I can’t believe we are finally there – after sixteen long days in this hotel, we’re finally checking out this afternoon! Our luggage is already on its way to the airport, and in a couple of hours, the rest of us will follow! Polarstern is already in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, waiting to take us down to the Weddell Sea.
The team from Lufthansa, who has also been in quarantine with us, told (and showed) us everything there is to know about the flight and the Airbus-plane last night. What will happen at the airport (they will open up a closed terminal just for us!), the route, the weather (huge cloud along the coast of Brasile that we will have to circumnavigate ), what it looks like in the cockpit when you land in the Falklands Islands (from when they trained in a simulator) – and what we do if we can’t land in the Falklands…
The presentation was the last one on the schedule – during the last couple of days, the science teams have taken turns to give present themselves and the work they are to do on Polarstern. It’s been interesting to learn about everything from how you sample ice-algae to seal blood and trace metals and how you can measure ice thickness from a helicopter! The scientific program for the expedition is indeed very diverse – and we are all very keen to get started!
But we have a 15.5h flight ahead of us first! The captain had heard about my Ninja-project – and we now both have an invitation to come and join him in the cockpit before we take off! Exciting!
Today is not only the day for our second Covid19-test (my nose still hurts!) it is also (more importantly) CTD-appreciation day! CTD stands for Conductivity-Temperature-Depth and it is the most important instrument for a sea-going oceanographer. The CTD is lowered down through the water column and collects data on how temperature and salinity changes with depth. Normally you also attach other sensors to the CTD, measuring e.g. oxygen, fluorescence, and currents.
The plan for the CTD-stations that are to be occupied during COSMUS, the expedition that I’m to join, is shaping up – but icebergs, ice conditions, and weather determine even where a large ice breaker like Polarstern can go… so they will have the last word!
But it is still a few weeks before we are there, so in the meantime, you get to enjoy a CTD-cast from a previous expedition to the Weddell Sea! Have a nice CTD-appreciation day!
To be locked up alone in a hotel room for more than a week is seriously boring – much tougher than I could ever imagine. I want to walk outside! Talk to real people and not to a computer screen… I’ve no managed to kill six days in this room – only two more to go before we can at least meet the other cruise participants!
What do I do all day? Well, I try to work as much as I can (the Norwegian Research Council kindly provided me with a proposal deadline just after departure, so that keeps me busy), and I brought a ukulele and a skipping rope! So for every 50 minutes of work, I do five minutes of skipping or ten minutes of strumming! No complaints from the neighbors yet!
– and then off course I’ve got Ninja to play with! You can read the start of our story below (or at Flickr).
I’m now counting the days of what seems like an eternal quarantine, locked up alone in a hotel room in Bremerhafen, Germany. All alone – almost… Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve brought Mr. Ninja along, and he will join me when we fly off to Port Stanely and Polarstern in just over ten days! (Apparently the longest Lufthansa flight ever!) From Stanely, we will head south to the Weddell Sea, and hopefully recover the moorings we deployed in 2017.
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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.