Ice Ice CTD

I am in charge. If something goes wrong, that will be my fault. Why is the ship vibrating that much, seriously? How can I be in charge of a whole group when I already have no clue about what I want to do? Why is my cabinmate that noisy tonight?! I can’t sleep, and yet I’m supposed to pull up a marathon tomorrow. I don’t know how to do these things! AAAHHH

3am, 30th June. I give up trying to sleep. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from this first week onboard anyway, it’s that nothing happens at the time it is scheduled to. And I definitely don’t want to be late for the first cast!

Today, we are doing the first of the two hydrographical transects across the shelf. We are finally leaving the shallow Barents Sea to enter the deep Arctic Ocean, and we want to see how the water properties change as we do so. Hence, we will measure the temperature and salinity every three nautical miles (5.5 km), on a straight line perpendicular to the slope of the sea floor, starting at 200 m depth and finishing at nearly 3000 m. That’s the plan at least.

Today is going to be a long day, but I’m prepared. I’ve brought my blanket to the CTD control room, so that I can have quick naps between the casts. The latest planning with Hauke (the chief scientist) and Anique (boss of the water sampling team) has eight stations in 15 hours. Including the usual delay, we should be done before midnight. Quite a long day since we start at 4am, but we have a large supply of sweets and chocolate to keep us going.

Bringing the CTD on deck. Picture by Céline Heuzé

First station at 5.30 goes well. Second and third stations, as you already know, we had some issues with the XCTDs… And then, I am summoned to the bridge. That rarely is good news. Gut feeling confirmed: there’s a huge ice floe over our next three stations, too thick even for this ship, so we’ll just go around it. And that’s when my sleep-deprived brain forgot to say “please, stick to the right of this ice-floe”. We go left, where the slope is real steep, and after only one nautical mile we are already in the deep ocean. Any subsequent attempt at going back to our original path just gets us stuck in the ice, and after a final mental grunt of “we’re on an ice breaker: just break the darn ice” I go for a power nap at 14.00.

Feeling human, fresh and sharp again after 30 min of sleep and 30 min of thinking, we devise a new strategy with Hauke: since we’re in the deep ocean already, let’s restart the transect but this time going from deep to shallow. And so we do: casts at 16:25, 20:48, 22:49, 00:55. At 1:30 am on 1st July, it’s a happy CTD team that drops a LoTUS buoy after having written messages on it during the final CTD cast. Just two XCTDs to go and we can sleep.

LoTUS 41 lowered into the Arctic Ocean – remember them from Greenland? Picture by Sara Sahlin.

Ahah. No.

Ice is back. We are stuck. Again.

At 4am, we finally get out of the ice. Time to fail the XCTD. At 5am, as it looks like we’re about to be stuck for a while, I give up and go to bed after 26h being up, leaving Sara in charge of the last XCTD, whenever that is. Transect number 1 is over! We are exhausted, be we deployed the four buoys that were planned and measured what we needed to. We’ll celebrate after a bit of rest though, and think about transect number 2 later. Yeepee -_-

Now for a bit of context. The Arctic sea ice is reducing and thinning because of climate change. There is no denying this, and no doubt about it. But there is variation from year to year, and from one region of the Arctic to another. And since actually we’re back, I have access to the internet, and I saw this map on Twitter on Friday:

Arctic sea ice thickness (left) and anomaly compared to 1981-2000 (right). Credit: Zachary Labe.

This image shows that where we were, north of Svalbard, when we were there in July 2017, the ice was abnormally thick (blue, right graph). Note how the rest of the Arctic was abnormally thin though (red, right graph). So yes, we were stuck in thick ice. But I wonder how many other expeditions could not work on the ice because it was too thin for them.



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