Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Frozen ocean

“Ten thousand miles apart
A frozen ocean joins our hearts
I can’t wait to meet you where
The frozen waves, the ocean floors
You’ll be standing on the shore
I can’t wait to meet you there” 
- “Frozen Oceans” by Shiny Toy Guns

I was covered, absolutely covered, in layers of fleece and wool. I wore two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks, four layers on my legs and five on my core. I topped it all off with a fluorescent orange waterproof suit issued to me for the cruise. I was warm.

Sea ice surrounding the ship
I had been standing on the bow of the ship for about a half hour, watching over the side as we steamed north. I was helping my colleague, Melanie, by recording any pieces of trash I saw on the surface. Ocean litter is an ubiquitous problem, yes, even in the Arctic, and Melanie suspects the Fram Strait gets much of the flotsam from Europe because it is carried northward by the current. I had only spotted three pieces of plastic during my transect, but then something else caught my eye. I leaned a little closer, gazing over the side of the ship. It was irregularly shaped. Could it be plastic too?

No, it was ice. It was perforated and almost clear, like a snowman melting in spring. My heart leaped! I knew the northward transit would take us into the sea ice, but I thought we were still quite far away. This frozen straggler must be far from home.

Selfie with the sea ice
Over the next ten minutes, I spotted more and more ice chunks (and thankfully no trash). After fifteen minutes, the first ice floe passed me, big enough for two people to stand on. I looked up and saw that about halfway to the horizon, in the slanted evening sun, the sea surface was glimmering white. We had reached it: the ice edge.

This cruise is my fourth time in sea ice, but I still find it captivatingly beautiful. The ice dampens surface waves, so the sea is always calm. White snow reflects sunlight, so the water looks dark black around it. Some ice floes have meltwater pools on top, while others are surprisingly large beneath the surface. When turned up on end, the ice floes are an intense, bright blue, like concentrated antifreeze.

Polar bear!
We came to the ice edge for two gear deployments, which will take place today and tomorrow. At about 80° N, these stations are the northernmost points for the expedition. Our time in the sea ice has already been exciting, because today there was a polar bear on an ice floe near the ship! The captain made an announcement over the ship’s PA system, and immediately we grabbed our cameras and headed outside. The bear was curled up, laying against a pile of snow, and seemed completely unperturbed by the large research ship passing him. He was close enough to the ship to be easily seen with the naked eye, but all too quickly, he had drifted past us and was gone.

I’m grateful for the chance to be back among sea ice and experience the beauty of the Arctic. It is gorgeous in the north!

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