2 September 2014, by Dan Wolfe:

IR image of polar bears

Can you spot the bears???

Before we get to the science, I’d like to tell you about my experience today. There have been several polar bear sitings on our leg, but unfortunately they were either too far away, or I failed to get word so I could go out on deck. This afternoon as I was leaving the lunch deck, I overheard someone mention seeing a bear. They said it was way off in the distance though. I wasn’t going to miss another opportunity no matter how far away it was. I had binoculars and a new camera to try out. I called the bridge so they could orient me: 45 degrees off the starboard (right) side they said. We are in 80-90% ice coverage, and a polar bear is white last time I checked. It took several minutes before I found it using the binoculars. My initial reaction was that the bear did stand more than I thought it would. I then got out my camera to see if my recent investment would pay off. Let me just tell you it exceeded my expectations, as did the bear(s). Oh yeah, I spotted a second bear. Mother and cub!! I was so engrossed in taking my own pictures and video, the next time I looked up there was a crowd of people, some with gigantic lenses snapping away all over the deck. It gets better. The bears were coming towards the ship, and we were sitting still doing oceanographic coring off the back of the ship. On top of this, the weather was cooperating with minimal winds. We figure the bears came within 150’ of the ship. Even without a camera you could see them sniffing the air, and the cub pushing up against its mother from time to time. After 20-30 minutes, or maybe longer as I must admit I lost track of time, they wondered off. Still better. A couple of hours later, I heard knocking where I was holed up with our instrumentation (no outside windows), and saw Barbara waving wildly through the inside door window. I knew immediately…more bears. In reality, the same two were back for an encore. This time there was a little bit more open water around, and we were hoping they’d go for a swim. No such luck, but they did cross some ice where they had to jump or test their footing. They came maybe a little closer, but didn’t stick around quite as long as the first time. Now for the best part! Remember my Met Team blog with the IR picture and my comment about wondering what a polar bear’s IR projection would look like? Well see for yourself. Look at the IR image before checking out the matching regular photo.

polar bearsI don’t think we want to say anything quite yet quantitative about our results until we understand exactly what the IR camera is seeing, and the details behind how the camera works. We already know that shooting these images over long distances, the atmosphere will have an effect.

A couple of last thoughts on today’s excitement. As the bears were wandering off the second time, several shipmates and I were talking about how privileged we were to see these animals in their natural environment. And even better than the pictures, is seeing them with the naked eye. To think they are wondering around on ice flows floating in water 3000’ deep in the middle of nowhere. Check out where this is relative to any land: 77o 11.27’ N and 179o 16.5 W.