July 13, 2020

Postcards from a frozen icebreaker — Part 31

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe

6/13/20 Stuck in the Ice
After a few days of great progress, making more than 100 miles into the ice, the ship is now stopped. The ice has pressure, which makes for difficult movement. And so instead we must wait. Only about 30 miles to go until our MOSAiC ice floe, but still could be a long time. On the way out of the ice, Polarstern took a long time getting through this area of ice as well. It’s just somewhat thicker and under pressure. The thickness makes sense as this ice was further north than we were at the beginning of the drift back last October. It’s been drifting somewhat ahead of the MOSAiC floe the whole way. The time recently has been pretty nice out, occasionally sunny. This plays very nicely with the few melt ponds that are around, making them a deep blue set among the otherwise still very white ice and snow. We had an opportunity to go on the ice today. Some groups take samples and measure the ice. This is an opportunity to actually make some measurements that are somewhat representative of our MOSAiC area, but also to practice all of the many details of what it takes to work on the ice… The safety, and communication protocols, the preparation, sampling methods, and much more.This will help to get people into the headspace for hitting the ground running when we arrive at our destination.

MOSAiC Floe from East Side. Taken from Helicopter during first recon flight. Photo: Markus Rex/AWI

6/14/20 Another Bear Experience
With high ice pressure we continue to be stopped in the ice. The ship cannot make much progress under these conditions and it is just not worth the effort to keep trying at the moment. So the ship is waiting until somewhat more favorable conditions to continue the journey. Last night we did have a visitor, two actually. A mom and a cub. Such a tiny little cub, born earlier this year. They walked all around the ship, up on top of ridges hopping between little floes, peeking out from behind blocks of ice. This must be such a curious site for them. The mother was vocal this time. Low grunts. The little cub keeping up behind her, sometimes snuggling up underneath her legs and peaking out to the strange sight. And what a great opportunity for the scientists of Leg 4. When going to the Arctic everyone wants to see a polar bear. Bears are that charismatic megafauna that makes everyone smile. And of course if you add an adorable little cub to the mix those smiles get even bigger. All of the cameras come out, everyone trying to capture the perfect moment. Of mom rolling on her back, or cub batting at mom’s nose. Or the little jump of the cub from one ice block to the next, trying to keep up. So many fantastic moments. I’ve seen many bears in the Arctic now, but they really never cease to amaze. Such strong and beautiful creatures. We are trained to protect ourselves from them, with rifles and flashbangs and tripwires, etc. But these creatures don’t seem like a huge threat. They are curious, and possibly hungry, but humans are not on their menu. We are likely stranger to them then they are to us. I wonder if these bears have ever interacted with humans before?

A polar bear and her cub look curiously at the RV Polarstern. Photo: Lianna Nixon/CIRES

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. 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 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.