For the last week, one of the main topics on board has been the Covid-situation in South Africa, and whether we could get off the ship here and fly back home as planned. When everything is considered, it probably does not come as a surprise to anyone that we will not be departing from Cape Town. Instead, we’re staying on the ship, possibly all the way to back Ålborg. Options for us to get off at a closer port is still being considered, but as of now, we don’t know what the final decision will be.
When this scenario was described to me in October it was considered highly unlikely, and I regarded it as something that had to be said in order to not promise more than could strictly be promised. I never really considered it as something that could actually happen. Not being able to get home when you expect after 8 weeks at sea is tough. I never thought the “hverdag”, the every-day life, in Bergen would be so tempting to get back to! Still, there’s nothing we can do, and at least we know that by staying on the ship, sooner or later we will be back home – we’re not risking getting stuck in a lockdown anywhere.
It will be strange to dock in the Cape Town port tomorrow and know that we were supposed to be home in two or three days. Instead, it will most likely be three more weeks. At least we’re headed back into warm and sunny weather, which absolutely helps with the mood. So we’re staying positive and trying to regard this as some sort of seagoing workshop.
Who knows, maybe I’ll have finished my article by the time we get home?
Cruise work is hard work! A week ago the actual scientific part of our cruise started, and we’ve been on our feet since. We deployed the Sail buoy and Sea glider just north of the sea ice edge and then headed into the ice. The “ice edge” is really a fitting term: you’re in open water, and suddenly, there’s ice all around. This depends on the wind and tides, but when we passed south it was a perfectly clear boundary, and very nicely marked the arrival of our science week. As soon as we passed into the ice penguins started to pop up, and we were all running back and forth on the bridge trying to spot them all. There are mostly Adelie penguins here, but we’ve spotted a few emperors as well, a few seals, one group of orcas, and another group of whales that we think might have been Minke whales.
The sea ice conditions were a bit harsher than we’d hoped for and we had to change our route a bit, but it looks like we will cover most of the planned CTD stations and our mooring locations by the end. In addition, we got some measurements from a polynya just east of our ice shelf destination due to the detour we had to take.
On New Year’s Eve, we reached the ice shelf, and the crew anchored the ship to the ice front. To put it in perspective, we had to walk to the 9th floor to be on the level with the ice shelf. The crew from the Troll station arrived just before us and had already set up camp – it was a surrealistic sight to suddenly see people and “civilization” so far from anywhere, and after so many weeks without meeting any new people! As soon as the anchors were in place the unloading began, and we started an intense MSS profile protocol on the other side of the ship. As I’m most used to working with profiles from the other side of Antarctica and by far this close to an ice shelf, these profiles looked like nothing I’ve seen before. The software lets us look at the profiles real-time, and as we always do this profiling in pairs it’s been really interesting to discuss what might be happening in the ocean below us while taking the measurements. I’m growing very fond of this MSS instrument!
We our first day in 2021 on the sea ice itself. In Rektangelbukta, there is fast ice – sea ice that is attached to the coast – which makes it relatively stable and safe, and perfect for sea ice measurements. We packed our instruments and our lunch and set off on snow scooters with one of the guys from Troll who had assessed the safety some days before. As we arrived at our spot, we were welcomed by a team of very curious Adelie penguins and a serious-looking emperor penguin.
They lost interest in us when we were done with our lunch and started the process of digging a perfectly square pit in the snow to reach down to the ice. Our main task on the ice was to take ice cores to study temperature, salinity, biology, microplastics, and more, and to get these cores, the snow must be removed first.
When we pulled up our first core, the ocean flooded up through the hole, and suddenly our nice solid area was a shallow swimming pool. This happened because there is so much snow that it pushes the snow-ice interface below sea level. After pulling up all our ice cores we made a hole large enough to drop instruments through and got measurements of both temperature, salinity, some helium samples, turbulence, and also a special kind of ice called platelet ice, which forms in the ocean itself, not at the surface like normal sea ice. It was an extremely long day, and my face was burning and my eyes stinging when we got back to the ship from all the reflection in the snow, but also such a great day with lots of sampling methods I’ve never done before, the creativity of setup, and of course penguins and coffee breaks with the Antarctic sea ice and distant icebergs as the view. And I’ve done a cartwheel on Antarctica!
Now, we’re heading northward, and we’ve only got a few days left of scientific work. So far, the moorings have been deployed and recovered successfully, and hopefully, I’ll be able to say the same about the last mooring in just a few days. We continue with CTD stations and MSS profiles, water sampling, and mooring preparations. When all of this is done we’ll hopefully have time to do some bird and whale observations on our way back to Cape Town, besides packing up all our gear and tidying up the containers. On the way south we saw new species every day, and it would be interesting to see whether we see the same pattern on the way back. But for now, we focus on the work for the next few days and try to avoid any major problems.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Vår & Sebastien enjoying the sun. (Photo: T. Hattermann)
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.
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.
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.
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.
When asked whether you want to go to Antarctica during regular times, there’s just one sensible response. When asked whether you want to go to Antarctica during highly unusual times, there’s still really only one possible response – you grab the opportunity with both hands, and you go to Antarctica. In a week, I’m starting a slow but steady journey towards Antarctica. I thought I’d write a bit about everything that’s happening now, the plan for the cruise and preparations. But first, since this is my first contribution to the blog, I’ll start by introducing myself.
I’m Vår, and I started my Ph.D. this summer at the Geophysical Institute in Bergen with Elin and Kjersti as my supervisors. Right now, I’m working with mooring data from the Amundsen Sea, but the next step is to begin a combined model and mooring study from the Weddell Sea. There, I’ll be looking mostly at shelf-break interactions at the Filchner trough opening and look for wind-field conditions favorable for far-reaching on-shelf heat transport.
Since I started working with Antarctic oceans, I’ve had a small hope that I would get the chance to join a cruise and go there sometime. So when I one Monday morning in the middle of October opened my inbox to find an email with the header ‘cruise’, stating that there was a possibility that I could travel to Antarctica this winter, I was slightly speechless and very excited. After a week or so with anticipation, I got a confirmation that I would be able to join the cruise. Since then, the practical details have started to dawn on me: In total, we’ll be gone for two months (including Christmas and new years). Of these two months, we will spend about 7 to 10 days in Antarctica. So how does this add up? Due to Covid, we start off by spending one week in isolation at a hotel in Denmark. After this, we board the ship but need to stay in port for a week to finish our two quarantine-weeks. We then start our transect southwards, which takes four weeks. Reaching Antarctica, we do our science for 7 to 10 days (fingers crossed for 10) before a week-long transit takes us to Cape Town, and we fly home. I realize that I dread the first week of isolation, but then again, when you’re able to go to Antarctica, there’s just one sensible response.
The Norwegian Polar Institute is organizing the scientific work on this cruise. In total, the science team will consist of five people: Tore Hattermann, Kirsten Forssan, Sebastien Moreau, Julius Lauber, and myself. The plan is to make our way to the Fimbull Ice Shelf, where they have moorings that need some updates. These moorings are located along the continental shelf-break, where the ocean depth suddenly drops from a few hundred meters to about 2000 meters. Processes along this shelf-break are crucial for the southward flow of warm water, and consequently, important for how much the ice shelves melt. These moorings are also upstream of known regions where warm water flows in under the Fimbull Ice Shelf, where other moorings are located. A mooring array here can therefore provide valuable information on how upstream conditions affect the Fimbull Ice Shelf.
In addition to the mooring retrivement and deployment, we will run a couple of CTD-sections (conductivity for salt content, temperature, density) and (hopefully) measure turbulence along the ice shelf front and underneath the fast-ice cover. If the weather permits it, we will also go onto the ice and measure properties underneath the ice.
The ship we are traveling with is not a usual scientific ship, but a freight ship, traveling southward to supply the Troll station. This means that it does not have the scientific equipment installed – we have to make a make-shift scientific deck with labs and winches ourselves. If this works out well, it will open up for new possibilities, where scientific data collection and supply missions can be done all at the same time, which is actually quite exciting.
Right now, I’m trying to get my head around everything I have to get done before I leave. It’s challenging to think about learning how to use the MSS-instrument and remember to download all the data I think I might want to work with for the next two months, at the same time as deciding how many woolen socks I need and what I’ll wear for Christmas. Still, I just shipped off one bag to the ship, I’ve gotten my health and teeth certificates signed, so I think I’m getting there. And there’s still one week left before I’m off.