June 14, 2020

Postcards from a frozen icebreaker — Part 29

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe

6/4/20 Fjordland
All of the ships have assembled and we’ve entered the fjord. It’s truly beautiful; mountains in every direction. Snow capped. Jagged. We’ve had some sunny days here, after many days of overcast and fog. The sun definitely lifts the spirits, and builds the excitement. Now we set in motion a multi-day plan that involves 5 ships and more than 200 people, many containers worth of cargo, two barges of fuel, and innumerable eggs. Longyearbyen in the distance with its colorful buildings stretching up into the foothills. Little cabins over on the other side of the fjord. Snow fields extending down to the water. Fortunately the conditions are calm…. And will hopefully stay this way so we can quickly make this transition and get on our way back to the ice where another transition continues to play out.

We can track the ice using buoys that transmit their data via satellite. And the seasonal ice mass balance buoy at our L2 site continues to show how the warmth of the ocean below and the atmosphere above are converging in the middle of the ice, warming its core. Temperatures at one-meter depth within the ice are now up to -3C, which is only about 1 C colder than the melting point for the salty conditions encountered near the ice bottom. There remains some warmth in the upper ice as well, from the past week of cloudy conditions. But in the last couple days it looks like the atmosphere has cooled off a couple of degrees such that heat is no longer pouring in at the ice top. It’s a little dance of the spring melt transition as periodic pulses of warm air keep lifting the core ice temperature. Very close now to being in the full melt state.

Crew exchange and supply delivery of MOSAiC Leg 4 . Photo:Leonard Magerl/Alfred Wegener Institute (CC-BY 4.0)


6/6/20 Onboard at Last
After 5.5 weeks in transit, we are finally onboard of Polarstern. What a long journey it has been just to get to this point…. And our journey is really just beginning as we still must complete this turnover and then cruise up north into the ice pack in search of our remaining ice floe. That process will easily take another couple of weeks. But for now, getting settled.

Out the window of my cabin I see the Merian below, and deckhands diligently working to move cargo between the ships. Scientists are engaging in turnover activities. Leg3 people are showing their Leg4 counterparts the ropes. Giving them tours of the ship. Talking them through the intricacies of the work that is to come.

For many of us the turnover is a bit strange: Describing equipment that would have been on the ice, that we will hopefully put back on the ice. Now it is mostly conceptual. Our new installations may or may not be similar to those from past legs. In many ways we will simply be starting over with our activities. So the turnover is not like previous ones, where people would go through daily operations together, with hands on demonstrations. Moreso now it is a matter of identifying all of the equipment. It was pulled off the ice so quickly and brought onboard. Put into available spaces. So we have been touring around to find it all in hopes of putting the pieces all back together once we return to our floe.

Polarstern approaches Isfjord. Photo: Manuel Ernst /Universum Film AG for Alfred Wegener Institute (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.