May 29, 2020

Postcards from a frozen icebreaker — Part 26

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe

5/20/20 Open Ocean
The vastness is remarkable. Heading through the North Sea and out into the North Atlantic. Norwegian mountains on the horizon. A modest swell. For a land-locked Coloradoan, the ocean is such an immense open space. And oddly this is where we have come to have less space. After making it through months of primarily isolation at home, highly protected travel to Germany, weeks in a hotel quarantine, 3 coronavirus tests, and innumerable measures to limit interaction, we are finally now back to a space that does not require social distance. We have put away the masks. We sit next to each other on the couch. I even shook a couple of hands as I met key people around this vessel. But I admit it felt weird, and I felt the need to wash my hands right away. Will we ever get back into a world where handshakes feel normal? I guess that is a question for another time, as now we head north. Onboard the RV Sonne. Out to our own quarantine in the central Arctic. Perhaps one of the safest places on Earth in this time of pandemic. It is such a strange headspace; a mixture of vast openness yet confinement, of freedom with restriction. These next days we have a strict plan, heading to Svalbard to rendezvous with Polarstern. The Sonne follows the Merian; 5 days to Isfjord where we will exchange people and cargo. But after that, the story is much more open ended. We will head out to make our story.

Sailing to Svalbard. Photo: Lianna Nixon/CIRES & CU Boulder, for the Alfred Wegener Institute (CC-BY 4.0).

5/21/20 On Time
The sun always goes down on time. A few simple calculations using your position on the global and you know when the sun will set. Reliable. Always on time. And so it was calculated that last night would be our last sunset for the foreseeable future. As we continue to move north, past the Arctic Circle, the sun will no longer set, but instead circle around the sky. Feeding an ever-evolving light landscape and making it hard to sleep at night. But this predictability of the sun, its timeliness, is not something that applies to Arctic logistics. No, human maneuvers in the Arctic rarely turn out as planned. Forces beyond our control, and beyond our comprehension, often set in to alter plans. We are seeing this now, as the RV Sonne has throttled back. Now we creep slowly across the North Atlantic for our meetup in Svalbard. No need to rush as the Polarstern will not be there anyway. We track its progress on the navigation system here….. 1 mile of progress in the last hour, but many hours with no progress. 0 miles. Simply stopped in the ice. There was one hour with 6 miles of progress, but the maps suggested that the ship was moving westward during that time; not exactly the direction to Svalbard but likely the easiest way to move in the compressed ice. So Polarstern will be a late arrival to our rendezvous. This is another setback for our journey. Every day of delay on this journey out of the ice means another day delayed on the return as well…. And another day of missing our observations and sampling in the main MOSAiC camp. If only these logistical operations could be planned like the setting sun.

The sun sets over Bremerhaven, Germany. Photo: Jonathan Hamilton/CIRES & CU Boulder.

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. U.S. funding for MOSAiC sciences comes primarily from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. Follow the expedition: and @MOSAiCArctic.