July 18, 2020

Postcards from a frozen icebreaker — Part 36

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe

6/21/20 Sun
Wow, it has been intense out. The skies cleared, leaving us bathed in full sun all day. Full bright sun, nearly twice as bright as a typical sunny day back home because of the high albedo surface. Photons coming in from all directions. It’s time to make sure you’ve got your sunscreen and sunglasses that can black out all stray light. These are the days that cheer everyone up, and put smiles on faces. I was full speed today, although a bit frustrated in the morning (in spite of the fantastic sun) because few other people were awake. The party last night, and it being Sunday, kept people in bed. I tried to get as much done as possible, coordinating with those that were awake and getting plans organized for lifting equipment down to the ice and getting it out to our sites. Cargo shuffling always seems to be a bottleneck. The ship’s crew is great, and they are super helpful. But they can only operate one crane at a time. And these are huge cranes that are often lifting delicate equipment, so every lift must be done with care. I have found that serving as the cargo coordinator helps keep things flowing. This means coordinating with the various science groups to know what needs to be moved and where it is, etc, etc. Then developing a plan for how it gets done and working with the boson to manifest the plan. I think (hope) the deck crew likes me. They are always going about their work with smiles and making a little joke or two.

The Arctic sun shines bright over the MOSAiC floe. Photo: Lianna Nixon/CIRES

6/23/20 Melting Madness
We have lakes. These are no simple melt ponds but are more like lakes. With some wind there is even a bit of chop out there on the water. They are so nice and blue, especially at those times when the sun is shining. In the last days we’ve been hauling our things out onto the ice. Powerlines, instruments, flags, more. Skidoos pulling Nansen sleds is the option of choice, but one that will be short lived. The “roads” out to Met City and the ROV area have been degrading so quickly. With each trip the water gets a little deeper. Ponds are encroaching. Today there were places where the water was one-foot deep over the “road.” You’ve got to keep the skidoo moving forward but can’t go too fast or you get all splashed. But it is a race now to get our installations in before it is no longer possible to move things via the surface. We did a couple helicopter sling-loads last night to get little huts out to the primary cities. Pretty amazing to see a building flying through the air and then coming to rest right on top of an ice ridge. We carved out a little shelf in the ice, and now our hut stands proud up on its ridge. We just have to be sure to add ablation shielding to help slow the melt process. Otherwise our installations will simply melt out and fall over. The melt is so rapid now that snow grains are very large and slippery. Most steps are slushy at the bottom. The ice has reached an isothermal state at 0 degrees C in the top 50 cm. Below that point the temperature steadily decreases down to about -1.8C, the melting point of saltwater. This ice is now in its full melt state. And that is unfolding all around us each day.

A Leg 4 participant drags a pulka through a melt pond on the MOSAiC ice floe. 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.