June 12, 2020

Postcards from a frozen icebreaker — Part 27

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe

5/21/20 Making Contact
We’ve had a minor success. Chris [Cox, a NOAA scientist] onboard is such a skillful problem solver. He left one of our atmospheric flux stations on the ice to make measurements through this crucial seasonal transition as the ship is gone. The problem is that our back-up communication system, using satellite transmission, has not been working lately. So the station would be left there on the ice and the ship would eventually leave radio communications range, and then we would have no access to our data until returning to the station. If the system were to be crushed or sink in the ocean, the data would all be lost. But Chris was able to make the satellite system work again, just in time before leaving the range of the radio link. And now we have a crucial data set being transmitted from our flux station to the ship every ½ hour. With this we can track the measurements and the status of that station. We will know its position so we can return to the same location and hopefully find it again! And importantly, we will have a copy of the data. The instruments themselves are easily replaceable, but the data is one-of-a-kind. This likely one-month dataset, while Polarstern is gone from the ice camp, will fill such an essential role in characterizing the onset of the melt season. It is the heroes like Chris that really carry this MOSAiC expedition forward. Helping to realize small victories along the way.

Chris Cox, Mathew Shupe, Byron Blomquist, and Sara Morris of CIRES and NOAA in Tromsø, Norway last September, at the beginning of the MOSAiC expedition. Photo: Sara Morris/CIRES (Morris and Cox are now NOAA)

5/24/20 Days at Sea
I’m not much of a sailor. This feeling is setting in a little more strongly now as the waves are getting bigger and the ship bounces around more. The waves are not much by most standards, and this ship is actually quite stable with limited roll. But all of this movement has been increasing over the past day and my stomach is less settled. My head hurts. Energy is just off. This is one of my least favorite feelings of the whole experience. Luckily we will find safe haven in the fjords of Svalbard within the day. We will then sit and wait, possibly for a week or more. Polarstern is making slow progress as it tries to leave the ice. Funny how the ice has drifted so fast this year, and broken up so much. Yet it still has a firm grip on Polarstern. Not wanting to let her pass easily to the edge. It’s looking like we will be late with the rotation…. And every bit late on the front end, will likely also mean a longer trip on the return. Thus, it is likely that the MOSAiC floe will be unattended for well more than a month. And with all of the time that went into demobilizing the camp, and that will have to go into rebuilding it, we could be looking at 7-8 week gaps in some of the key measurements. Fortunately most of the DOE suite of instruments continues to measure the evolving atmosphere system as Polarstern makes her way south. And thank goodness for our flux station…. Lonely out there on what remains of the MOSAiC floe. Hopefully there to greet us when we return.

Final cleanup of the ice floe before leg 3 MOSAiC participants departed the ice in the Polarstern to swap out with leg 4 participants. Photo: Julia Schmale/Alfred-Wegener-Institut (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. 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.