The Extreme Ice Survey is always searching for new ways to explain the scale of the glaciers we watch. It’s not an easy task. In the ice pack we encountered an entirely different kind of scale. The ice pack is incomprehensibly large, even though it is shrinking every year. I hope that through the photographs, videos and stories we have brought home, EIS will be able to share the intimacy we felt with this place, as well as a sense of both its grandeur and its importance to the entire world.

Svavar and I thank Frank Nilsen and UNIS for inviting us on this research trip and for executing an impressively productive expedition. Many thanks to Cecilia Bitz, Cecilia Peralta Ferriz and John Guthrie for sharing their expertise and deep knowledge of the Arctic. Thanks to all of the students aboard the cruise for their constant and refreshing enthusiasm for ice. We couldn’t have gotten to the ice without the tireless work of Captain Johnny and his crew aboard the RV Lance. Lastly, we extend a big thanks to the Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation for helping EIS reach 81˚ north and allowing us to share this important story.

Matt Kennedy

Extreme Ice Survey

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