August 15, 2020
By Matthew Shupe
Kaput is the right word for the moment. A German word that we’ve also adopted in American English. And entirely descriptive of our floe this morning. Waking as usual at 06:50am to head up for our bridge meeting at 07:00 am. I typically enter the bridge, then scan the floe before settling in for discussions with the captain, cruise leader, chief mate, and more.
But things were quite different today. Basically no floe left. Instead just a collection of small pieces of ice. Fractured remnants of our home for the past 6.5 weeks. Little memories of Met City, the Transect, the Fortress, and all of the rest. Now all gone. What impeccable timing! Two days ago we brought most of the science equipment back onboard, then yesterday we nearly finished the collection of logistics equipment. The only major thing left was the Met Hut. Last night we deemed it too difficult to recover via the surface. The main bridge over the largest drainage channel on the way to Met City was barely reaching, and not nearly enough to support the 700 kg hut. And could we even move it with people power anyway? We had ideas to float it over the water, or to build other bridges. But in the end we simply decided to wait. Perhaps helicopter conditions would be favorable the following day. But they weren’t. And instead…. Kaput!
Amazingly the Met Hut actually came to us? In my morning scan, there it was right behind the ship, drifting on a small chunk of the former ridge upon which we installed it those many weeks ago. But we were not yet ready to mobilize the vessel. By the time we could move, the Met Hut had again faded away into the dense fog. Eerily dense. With no marker on the white structure, we had to go searching. Slowly driving the ship through the fog and small ice floes. Back and forth. Eventually Saga spied the hut from her perch on the ship’s bow…. But none of us on the bridge could see it. Until finally, there it hung in mid-air. With such fog, it was hard to see the ice below, and the ridge underneath was one of the biggest around. So it made the structure just hang there. Just barely visible. Don’t lose sight of it now!
Saga’s reward for spying the hut was a ride with me in the “mummy chair,” which is basically a person-basket hoisted by the ship’s crane down onto the ice. We connected the hut via slings to the crane, and the hut was lifted back onboard. This gave me a final moment with this floe, with the Fortress, with MOSAiC’s home for the last 314 days. Some emotions bubbling inside. An end in one regard. MOSAiC the expedition will continue on for some months. But the story of this ice floe is now coming to an end. To a remarkable, splendid, splintered end. I’ve had a good relationship with this floe. I was the first to stand on it way back on 30 September during our first explorations, and before we knew that THIS was the floe. And here today, I was the last to stand on the Fortress floe, an appropriate set of bookends for a truly fantastic ride on this piece of ice.
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.