Crossing the equator

Vår Dundas reports from Malik Arctica:

We’re in the southern hemisphere! The last, almost two, weeks have flown by, filled by a mix of deck work and what I guess you could call home-office. We survived the Bay of Biscay without too many scratches – mostly everything was well secured in our container. Not being used to life at sea and the importance of securing every tiniest thing, I had a very annoying bottle of detergent rolling around on my bathroom floor throughout the night, and a small glass bottle decided to jump out of the cabinet, making a total mess that I had the pleasure to clean up. Otherwise, we were mostly unharmed.

Our ship from above. Photo: Christian Harbor-Hansen

Last Monday, summer began for us, and we’ve been working on deck in shorts and t-shirts until today. Thirty degrees in both air and water is something you get used to quickly, especially in December. What a luxury! Our main task has been to continue testing our equipment. Every instrument must be set up to talk with their respective computers and software, which is often more complicated than it sounds. Through long processes of try and error, we have installed drivers, detected COM-ports, and switched cables and batteries. Now we finally think we have all programs in order, and we’re able to communicate smoothly with all our instruments.

Julius and I are out on deck working with instruments for measuring
helium below the sea ice, and Kristen is reading instrument mauals. The
two blue containers to the left are the CTD and winch containers, the
white one is Kristen’s engineer lab, the middle blue is Sebastiens
bio-lab, and the right one is where we’ll be taking water samples and
where the portable winch is. Photo: Tore Hattermann.

Since we don’t know how conditions will be at the ice shelf front, we’re bringing several setups for measuring conductivity (which we translate into salinity) and temperature (our CTDs). If everything is smooth and calm, we have a large one to use, which we prefer. It is can take water samples at several depths, and measure both temperature, conductivity, fluorescence, oxygen, and incident light. However, this CTD is dependent on the cranes on the ship, and in bad weather, these will be difficult to maneuver safely. So we are bringing a small one as well, which we can operate with a much smaller portable winch. In addition, we have an even smaller one, which we can also bring out on the sea ice itself to drop down below the ice through a borehole. Many options mean many things to test, but after today’s final tests, I think we might be good to go regarding winch systems and CTD-setup. It’s good to be getting things in order!

The testing of the MSS attracted an audience! Here we are, all looking
for it to resurface. Photo: Christian Harbor-Hansen



We have also managed to wake up the autonomous Seaglider from Norgliders and the Sailbuoy from Akvaplan-Niva which we have onboard, and made them talk with their respective owners at GFI in Bergen and at Akvaplan-Niva. We have labeled countless sampling bottles and practiced water sampling routines for nutrients, helium, CO2, oxygen, and a few more. The captain was met with great excitement when he spontaneously decided to take a short stop in the middle of the ocean so that we could do a proper profile with the MSS to finally check that we had everything in order and to practice the profiling procedure.

Life onboard is, however, not all about testing equipment. We saw a blue whale just north of Madeira (we think), which I’m still very excited about, a few dolphins, and a whole bunch of flying fish (they get so far!). And there are more creatures in the ocean – if you try to cross the equator without being baptized, King Neptune knows, and he comes on board. No one may cross the equator without being baptized. So we were baptized, and are now part of the Trusty Shellbacks and initiated into the Solemn mysteries of the ancient order of the deep, after drinking a horribly tasting cleansing potion that I suspect is mostly based on fish oil, smeared in another sticky potion, and finally completely drenched in seawater. Besides this slightly traumatizing baptism, I’m delighted to have been renamed (you get a new name when entering King Neptune’s ranks) the Psychedelic frogfish, as they are amazingly cool (give them a search). To celebrate our new worthiness at sea, we had a soccer tournament in the cargo hulls. I wish I had a picture, but the match was too serious to have the time for photos.

Our baptism. King Neptune is paying close attention to the rituals in
the lower right corner.


As soon as we crossed the equator, the weather turned colder and cloudier, giving our sunburns some well deserved time to heal. Still, I hope we get a bit more summer-warmth before entering the cold and icy Southern Ocean. If things go according to plan, we will reach Cape Town around the 20th of December, where we’ll bunker up on fuel before starting our final transect towards the ice shelf.

As far as I’ve understood, until recently Danish law required every ship
to have some kind of a pool. And what better time to use it after
working a long day on deck in 30 degrees? Photo: Vår Dundas


Warm weather – but too much ice?!

Vår, Malik Arctica, and the others from NPI are steadily heading south and have just passed Madeira.  Temperatures are rising  – and so is the interest in the Weddell Sea ice concentrations. Currently, there is way too much red (high concentrations) in the map (below), but a lot can happen in the three weeks that are left of their journey… fingers crossed for a big storm that clears the area where they are to work!

Sea ice concentration in the eastern Weddell Sea (Red = dense ice, Blue = open water). White circles (DML1-2 & DML2-1) are the moorings that are to be recovered. (Credit: Roberto Saldo,, DTU Space and Technical University of Denmark)

Vår & Sebastien enjoying the sun. (Photo: T. Hattermann)






Out of isolation!

Vår Dundas writes about her first days on board Malik Arctica:

The two weeks of isolation and quarantine are over, and we are on our way southward! It feels good to be moving and getting closer to Antarctica. The first week at the hotel was a challenge – staying indoors on a few square meters with food delivered at the door by people in face masks who run away down the hallway as soon as you open the door is not a dream scenario. But miraculously, with a long parade of Teams meetings, a pile of work, workout challenges, yoga, and long facetime calls, the week passed by faster than expected. We all came out on the other side, mostly unharmed, but for a corona test in the nose, which made us all cry. Soon, we found ourselves at the harbor, next to our home for the next seven weeks, Malik Arctica: a massive (at least in my eyes), red container ship, with a white tower at the end, our living quarters.

Malik Arctica – my home for the next seven weeks (Photo: T. Hattermann)

As mentioned in my previous post, the science deck had to be built as this is not a research ship, and this is what we spent much of the onboard quarantine-week doing. Our containers came on board one after the other, and we started lifting and moving and removing all the (quite heavy) boxes to get everything organized and set-up. I got a very pleasant surprise when opening my box to find a Christmas gift from my supervisors! We now have six containers in all: one for mooring and CTD-winches (to lower and pull in cable), an engineer-lab, a bio-lab, a CTD-lab, and two storage containers for instruments and equipment. It is looking quite good now! Let’s hope the bad weather we’re heading through now doesn’t reorganize everything…

Another large part of last week went to getting used to the MSS instrument. MSS is a microstructure probe and is used to measure turbulence in the ocean. Turbulence is very high frequency and small scale motion, which makes it hard to measure. The instrument must be free-falling through the water to eliminate movement, such as drag on the cable. Even so, small movement as vibrations from the ship through the cable might disturb the data the instrument records. We, therefore, need to practice before taking real measurements at the ice shelf front, which is one of our goals.

Julius Lauber and Tore Hattermann deeply concentrated over the MSS-setup. (Photo: V. Dundas)

Today we are passing the Bay of Biscay, and the weather is accordingly bad. We are all crossing our fingers that the seasickness won’t be too bad, and so far, we’re doing good. Apparently, the wind will increase later today, so let’s see how we cope… Yesterday we passed through the English channel in clear weather and saw both France and the Cliffs of Dover. And soon, we will be entering warmer waters and approaching summer again. I’m quite excited about some warm weather and sunny skies.

Calm seas in the English Channel before heading into bad weather in the Bay of Biscay. (Photo: V. Dundas)


We’ll just have to make it through this small storm first.


We’ve also met the crew and gotten used to the ship. It is relatively new, has nice cabins (we don’t even have to share), good food, a gym, and a common room for watching movies and playing games (I think we all might be decent Mario Cart players by the end of the cruise). The stewardess has even already started decorating for Christmas, and they’re screening a Danish “julekalender” in the evenings. The other day we got a tour of the engine rooms and cargo hull – it is absolutely impressive. The engine room is a labyrinth of stairs and half-stories, seemingly going on forever, and the cargo hulls are immense. Most of the cargo we are carrying is on deck, and the ship is just taking 100 of 600 possible containers, so the hulls are huge and relatively empty, making for an impressive sight.


This is our group: Me, Sebastien Moreau, Tore Hattermann, Kristen Fossan and Julius Lauber.
(Photo: Christian Harbor-Hansen)

Antarctica day!

December first is not only the day when you are supposed to change the batteries in the fire alarms (did you?) – it is also Antarctica day! To celebrate that I asked Nadine and Kjersti to send me their favorite photos from Antarctica – so please enjoy!

Nadine’s favorite #1:  A Southern Giant-petrel sails over pancake ice while the sun sets over Dronning Maud Land (Photo: N. Steiger)
Nadine’s favorite #2: This beautiful anemone was captured by the camera of an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) at the floor of the Southern Ocean at several thousand meter depth during my cruise to the Dronning Maud Land in 2019 (Photo: ROV Ægir6000, processed by Rudi Caeyers)


Kjersti’s favorite: Socially distanced penguins on the only Corona-free continent (Photo: K. Daae)


I managed to get my favorite icebergs down to these two…

                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: E. Darelius                                                                                                                                                                         Photo: E. Darelius

… but it was just impossible to chose between the penguins – so here’s a bunch of them!

                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: E. Darelius

                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: E. Darelius

                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: E. Darelius

                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: E. Darelius

                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: E. Darelius

                                                                                                                                                                         Photo: E. Darelius

                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: E. Darelius

                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: E. Darelius


                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: E. Darelius

… just had to add this one to show that they are not always cute!


Looking for some easy ocean experiments? You just found them!

Today is the first day of my (Mirjam’s) “24 days of #KitchenOceanography” advent calendar. This year not only in English and German, but also in Norwegian and Portuguese!

A huge thanks to Jacob for his amazing work translating & prettifying & adding to & posting the calendar on GFI’s web pages & social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter)!