August 7, 2020
By Matthew Shupe
7/17/20 Bear Sunday
Today is not Sunday. Nor was yesterday. But we’ve spent both mornings onboard the ship like on a typical Sunday because we’ve had a polar bear around the area. First thing yesterday morning there was an announcement over the intercom about a bear on the port side. As is typically the case, people run for their cameras and head out to the decks. The bear was about 30m away, rambling across broken pieces of ice. Sniffing the air. Head bobbing back and forth. Pacing. It seemed so apparent that this bear was confused. What is this giant structure in the middle of the ice, and all of those smells? Eventually the bear wandered over to our starboard side, where our installations and activities take place. One of the first things in that area is a power cable to the ROV site. The bear pawed at it a bit, and tugged on it with an amazing strength. Thick, heavy cables, 100s of meters long. At this point, I’ve moved these cables many times and I know the effort it takes. The strength of this bear is clearly that of multiple people. But we don’t want bears messing with our power lines or getting a shock, so the power was shut off to those lines. The bear wandered across the ice, passing by to sniff at a couple tents, and then headed over to the Remote Sensing installation. This place looks like a scene from Star Wars, with high tech instruments, antenna dishes, some green lights, occasionally the instruments scanning across the surface. These are expensive instruments and we don’t really want them to be play toys for a bear. So one flash bang was fired, expertly by our logistics team, over just between the instruments and the bear….. a pop as it fired, and then bang as it exploded. This got the bear’s attention and perhaps such a sound is now associated with these instruments. Stay away! After running, the bear again slowed to a ramble and headed out one of our trails towards other installations. As I later confirmed, the bear tracks followed ours precisely. Even as our path meandered in perhaps a way that would make no sense to a bear, he still followed our path, for a couple hundred meters. And directly out towards one of our flux stations!
Already on Leg 1 we had a bear dismember one of these stations. But this time as the bear approached to within a couple of feet of the system, the ship’s horn was blown. Deep and loud. Again the bear responded rapidly… What is this sound? Running away from these strange devices. He ambled over to more equipment in the distance. Sniffing and pawing. At some point the helicopter was used to encourage the bear to move on. In the afternoon we had abbreviated activities on the ice, as we knew the bear was still close by. Jackson and I went out to check on our flux sled, finding no damage and only some tracks getting close. Interesting to read the tracks. There, about 2 meters from the sled, were a couple of tracks that were deeper than the others, with claws forward and pushed in. These were likely those first steps after the sound of the horn, those startled steps when the bear began to run…. Judging by the paw size, this bear was not as big as our last bear. But still a powerful giant. Overnight the bear returned for further investigations. And now sits out on a small floe to our port side taking a nap. Thus, we will have no activities on the ice this morning. Kind of like Sunday. It does sound like a great time for a nap.
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.