October 18, 2019

Postcards from a frozen icebreaker – Part 3

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe

9/30/19 The Fortress

A long day on the ice, but these days are so important for the floe selection process. Exhausted. Fully. We arrived at a potential candidate floe…. People a bit concerned about the floe we already explored, and the news from Akademic Federov being more of the same. But this day has been useful. A bit slow at first as we are still sorting out the logistics and safety of going on the ice. Where do we get radios? How about ice drills for thickness measurements? What else needs to go on our trip? We loaded into the ship’s “mummy chair” to be lowered down to the ice. I took the first step onto that ice….. one small step for mankind……. But finally we were off on this first adventure, me leading the way with my big breaker bar to probe the ice conditions. I learned back at SHEBA that if you lightly throw such a bar down to the surface from about 10 inches up and it DOES NOT break through, the ice is safe to walk on…. One of those pieces of knowledge that continues to be serviceable over time. Out we go into the white “eye” of the floe, pulling sleds with equipment for assessing the scene. Deep snow at places, making walking difficult. Trudging into what looked like a war zone of crumbled ice, all jumbled together. This rugged terrain is what looked so bright on the satellite imagery….. With big surrounding walls, we were entering a fortress.

Two walking adventures on this day, both into different parts of what I’ve now named the Fortress. Collecting important information about this potential home. At the end of the day, a fully body ache. Lacking on some food, feeling a bit under the weather, headache, and my back and shoulders felt entirely finished…. Lugging around that heavy bar!

First group of scientists lands on an ice floe. Gunnar Spreen (l) and Matthew Shupe (r) exam a potential ice floe for MOSAiC. Note bar in background. September 30, 2019, Photo: Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Esther Horvath Grote (CC-BY 4).

10/1/19 Finding a path

Day two of our exploration truly exhilarating (and not as debilitating!). We had a snow machine pulling a Nansen sled, which itself dragged a little radar-like system that measures the total ice thickness. Time for some surveys. With the snow machine we can simply cover more territory and build up statistics of the floe. Off again, into the Fortress. Foreboding and gnarly. Huge ridge structures and jumbled fields of ice blocks, everywhere steep and jagged. I climbed to the top of a big ridge to look out at our intended path ahead. How will this be possible? Flat light playing tricks with depth perception, potential big drops everywhere. The Fortress is not welcoming. Yet somehow we managed to find a pathway through, winding our way. Never sure if the bottom would just drop out on us at any moment. Not sure if we’d be able to get out the other side. But inside, it was actually quite appealing. Nice courtyards of flat ice surrounded by sturdy walls. Eventually we made our way to a broad valley heading out to the far end of the floe, with a gateway to exit the fortress. Fantastic adventure. But it was not over. Heading south we then ventured out over wide open and mostly flat plains made of frozen over melt ponds (30cm thick ice) and some older hummocks (~100cm thick). Our path was defined by where I felt comfortable driving the snow machine. Over time we found our way to the southern point, looking out over a narrow lead, perhaps 15-20m across. Not yet frozen and a clear sign of dynamics in the area.

In a second adventure, we returned to the gateway to evaluate the region for the potential of mooring the Polarstern there….. Far to the east of the flow, and then heading north along the shoreline around the outer edge of the Fortress. Light-weight and fast, we traversed the coast and moved quickly over some areas with signs of prior cracking. As darkness descended on us we peered out into what has been referred to as Area 3. Very flat light, hard to see much, but in the distance a huge shape…. Some crazy ice structure but too far to reach now. We leave it for another day. Instead we headed back into the Fortress using what we hopped was a side entrance, picking a path through a big ridge. The snow machined sagged over on its side at one point, the deep snow providing little support. Somehow again we managed to traverse into the inside and back into one of the courtyards, big and wide open. The ice was thicker here, with clearly a lower melt pond fraction than outside of the walls. Some more quick exploration of the gateway, but the bridge wanted us back at the ship….Too dark for safety.

Polarstern at ice floe. Base image: Copernicus Sentinel data


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.