December 18, 2019

Postcards from a frozen icebreaker – Part 16

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe


11/30 Cleaning Up After the Bear: L2 Site Visit

We went back to the L2 site in our distributed network. Helicopter ride as usual. Touchdown and then it is a flurry of activity offloading all the equipment out of the back with the rotors still going. Turbulent winds, snow blowing all around. Lifting out heavy boxes, safety gear, our toolkit. Once the helicopter lifts off, it is again silent. Beautifully so. But today there was no time to enjoy the silence. Or the stars. Apparently some others had seen the stars and asked me about them out at this remote site with no light pollution….. truthfully, I didn’t look. Dave and I just had so much work to get done that it was “stay on target” for the whole 3+ hours while on the ground. Started with setting up a tent. At -30C with wind, these were not the conditions to mess around with. So we set up a little fishing tent…. Pain in the neck, but we eventually got it standing. Then set to work on all of the fixes, re-installations, cable runs, maintenance activities, etc, etc. Things actually went quite smoothly. Hardest part was possibly getting all of the snow out from inside the box….. And of course all the little finger work. Connecting cables, disconnecting little nuts and bolts. The hands got very cold a number of times. It is one of those things where you know you have the means to get warm again, so you let fingers get deeply cold. Then take the time to step back from the edge…. Then dive right in again. I had hand warmers, one in each pocket, and my big mitts, covering thin silk liners. Amazing how quickly the time passes in high intensity situations like this, working fast at a checklist of tasks, then calling in the helicopter for a ride home. In the heli it felt great… mostly in a mission accomplished kind of way (we got word from our colleague back at the ship that our station was now transmitting data again). But also exhausted, and a bit cramped in the tight space in the back….. Head resting against the window, lulled into a peaceful state, kind of like when I was a kid riding in a car with the bumps of the road. A good day’s work, and now L2 is alive again.

The helicopter heads to one of the distributed network sites. Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Stefan Hendricks (CC-BY 4)

12/1/19 Kohltour 2019: A Walk on The Ice

We took a journey on the ice today, following a northern German tradition. It’s not really clear to me what the point of a kohltour is, although I experienced one once before when I lived in Germany for a year as a 19 year old. Back then it was pulling wagons along the dike of the Weser River. Now it was dragging pulka sleds along the icey roads of our observation village. In both cases some festive beverages were involved,and games along the way. Markus and I were a team for a 3-legged race…. We got off to a slow start but we learn quickly and ended up blasting past the competition to finish first. The whole thing was a bit of a funny scene. Little glasses made of ice hung around each person’s neck, to enjoy the libations. And to enjoy a little walk on the ice, touring our cities, and enjoying some conversation. We don’t have many down times out here, so for a few minutes it was nice to have a down time, no objective, nothing to accomplish in this moment, just walk and relax. I still don’t fully understand the reason for German traditions like the kohltour….. but it was as enjoyable this time as it was my last time.

Advent on Polarstern. Photo: Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Esther Horvath (CC-BY 4).

12/3/19 Creating a Mountain

Once again the ice dynamics have become active. High winds from the south have been pushing against our floe, and across the major shear zone that extended across the front of the ship. We’ve seen a little bit of activity there in the last days, but not much. But now things have really come together, jagged pieces of ice getting pushed 3-4 meters up into the air, likely extending 20m or more down below the surface. Beautiful blue ice, with the winds whipping snow up and over the top in a swirling dance. This ridge was eating our power line, as well as two Nansen sleds that were parked by a little crack. These sleds were being used as a bridge to cross a 1.5m crack before. Now they were captive by the ridge, although mostly pushed up on top. A small team of us went out to recover the sleds, successfully. The ridge groaned occasionally, but was most done with its movements for now. A new jumble of blocks, some the size of Volkswagens. And our power cable extending up and over the top. We freed some of the tension on the ship side by helping to reroute the cable line. Then climbed up over the top of the ridge to the other side, to find that the cable had been dragged underneath a couple of huge blocks of ice. No way to move or break these. The cable is still functional; Met City still has power. But we do not have any more cable connectors. So we can’t simply cut this line and then patch it back together with some new connectors. Our decision is to just leave it here for now, wrapped around these ice blocks and extending down into the water at one place. Leave it and wait for a mellower day when we can figure out how to free our cable again.

Dynamic 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.