August 3, 2020

Postcards from a (formerly) frozen icebreaker: Part 41

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe

7/3/2020 Sediment II
The ice surface becomes dirtier every day out here. In such a sediment-rich floe the melting tends to reveal more and more sediment, which consolidates into a brown surface. This in turn leads to more absorption at the surface, which further enhances the melt. One fascinating aspect is that as the floe melts, it reveals its treasures. Siberian treasures. Lots of little stones, and sea shells. Even a little starfish. The other day I found a rock, 4-5cm across, with some sort of sea floor plant growing on it. A bit of green out here in our otherwise white, blue, and brown scene. Each day as you walk along the trails you see little holes in the surface. Looking inside you sometimes find these treasures. They’ve been melting their way out. Usually it is a collection of little pebbles, all together. But sometimes it is something a little more interesting. Telling us a bit about this floe and its history.

Patches of Melosira algae found beneath the sea ice. Photo: Lianna Nixon/CIRES

7/5/2020 Isolation
We get little bits of news out here about the world beyond the Arctic. It sounds like COVID-19 has had a resurgence in many areas, as restrictions were lifted there have been new outbreaks. Renewed calls for staying at home, wearing masks, social distancing. The world itself is ill and faced with this immense challenge. Yet out here in our Arctic bubble there are actually days that I don’t even think about the coronavirus. It doesn’t even pop into my head. I guess this would be impossible at home. But out here there is no virus, no social distance needed. We are all healthy… seemingly in all ways. No one is really coughing or sick in other ways. At least as far as I can tell. It’s such a feeling of freedom, from the new reality of life at home. Beyond the reach of COVID… and fortunately even beyond most of the reach of COVID news. Peacefully isolated in the Arctic.

A speck in the Arctic landscape: An aerial view of the Polarstern. Photo: Michael Gutsche/AWI

7/6/2020 Successes
Lately there has been a series of challenges. This is the way it usually goes as we set up suites of instruments; some details inevitably go wrong. And then we are faced with diagnosing the issues, trying to isolate the causes and then fixing the problems. Fortunately, in the last days our series of issues has mostly been of the simpler variety. Sometimes an easy fix, or a reinstallation does the trick. We check for continuity of signals to isolate where something is going wrong. Sometimes it is simply a power connectivity issue; you have to make sure that your device is turned on! (Ok, it’s a little more complicated than that… but can be this simple sometimes.) Jackson and I have lists on the white board of all our issues and details to address. Each day we take on a few of these. On a typical day we successfully erase a couple of items from these lists… and then maybe add a new item or two that crop up over the day. Slowly we make progress in the right direction. Operations have actually been quite successful so far. Lots of equipment has been installed in a challenging environment. We are almost fully operational, at least as operational as we can get given the constraints of this particular floe and this time of the year.

A scientist at work in front of Met Tower. Photo: Lianna Nixon/CIRES and 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. 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: and @MOSAiCArctic.