October 17, 2019

Postcards from a frozen icebreaker – Part 2

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe

9/27/19 Akademic Federov and the MOSAiC School

A couple of slow days…. Well, there is always something to do. We have a daunting task ahead of us. First finding the floe, then getting set up. Lots of discussion on the first of these with differing opinions. In the end it comes down to a balance between science drivers, which would push towards thinner ice, and logistical drivers, which would push towards thicker ice. The balance between these is important and we would like to maximize both or course. Fortunately, I think Markus Rex (AWI scientist and MOSAiC lead) and I are in very good agreement on the balance. Overall, we have to more heavily weight the stability of the floe. If we go too thin and ice breaks up early, we lose much of the program. On the other hand, if we go for somewhat thicker ice, this will somewhat impact our ability to characterize the thinnest ice, but it gives us a better chance of lasting the full year. And with a year, even in thicker ice, we will certainly so some great science. I am all the more convinced of this after learning some details of the logistics plan and the power system that has been designed. We need stable ice to support this grid, and even then I’m sure it will be challenging at times. Our second big push is planning the ice install. The leadership team is working on a plan for that and I don’t foresee many problems there…. Just a lot of work that must be efficient and well coordinated.

One last highlight of the day….. riding in the ship’s helicopter over to Akademic Federov to give a lecture on “coupled system research” to the MOSAIC School. Arrival was a little silly: the helicopter coming in for landing with a crowd of people assembled on the decks all around the heli-pad. We climb out and walk onto the deck and then towards this mass of people…. Such a rock star entrance! (which is not really my style!) My lecture was meant to be given on day 1 of the school, but a transfer then was not possible since Akademic Federov left Tromso the day after Polarstern. What an exciting school, and a great group of students. These are 20 students selected out of an applicant list of about 250. Nice international coverage, and students interested in all of the main themes of MOSAiC. My push to introduce coupled system research is important for both helping them to understand what MOSAIC is all about, and also to hopefully support their development as the next generation of scientists to participate in Arctic field work.

September 27 Exchange. A team of scientists and logisticians flew today from Polarstern to meet with colleagues on Akademik Fedorov. Compared to the large Russian MI-8 helicopter, which will be crucial for our search for ice floes, the Polarstern’s BK 117 looks like a rather fragile aircraft. But both helicopters are excellent aircrafts, well suited for flying in the harsh Arctic conditions Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Mario Hoppmann (CC-BY 4.0)

9/29/19 Exploring a first floe

Today we explored a very big floe, probably the biggest spatially in the whole region. Could this be our home for the next year? Extensive coverage of what look like frozen over melt ponds. Many measurements of 30-50 cm ice. This is not what we came to the central Arctic to find; it will not support our intended operations….. but the fear is that everything around will be a similar thickness to this large floe. For the time being, this is not our floe and we venture onward to explore another option that is relatively small spatially, but has strange central core that is highly reflective in satellite radar measurements. In those measurements, the outer part of the floe appears dark, with the inner part whiter…. The whole thing appears to be like an eye. But what is the pupil of this eye? So far no one has an answer.

Julia Regnery and Marcel Nikolaus leave Polarstern for a short time to install a buoy September 29. Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Sebastian Grote (CC-BY 4).

Read more of Shupe’s posts here.

Scientist Matthew Shupe (CIRES/University of Colorado Boulder) is blogging from an icebreaker frozen into Arctic Ocean sea ice, so far north that the Northern Lights are no longer visible. Shupe is co-coordinator of the international Arctic climate mission MOSAiC, or Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate. Today, he’s among about 100 people aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern, which is frozen into an ice floe where it will drift until September 2020. Shupe, who also works for the NOAA Physical Sciences Division in Boulder, Colorado, began planning the mission more than a decade ago, with an expanding network of scientific leaders from around the world. In a series of short posts from the ship, he shares his experience during the first several weeks of the expedition, led by the Alfred Wegener Institute. Shupe is aboard AWI’s Polarstern until late December; he’ll return to the ship for at least one more two-month stint next year. U.S. funding for MOSAiC sciences comes primarily from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. Follow the expedition: https://follow.mosaic-expedition.org/ and @MOSAiCArctic.