November 15, 2019

Postcards from a frozen icebreaker – Part 8

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe

10/18/19 Shear
Crack by our tower widened today, but things are still stable. It’s up to 1m in places. The rest of the area went through a major shift. Satellite maps show a large region of shear and that shear basically ripped our flow in half just outside the outer wall of the Fortress. Fortunately, the ship and our main camp is still connected to the Fortress, and the Fortress is intact. But just forward of the ship by about 250m we had the ROV hut (remotely operated vehicle for underwater surveys), and this went for a ride, moving away from the ship then heading south by perhaps about 500m. The area had been active for the past few days, with smaller openings, then ridges forming. We were constantly trying to move power lines and other equipment away from the path of destruction. But then the big ice move, which has necessitated rescuing the main infrastructure from ROV city using helicopter sling loads. Let’s hope this big dynamic event doesn’t spread into the rest of our floe, and that the ROV hut finds a safe resting point that is not too far from the rest of our little civilization.

Recovering the ROV Site: When a new crack opened up between the Polarstern icebreaker and the ROV (remotely operated vehicle for underwater surveys), the ROV site was disconnected from our main floe and drifted. From the bridge, we could watch the ROV move from the starboard to the port side of the vessel. The ROV team decided to recover all of the valuable equipment from the site to save it from further drift. Our helicopter team operated a swing load recovery, bringing back the ROV, its control hut and power hub. Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Marcel Nicolaus (CC-BY 4.0)

10/19/19 It’s Alive
We now finally have a fully functional met tower, albeit still laying on its side. We sorted out a number of small issues with different instruments, but now we are looking good. And now we wait for a couple days as the sensors collect an intercomparison data set with all instruments at about the same height. This is important to ensure that eventual measurements, with sensors at different heights, are useful for distinguishing small changes in the vertical atmospheric structure. We want to understand how the temperature changes very near the surface to have insight into the transfer of heat to or away from the surface. So after this short wait will be the moment that (seemingly) everyone has been waiting for: We will finally raise the tower. People keep asking about this. Maybe in a couple days after the big winds that are expected.

10/19/19 Living with Bears
My day started out as a “bear guard.” And I really view it as guarding the bears. Of course I want to protect the people as well, but we really do have the advantage. It is certainly best for the bears if they don’t come here and/or if we are able to identify them very early so we can properly manage the situation. We of course have guns here. I’m not much of a gun person, but have been trained on the use of this tool, if needed. Preferable for me is the flare / flash-bang gun that we also carry. The bears really seem to be scared by these and that can give us the opportunity to get away to safety if there is a chance encounter. We also have many watch people taking up perches atop ice ridges to get a clear view of the area surrounding where most of the science is happening. And on the ship, a super fancy infrared detection / camera system that can see over very long distances with high resolution (The cracks in the ice look like lava flows in the infrared….. so cool!). Eventually there will also be a trip wire surrounding the main camp that, when tripped, will automatically shoot of flash bangs. From a bear safety perspective, it really is a fortress here and I really hope we are able to identify bears early enough to help them leave the area as soon as possible….. For everyone’s safety.

Polar bear guards then and now. 1896 image by Fridtjof Nansen, courtesy National Library of Norway. October 19, 2018 image from the Polarstern deck, Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Esther Horvath(CC-BY 4.0).

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: and @MOSAiCArctic.