This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise KPH”.
Day 10 · 28 February 2022
Today we continue with ice station at P5 – short for “Process study station” at approx. 80.5° N 34° E.
To my delight I can join the scientists A. and B. on the ice this morning. Great! First they will do a transect measuring ice and snow depths along a path, then A. will examine snow. I will join them but without a specific task.
Right after breakfast the preparations start. We all have to dress up and equipment as well as snowmobiles have to be lifted from deck onto the ice. And then I stand on the Arctic sea ice a second time.
It’s -12½ °C, wind 8 m/s– good conditions for taking a walk. But before we start instruments have to be set up and activated.
While B. sets up the GEM-2 device, a multi-frequency broadband electromagnetic sensor to measure ice thickness, something happens. Our polar bear guard J. breaks through the ice. First up to the thighs, a second later to the hips. Exactly on the very snow mobile track that all use to walk to the different places. It could have happened to any of us. J. is lucky, he pushes himself out of the hole way within seconds. After this incident the ice hole is examined and the weak parts are removed. Now it is 2 m long but hardly 50 cm wide. Later it will be marked with flags to prevent others falling in.
J. stays almost completely dry and does not need to change clothes. So our small transect caravan is ready to depart.
- A. comes first. With each steps he pushes the long staff of the Magnaprobe into the snow to measure and track the snow depths.
- B. comes second. She pulls the pulka with the GEM-2 that continuously measures ice thickness as well as position and time.
- J. comes third. As our bear guard he has a rifle on his pulka and safety equipment. He has to keep two metres distance to B’s pulka, the GEM-2 is sensitive.
- I come fourth. I just follow in the same slow pace – slow enough to take some photos. I do not dare to leave the track after J’s involuntary “bath”.
Our destination is that black flag tied to the bamboo pole over there. How far it is? On the sea ice I do not have any clue. It could be 100 metres, it could be a kilometre. Distances are hard to guess.
Our walk takes only 45 minutes but is extremely impressive. We leave the ship behind, therefore I only see the others, the sea ice, clouds and the low hanging sun that illuminated this Arctic scenery in the warmest colours. The next image is one of my favourites, but it cannot reproduce the „North Pole“ feeling I experienced on our triangle formed walk.
When I wrote „North Pole“ I started to smile. Yes, I would love to visit the North Pole someday. I doubt however that it looks different there than here. Being part of this quite inaccessible Arctic landscape touches me deeply and I’ll never forget this impression. I envy A. and B. who will walk a lot on this expedition, mostly by foot, sometimes by skis. I cannot imagine a better job than doing this.
Are we on the ice the whole day? No. There’s breakfast 7:30–8:00, lunch 11:30–12:30 and dinner 17:30–18:30. At meal times there is no polar bear watches and so no people on the ice neither.
After lunch I am allowed to be on the ice a 3rd time, helping. I am in doubt if we are actually able to step on it because it became windier and the visibility was mediocre. And visibility is needed by the polar bear watches.
Visibility doesn’t seem an issue and soon I stand on the sea ice again. I am sent to another scientist that may need my help. Well, not yet– so let’s take a few short snapshots.
While I try to figure out how I can help someone is coming to us and says: „Grab your stuff and leave the ice immediately!“. I want to fetch my backpack but cannot find it. Probably someone else already took it. So I head back to the icebreaker – it’s near – where equipment is already loaded back to the ship. And there’s the backpack.
Soon I am on board again and learn what happened. It was not a polar bear as I suspected but a crack in the ice. It came from the distance and started to split our ice floe fast. The crack was not threatening us directly but a clear signal, that the ice is not safe anymore. Here a photo from one of the upper decks:
Later this day a small team in survival suits takes down the tents and fetches the rest of the equipment.
For me that feels like an extraordinary incident but the affected scientists take it easy. Seems to happen frequently. Some admit that they were surprised that this ice floe held so long. I do not say it loud but think for myself that I would have preferred wearing a survival suit to the Regatta suit to keep dry in the case of breaking through, but that’s not up to me to decide. And still – I do not have any experience on Arctic sea ice.
What shall I say. Two days ago I was afraid that I was not let on the sea ice and now I already have been there three times. I am very grateful to the cruise leader that gave me these opportunities while handling a zillion other things – many of them really important – at the same time! Thank you, G.!