Local time: 15:30 2016-08-15
Position: 89° 10.15’N 034° 36.77’W
Speed: 4.9 knots
Water depth: 4117 m
Wind speed: 9.6 m/s
Air temperature: -4.8°C
Feels like (wind chill): -12.35°C
Sea temperature: 0°C
Greetings from north of the 89th parallel! I can’t believe we are almost at the North Pole! But we are probably not stopping there for a few days, the last I head is that we are doing some more work for a couple of days before we stop. Actually, we may pass directly through the North Pole with the seismic lines before that, without stopping. So then I can say I have been to the North Pole twice, right?
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to assist the “heavy metals” work package on an ice station. An ice station is when we go on the ice to do field work. The ship can either stand still, and allow people to walk onto the ice via the gangway, or you can fly out in a helicopter. For this expedition, the ships are sailing almost constantly due to ongoing work, so a helicopter is used for ice stations.
Flying in a helicopter, especially in such a remote and potentially hostile environment has a lot of risks associated. Therefore, all participants who could possible need to go in the helicopter had a thorough safety briefing with our (Norwegian) pilot Ted. We were both given a briefing and also a practical walkthrough of the helicopter on the helideck. We got to try getting into and out of the helicopter, fastening the seat belts, opening and closing doors and being showed where the emergency rotor break and shut down of the fuel supply are, in case of a for some reason incapacitated pilot. It may sound unnecessary detailed to try to open and close doors. and such However, most people have not been in helicopters before, and it’s useful to familiarize oneself with these things before you go out for real. Apparently, it is easy to get stressed when you are under the moving rotors of the helicopter. I totally understand that, it is not a pleasant feeling as the noisy rotor blades are spinning only some metres from your head at the speed of sound, and the downwind blows everything up.
The helicopter is small, and we needed to bring a lot of equipment out and in addition bring samples back. The photo is from before we took off in the helicopter, and you can see how much stuff we had to take inside the helicopter just going out. We fit four (barely) in the back (me, La Daana, Åsa and Katarina). In addition, Bengt (the technician) and Ted (the pilot) were in the two front seats. In addition to everything on our laps, we had a life raft and a spare battery under our legs. Fortunally, the helicopter ride was not too long, only about 30 minutes.
We flew out around 11 nautical miles upstream of the vessels. Katarina wanted me to assist in choosing an appropriate site for the field work. An appropriate site would be flat, and preferable not too thick and hard ice, so we can manage to drill through the ice. It is really difficult to distinguish this. Firstly, yesterday was cloudy and very flat light. Therefore, there are no shadows which tell you where the irregularities are. Furthermore, it is more difficult to see them from a helicopter than on the ground. Lastly, even if you find a nice, flat spot, you never know what type of ice you have. The ice is covered with snow, and can be metres thick. Anyways, we found an appropriate spot and started taking samples.
The work package “heavy metals” want to investigate how heavy metals such as mercury are deposited and re-emitted from the Arctic. It is believed that sea ice works as a cap on the water for dissolved gaseous mercury in sea water, and therefore prohibits mercury evasion from sea surfaces to the atmosphere. Therefore, they are collecting samples of water, air and snow and ice, to measure the concentration of mercury and compare ice-covered areas to ice-free areas.
Katarina, Åsa and me (the latter two both assisting for the occasion) took samples of the snow, while La Daana collected ice cores and sea water and brine samples. Unfortunately, we only got to spend about half an hour on the ice, before we got called back to the ship due to incoming snow and fog. The helicopter cannot fly when it’s low visibility, so we had to pack up our gear swiftly, and leave to go back to she ship.
Assisting on an ice station was a really fun experience, and I hope to be able to assist Katarina and her crew at a later stage as well.