September 19, 2020
By Matthew Shupe
8/18/20 The Last Ice
Our ship now sways side to side. It’s subtle because there is little swell. But it is a distinctly different feel than transiting through ice when there are periodic jolts and shutters resonating through the whole vessel. We are now in open water and have left the ice behind. In the last hours we cruised through the last remnants of ice. Little chunks floating alone, their hours numbered out here in the water that is now creeping slightly above the melting point. These few random pieces of ice that somehow make it out beyond the ice edge. What are they here? What are their stories? But now they are all gone and we are left with nothing but open ocean in every direction.
Our day has been a successful one. A final buoy to recover, an ice-tethered ocean profiler. We found it last night about midnight, bobbing in the open water between ice floes. By the morning the crew was ready. The captain nestled the ship in backwards, getting close enough for the deck crew to hook the buoy, get it on a line, then connect it to a winch strung through a large A-frame. The float was lifted up high enough to grab the long cable extending down into the ocean underneath. A helper line was used to secure and then pull the main cable through a capstan onboard. Then slowly all 800m of cable were pulled in. At the very end, the sensor package hanging out of the water and then lowered onto the deck. The whole operation took a couple of smooth hours. On the bottom of the cable was another surprise. A creature from the deep. I have no idea what it was, but it looked kind of like an alien. It must be related to sea stars. An inner structure, perhaps 10cm across with 5 basic sections to it. Perhaps a little opening that might be a mouth. Emanating out in all directions were branches, bit at first but splitting and branching to smaller and smaller branches in all directions. Altogether it was about 40cm across and it looked like a big plate of spaghetti with an oddly shaped meatball. Or perhaps even a nest holding a strange egg in the middle. What a cool mystery from the ocean depths.
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.