A week after boarding the Kapitan Dranitsyn and 5 days after we left port in Tromsø for a sheltered anchorage in a fjord we finally started sailing north towards the Polarstern. As I mentioned in my previous post we spent several days in the fjord waiting for a storm to pass to our north. When we finally left the shelter of the fjord the Kapitan Dranitsyn began to roll as soon as we were in the open ocean. Initially, this rolling wasn’t too bad but as we continued sailing north, towards the southern tip of Svalbard, the rolling became more violent and waves would occasionally break over the bow of the ship. The rolling of the ship made many of the people onboard feel a bit queasy, myself included, so our meals in the galley were a bit more sparsely attended during the two days we were in the open ocean. The spray from the waves coated the ship in thick ice making it dangerous to walk outside but created beautiful ice sculptures. I’ll post photos of our ice covered ship once I return from the central Arctic and have reliable internet access again.
After almost 2 days of sailing across the ocean north of Norway we reached the edge of the Arctic sea ice cover. At the southern edge of the ice pack the ice was loosely consolidated with flat, circular floes 10 to 20 feet in diameter. It looked as though the sea were covered in floating, rolling white pancakes and in fact this type of ice is called pancake ice. As we continued pushing north into the ice pack the individual pancake floes consolidated and created a nearly continuous, although still thin, layer of ice on top of the ocean. Our ship pushed through this thin ice with no problem, but to everyone’s relief the ice damped the waves so the rolling of the ship stopped.
Our route took us east of Svalbard and west of Franz Josef land, several Russian islands on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. We then sailed north of Franz Josef land through a polynya. A polynya is an area of thin ice or open water surrounded by sea ice and you can picture this like a giant window on the ocean. This polynya ranged from 10 to 40 miles wide and more than 50 miles long. This open water and thin ice allowed us to continue making good progress towards the Polarstern.
After more than a day sailing across the polynya we reached older, thicker sea ice. This ice was more than 1 meter (3 feet) thick. Cracks, called leads, would occasionally appear in the ice cover but just as often areas where the ice was pushed together by wind and/or ocean currents created jumbled blocks of ice, called ridges, 6 to more than 10 feet tall. Just like an ice cube, where only a small part floats above the water in your glass, these ridges extend down into the ocean much deeper than they stick up above the water. The thick, flat ice and the thicker ridges has slowed the Dranitsyn to just a few knots (or mph) over the last day. Sometimes, the ice is so thick that the ship needs to go back and forth over the same track to slowly force its way through the thickest ice. As a result, our progress towards the Polarstern has slowed considerably since we’ve left the polynya north of Franz Josef land. I haven’t heard any estimates of how long it will take for us to cover the last several hundred miles to the Polarstern but I’d guess it will be at least 5 days and possibly longer depending on how thick the ice becomes.
In sailing north (we’re now north of 83 deg N or less than 500 miles from the North Pole) we’ve left the sun behind. The last sunset I saw was in the fjord north of Tromsø. I won’t see the sun again until mid-March when it first rises over the central Arctic after the long polar night. Around midday we do see a thin sliver of orange on the southern horizon that reminds us the sun is still rising and setting to our south. The moon, has been near full, and it casts a soft silver light that lets us see the desolate expanse of sea ice we are sailing through. While I was out on deck the other day, just after noon, I was enjoying the starry sky and noticed that the North Star was almost directly overhead, rather than above the northern horizon as it is as home in Colorado. Of course, the North Star, is located over the North Pole and so as we near the North Pole this familiar star will move to directly overhead. Since my first night on the Dranitsyn I’ve only seen the Northern Lights one other time. We’ve now sailed so far north that it has become less likely that we’ll see the Northern Lights since the area where these occur most often extends from northern Scandinavia across Iceland and into northern Canada and Alaska.
The weather has become more Arctic as we’ve sailed north. While we were in the fjord in Norway the temperature was hovering near freezing but once we entered the sea ice the temperature began to drop. For the past few days the temperature has been between -20 and -25 deg C (or -4 to -13 deg F). When it isn’t windy these temperatures are not too uncomfortable, especially when we are wearing the cold weather gear we were issued in Tromsø. I expect that the temperature at the Polarstern will only be a little colder than this, ranging from -10 to -25 deg F on most days.
I’ve been on the Dranitsyn for almost 2 weeks now and it is become harder to find ways to fill my days. We have our 3 meals in the galley each day and I’ve continued to go to the gym every day. I’ve also been reading a lot and watching TV shows and movies on my iPad. Aside from that we have one to several science meetings each day. Some of these meetings are just small groups of scientists that are working on similar projects but other meetings bring all of the MOSAiC scientists taking part in this leg of the expedition together. We’ve also had some entertainment on board to help pass the time. Occasionally someone will show one of their movies in the ship’s lecture hall / theater. One evening we had a trivia contest in the ship’s lounge and we’ve had two bar nights with beer and wine. These social activities, along with our science meetings, are helping the almost 60 scientists on board get to know each other. This bonding will be useful once we reach the Polarstern and begin working together to make the measurements we’ve traveled so far to take.
Hopefully my next blog post will be from the Polarstern in less than a week.