September 11-12- standing on ice

September 11

There is always something exciting going on! I was asked what I do when I’m not working. I spend an awful lot of time on the aft helo and the bow fo’c’sle decks observing the ice and looking for wildlife. Now, I have been looking for polar bears. Last night, after helping with collecting water samples, I thought I would spend a few minutes looking for polar bears. Well, a few minutes turned into a few hours. Mind you, even though it was 1:00 in the morning, it was broad daylight. Our evening now is between about 2:30 – 6:30. I was tired, but I kept saying just one more minute, just one more minute, hoping I would see a bear. I didn’t see a bear, but I saw distinctive bear tracks. I say distinctive because they were dark (ice below the snow perhaps) and could be easily seen in the white snow. Seeing bear tracks doesn’t necessarily mean there is a bear close by because we don’t know where the piece of ice came from. I also saw clumps of brown stuff. At first, I thought it was some kind of animal scat, but later found out it is algae that grows on the underside of the ice, and hangs down like a beard. Ice can flip over and clumps of algae might get blown onto the ice. The other reason I found it hard to go to sleep is because of all the different colors of the ice- every imaginable hue of blue and green. I didn’t take any photos because I decided to just enjoy the moment.

Another one of my favorite activities, about once a week, is playing ping pong. Ping pong is especially fun when the ship is rolling and pitching. Who would think you could get bruised from playing ping pong! I like playing ping pong because we play with the Russian ship crew, and we are speaking a combination of basic Russian, German and English. Everyone gets to play. If there are ten people, five people go on one side and the other five go on the other side. We walk or run around in a circle rotating sides while each person hits the ball one time. If you miss you are out for the rest of the round. The less people left the more you have to run around the table to get to the other side to hit the ball. This can be very difficult and causes outbursts of laughter. When two people are left, whoever gets to three points first ‘wins’.  The rounds go quickly and we usually work up a sweat.

We had a change in the schedule. We will not do any CTD casts for the next five days due to Trans-Arctic Ice (TICE) team members doing their ice work. The TICE and navigational crew are looking for a sufficient ice floe to set up an ice station. I will go into more detail in the next few days.

Enjoy the Ice Photo Gallery!

Breakfast: porridge, meat and cheese

Lunch: chicken vegetable soup, Cod Olympia, and eggplant

Tea Time: hot dogs

Dinner: roasted pork, buckwheat, and purple cabbage

September 12

Today is an exciting day! We found an ice floe to set-up for a big ice station, and I get to go out with the deployment team to take salinity core samples. I also get to deploy the wooden icebreakers decorated by the Watershed second graders. This will not happen until much later in the evening because we have to wait for daylight. Remember, it is ‘night time’ in the late afternoon.

While the Trans-Arctic Ice (TICE) and navigational crew are looking for strong ice floes, two ‘hop-ons’ (small trips) to the ice have been made. Since the ship couldn’t find a strong enough place to put out the supporting ladder (gangway), a basket was used to transport the crew and equipment to the ice floe. My plan is to spend the next couple of entries focusing on the preparation and implementation of the ice research stations.

One criteria for finding an ice floe that will be sufficient for a big ice station is thick strong ice. Light blue-colored ice ponds are an indicator of thick ice, and ridges around the edge of the ice floe and/or work station provide more stability. Maps and searchlights are also used to help find an appropriate ice floe.

It is time to meet the Sea Ice Physics Team!

Student Spotlight: Jakob Belter and Simon Hummel, are both TICE team members and students at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. And, I would like to mention, avid ping pong players.

Jakob is working on his PhD focusing on the changes in sea ice physics in the Russian Arctic. The Laptev Sea is one of the most productive ice regions for Arctic sea ice. His responsibilities on this cruise include taking care of the measurement equipment that will go on the ice, and the satellite images (maps). The equipment will drift on several ice floes in various locations to the Fram Strait, following the trans-polar drift current. The plan is to have two big ice stations and six smaller ones. The equipment that will go on the big ice floe station will include instruments that measure weather, wind, surface temperature, relative humidity, radiation, thermo dynamic ice growth, and snow depth and accumulation. Ice cores will also be taken to measure ice depth, thickness, and salinity among other things. I will explain more about the equipment later.

Simon Hummel is a masters student studying sea ice physics and ocean engineering. He is Jakob’s ‘right hand man’, helping whenever and wherever needed. Simon is also an exceptional photographer who provides Arctic wildlife identification and photos for this blog. And, he is Rosetta the Bumblebee’s caretaker.

We had two constant companions while the ship was anchored- Ringed Seals. When equipment was being deployed on to the ice floe, there was a dark bobbing head next to the aft of the ship. By the time I ran from mid-ship to get a closer look, the seal had gone a little further out. I managed to see its head bob a few times before it dove down, and his buddy wasn’t too far away. When I saw the seal’s head resurface again, I was surprised at the distance it had traveled. The seals hung around the whole time we were working on the ice floe. As cute as the seals are, the concern is whenever there are seals, polar bears probably aren’t too far away.

Ringed Seal Pusa hispida (seal with a bristly coat). Ringed Seals are found along leads (open water between ice), pressure ridges (two pieces of ice colliding causing a ridge to form), polynyas (polar sea that remains mostly unfrozen), and off shore pack ice in the Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea, and Sea of Okhotsk, and in coastal waters off Baffin Island (Canada), Greenland, northern Europe, and Russia. This is the most common Arctic seal, but difficult to approach, as the species is hunted by polar bears and native hunters. Adult seals grow to 1.6 m (5.25 ft), and weigh between 50-70kg (110-155 lb). In the summer (now), the seals often forage along the sea ice edge, where it mainly eats Arctic cod. They bask mostly on overcast days (like today!)  because the translucent hairs on their bodies offer no protection against sunburn. Due to the effects of climate change, the ice is breaking up earlier than in the past, which can destroy birthing lairs before seal pups are able to forage on their own. (The Arctic Guide, by Sharon Chester)

Breakfast: porridge, meat and cheese

Lunch: meatball soup, fried rice, stewed tomatoes, and purple cabbage

Tea Time: fruit pound cake

Dinner: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, spicy carrots