2004 Expedition Blog - Day 6
Wednesday, 15 September 2004, 21:47 (CF2 time)
Daily blog post, Wednesday 15 September 2004
24 hours of endless and wildly different activity. We finally say farewell to or science friends at the Norwegian and German science stations at Ny-Ålesund and venture into the night. Simon and Sarah, our oceanographers from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (formerly the Southampton Oceanography Centre) have planned a transect, which take us west 40 miles into the Atlantic.
The evening dusk so slowly changes into a semblance of night as the sea builds from the west. Our team settle into their beds fighting sea sickness while the ocean monitoring crew stake claim to the dog-house with stacks of computers and instruments.
Every few kilometres we stop (not easy in 18 knots of wind) and measure in detail first to a depth of 50m then with XBT's to a depth of 800m. Sean, our 18 year old has the job of retrieving equipment from depth, hard cold work while I fire the XBT's. Simon controls the computers and we get our readings. I, as an artist, am intrigued by the data which shows clearly the enormous river of the Norwegian Current (Gulf Stream) which is measured at 8 degree centigrade even at this high altitude and is about 300 times in size to the Amazon River. It controls our lives in Europe and makes our lives temperate, but what intrigues me is that you can look over the surface of the seas, yet underneath is this complex and important set of physical actions that control our lives. How do you photograph that?
At 5.30am, cold wet and exhausted, we finish the science experiments and we retire to our bunks tossed into weightless by the roller coaster ride of these high seas. The noise is thunderous and reminds us how far we are away from a pleasure cruise.
Breakfast precedes dawn and we, in spasmodic spurts, emerge from the cabins, some of us the worse for ware. The day moves on, the sea calms and we track close to the shelter of land as we head north towards the 80th parallel. We have found out that we can legally land at Moffen Island, a nature reserve, home to 100's of walrus and closed to the public until the 15th September. This this becomes our next destination.
On route we rest at Danskøya Island where Andree attempted to sail by balloon to the north Pole, he failed and died, a romantic dreamer from the last century. Here we sight our first polar bear, who slouches then ambles away from our unwelcome attention, he exudes awesome power and delightful cuteness. It would be so sad to loose this beast because we are careless with the values of our western lives.
It is late and for two nights running I have survived on 5 hours sleep - time to rest on my bed, moored under a glacier and afloat on an arctic sea. Dream on.
Wednesday, 15 September 2004, 14:35 (CF2 time)
News from the science team
Today was the day that the science team were in the spotlight. After an illuminating experience the night before seeing the German atmospheric laser probe the Arctic skies to measure cloud and gas content at Ny-Ålesund, we switched from hi-tech to low with Mike's tin can ice corer. After some chilled hours with Emily trying to take a core to investigate the structure of the ice we realised why professional corers are diamond tipped - 5,000 year old ice is VERY hard.
Fortunately science credibility was saved when we managed to predict where the drifting buoy supporting Dan's developing plaster sculpture had gone. He suspended a block of plaster beneath a float for 2 days which we then let drift around the fjord - to see how nature would sculpt it. The results were artistically stunning and scientifically interesting - this could be the birth of a new analytical tool for future use.
Then the big event - the transect from Ny-Ålesund due west along the 79 degree parallel to try to find existence of remnants of Gulf Stream water - better known to us as the Norwegian Atlantic current. This was the point at which the scientist's popularity with the artists was put to its test as we pushed out into the heavy swell of the Arctic Sea. Also the point at which Anna's (the Noorderlicht's Cook) food was tried twice by some - it was worth it.
We sampled at 10 points heading west into the open ocean, heading to the point where the depth of water reached 1,000m - the shelf edge. Here we found surface Arctic waters - fresh and cold (2 degrees C) from the glacier melt waters.
At only 30m depth were the waters that once flowed past the hot Florida coast - the warm salty waters of the Norwegian Atlantic current (over 7 degrees).
At the bottom of the ocean we found the very cold (below 0 degrees) waters of the Arctic Sea.
Our conclusion? Difficult from this "snap shot" but let's just say the Atlantic current, which maintains the ice free waters off to the west of Svalbard, is hotter now than most of the text books of previous years indicate!