Pack your bags, we’re going to the Arctic!

Meet Sara Sahlin, Master student working with me (Céline Heuzé) at the University of Gothenburg. In just under two weeks, her and I will be embarking on the R/V Polarstern for an expedition to the Barents Sea shelf break, in the Arctic Ocean. That leaves us some time to introduce you to the work we will be doing there…

This summer the German icebreaker and research vessel  Polarstern is going to the Arctic, and I will be onboard. I am a Master student in Physical Oceanography, currently writing my thesis, and I have been given this fantastic opportunity to follow my supervisor and bring our project on this cruise. This is all new to me and I want to tell you about what I am experiencing and learning along the way.

So… “Pack you bags,” she said. What do I pack for a month in the Arctic? How do I – and all the other scientists – prepare?

Fire, part 1: Preparing for an encounter with a polar bear. Credit: Sara Sahlin.

Even though we embark in Longyearbyen on Svalbard, all the instruments we want to use must be onboard from the beginning, so they have been packed and sent to Bremerhaven, which is Polarstern’s home port. Everything must be carefully checked, and the same goes for the people. Full check up, with ECG, blood samples, spirometry (testing lung capacity), vaccinations, teeth, as well as the more general examination of health condition: ‘Can you reach the floor from a standing position?’ ‘Say “Aaah!”‘

Since some of the work will be carried on around the clock, I cannot expect to work only on my little project but also on some of the sampling and measurements for others (counting on them doing it for me when I am off shift). So there are some new skills to be learned. So far I have been to Kiel to learn how to properly seal the bottles for a new kind of sensitive water samples, and to Bremerhaven to learn how to deal with polar bears… but I’ll tell you more about these things in future blog posts.

More fire: Céline is practicing the flame sealing of a glass ampoule for the water samples. Credit: Sara Sahlin

Those are the official preparations, but what do I pack? What do I really know about the Arctic summer weather? Which temperature can I expect on Barents Sea? I have been so focused on water temperatures that I hardly knows what’s going on in the air. Will it be sunny, rainy, stormy?

Foggy, is the answer I get from my supervisor. The forecast says 2-5 degrees in Longyearbyen in the next few days. Overcast. Wet, and just above freezing – I can do that! I figure I’ll be loving my merino-wool-and-bamboo long johns even more than I already do after this. And the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat has provided us with some lovely clothes.

Team Gothenburg = 80% of team Sweden. From left to right: Sara Sahlin, Torsten Linders, Céline Heuzé, and Elin Andrée, all from the department of Marine Sciences at University of Gothenburg. Credit: Céline Heuzé.

But to not make it too easy there’s the one-parcel, 23 kg luggage limit on the flight to get there. And there’s not really a whole lot of corner shops out there off the continental shelf, so what I don’t pack I will have to do without. I have been told that the coffee situation is secured. Anna Nikolopoulos from Aquabiota in Stockholm, chief of team Sweden, and Torsten are already onboard for the first leg of the cruise. Céline, Elin and I will be participating in the second leg.

So… warm clothes, coffee… camera. There is no way I’m going on this adventure without taking a truckload of photos with me back to show everyone at home. They will be so tired of me. Decision to be made: Do I bring diapositive film for slides or do I go only digital? Also, I will have to do without the Internet. But the only real problem I can foresee is how insanely I will miss and worry about my cats at home…

But that’s all for me for now! Next time: Why are we going there?


To follow us when we are onboard and potentially have no internet:
Real time position of the Polarstern here.
Weekly update of the whole expedition here at the bottom of the page.



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