August 16, 2020
By Matthew Shupe
8/1/20 A Letter to the Arctic
Lianna Nixon is onboard here, representing our Colorado/CIRES team. She’s working on a Master’s Degree in education and was selected to participate on our communications team. She takes truly fantastic photographs, of people, of wildlife. Capturing so many moments. For a project, she has asked us to write Letters to the Arctic, so here goes:
For over 20 years we’ve known each other, in some way or another. First, a cold and frosty encounter; you, dark and mysterious, me, young and naïve. You piqued my curiosity, you compelled me with unknowns and questions. In time you drew my full attention and my admiration. Then a dance for many years, you’ve revealed so many sides to me: your complexity, your delicate balances, your transformations across seasons and decades. Even now you continue to remake yourself in a new image each year, as we both age and evolve. As I sit here exhausted after many intense months together, you continue to surprise me. I’m constantly in wonder at your power, yet vulnerability. At the depth of your blues, and the diverse angularity of your ice; at the bold independence of your fauna. I cannot help but think that our relationship continues, that you will tell me more of your story. And so, I will return to you, with more questions, seeking more answers. I will happily continue this journey with you to an unknown future.
With the rapid decline of the MOSAiC floe in its last days, I became increasingly concerned about the stability of the L2 site and our flux sled there. A few weeks ago it was 7 nautical miles away, then over a couple days this ballooned up to 45 nautical miles. Then in the last days L2 has been racing towards us. 35 miles, 27 miles, 17 miles. Late yesterday evening the station was back in radio range and we scrambled to get at least the basic data downloaded from it. As the local ice concentration kept decreasing. I kind of expected the system to drop off the map, to go silent, at any moment. So getting the data was such a huge relief. That data is so valuable, and now it is safe here with us. And fortunately, the whole station is as well.
Later in the day we headed over to L2, only 5 miles away at the time, and amazingly found the floe mostly intact. However, it was clear that this floe was just holding on to its last moments. Inundated with ocean water around the edges, high melt pond fraction, many ponds melted through. This would not last for long here. So we parked and got in survival suits. Jackson, Laura, and I. Spikes on our boots, clomping out across the floe. We found a good way to push our sled back to the ship, only passing through one melt pond that was only about 1 foot deep. Ready to push, but we needed more team members to help.
The clouds had been lifting, and this opened a window for helicopter operations. And so a sling load approach was on the table. Realistically, I was a bit disappointed because I’ve grown a bit fond of pushing these sleds of ours over the uneven ice, and I figured that we could do the operation faster….. but it would require more people getting out on this unstable ice, so we opted for the sling load. 30 minutes of preparation on the surface, getting the station ready with instruments safe and slings in place. Then the heli in the air, flying overhead, I connected the slings in the whipping downwash…. And away she goes over to the ship with ease. A rescue at L2 and now we have two flux sleds back onboard and operating next to each other on the working deck.
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.