December 17, 2019

Postcards from a frozen icebreaker – Part 15

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe

11/23/19 Sounds of a Ridge

There are some interesting sounds out here. The wind howling, you can even hear the snow blowing along the surface with little tinkles. The pops of a new crack forming. Water lapping up against the side of an open lead. But today were some great sounds. The squeak of a ridge being formed. Sheets pressing against each other, buckling in places, sliding up or down, straining. It moves so slowly, but with such force. At first the edge cannot resist, but then the ridge becomes big enough that it slows the flow, letting out a few last grumbles before it stops.

Relocating Ocean City to a safer place, necessary because of ice movements. Late November photo by Johannes Käßbohrer, FIELAX Germany.

11/24/19 A Wet Knee

With all the ice movements and openings, travel across the ice becomes a big challenge. We have to hop from floe to floe to get to Met City, sometimes over ridges and sometimes across cracks. Today was especially challenging because there was fresh snow that had blown across everything, covering cracks and thin ice. Blowing snow in the air limited visibility, and gave a bite to the cheeks. On our way out there were new cracks right under the road, most passable on a snow machine if you keep moving. Eventually the snow machine was no longer possible so we continued on foot, coming eventually to crossing that had been active before. It was hard to tell its conditions today, with all of the new snow. Some probing showed areas of strength and areas that were soft. I probed on two sides of an area, finding strength, then took a step…. But my foot keep sinking down into the slushy ice-snow mixture. I quickly flattened out, my upper body and one foot on solid ice but my knee pushing down into the slush. Two travel partners were there to help, and I made it back safely onto fully solid ice. I ended up with a wet knee and fore-leg, but no water inside my suite or boot. A bit of a thrill but safe in the end, and we made it through to do our work. On that same trip we had another wet boot, and there have been many similar occurrences, the most extreme being someone in up to their waist but quickly extracted. These things are to be expected around here as we work in this environment. We have great gear to deal with the conditions: good boots, body suits that float and keep most water out. We carry throw bags and ice picks to help get out of the water if it gets to that point. And importantly, we travel together in groups. A partner is always a few steps away to lend a hand when needed. These have been our adventures lately to get to our instruments….. Another voyage out will get us another 15 hours of data in this changing and dynamic place. Well worth the effort.

Digging snow pits in late November. Temperatures dropped to -31.2°C last week of the month, the coldest temperatures yet for scientists on the AWI icebreaker Polarstern. Photo: Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Esther Horvath (CC-BY 4).

11/28/19 Nipped

It’s been so cold out lately, and windy. Makes it hard to work. I feel the need to cover my face full time now, and with that, it is a huge challenge to wear glasses; they just fog up right away and then are completely useless. So I often go without glasses, which works for most things. But it is a little harder when I’m trying to see details or read. Then there is the other fun issue… my face masks like to collect my exhaled breath, condensing, and turning into ice themselves. They get cold on the skin as well as stiff and hard to work with. To some degree these can be rotated around the head, but only for the masks that aren’t designed to fit around the nose. No great solution here, my best is to simply bring multiple balaclavas and swap if/when needed. In spite of these techniques, I apparently nipped my nose the other day. A little slightly discolored patch on the left side of my nose; many people couldn’t tell that it was discolored, but I know my nose. And then it started to peel. The new skin underneath appears to be fine, I have sensitivity in my nose, and can’t feel any lack of feeling or function (other than that my nose has never worked that well for smelling). These are the dangers of working in such conditions.

Wind-blown snow obscures the ship as seen from the ice. Photo: Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Esther Horvath (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: and @MOSAiCArctic.