89º 36.99' N, 40º 51.09' E
MOCCHA research expedition 2018 on board the Swedish Icebreaker Oden
After two weeks of slow steady progress, pushing through ice and fog, everything has suddenly started happening at once. We've been looking for the big stable ice floe that we want to drift with for the next five weeks, and it's been slow going. The best way of scouting is for the ship's helicopter to go up and look ahead and around, but it can't fly when there's fog and that's most of the time. We kept going north, and yesterday morning, we woke up just 5.5 nautical miles from the North Pole, with very heavy ice between us and the pole. That's apparently well within the official limits for having visited the pole, so the crew lowered the gangway and we were allowed out on the ice for the first time. Even better, the sun came out for the first time in several days, and it was properly, beautifully sunny.
I've spent many months of my life on ships but I have never stepped off one in the middle of an ocean on to the water, walked away and then turned around to look back at the ship I've been living on. We were standing on a metre-thick surface shell, with four kilometres of water separating us from the seafloor mountain range below. And at the same time, the world was quite literally revolving around us. It was a privilege to be there, and exciting to touch frozen ocean for the first time. I've spent plenty of time on glaciers and near icebergs, but sea ice is different and this felt special.
From some special hidey-hole on the ship, a signpost appeared, with distances to a range of world cities, and an arrow pointing straight downwards marked "South Pole". That other pole is 12,800 km away, directly beneath our feet. We spent a happy hour taking photographs and enjoying the sunshine, a real treat after so many working hours spent either squirrelled away in labs on the ship, or working on deck with chilly fingers. And then it was time to go back on the ship, for a special toast on the bridge and a celebratory North Pole dinner. Everyone was particularly appreciative because once the work on the ice floe starts, there won't be much time to stop.
Today, we've been waiting. As soon as the morning cloud cleared, the helicopter went out, and at every teabreak and mealtime, everyone has been asking for news about our floe. We know that we're in a really good area, and suddenly there are lots of potential large floes around. But there are lots of constraints - it has to have suitable sampling areas for several different types of science, all on one floe. It has to be stable enough to keep the ship's captain happy. It has to have space next to it for the ship to moor in two different orientations (so that Oden can be kept with her bow into wind).
Rumours went around - a floe had been found, but it wasn't stable enough; there were three possible floes, but none of them quite right - is there a deadline we need to choose a floe by? And then as I was finishing work on the back deck around 7:30pm, the ship started reversing and shunting ice around without going anywhere. I went up to the bridge and found the chief scientists, the captain, the first and second officers, and the technical crew all clustered around the windows, pointing. A decision had been made. We have a floe. The churning that I had seen was the ship making sure that it had a harbour on one side, with enough open water to manoeuvre easily.
Everyone was talking about where power lines would go, where we would sample open water, where polar bears might hide. And only two hours later, the ship has moored. The crew have drilled ice anchors and the science leads are about to go out on the tour to decide on measurement sites. Then tomorrow, the ship's crew will do safety and logistics preparation, and only once all of that is done will the scientists be allowed off the ship. And then things will happen very quickly, so that the helicopter is used only during one intense period and the atmospheric measurements are disturbed as little as possible.
So having the party yesterday was perfect. Tomorrow, the real work starts.
Places to find updates:
There will also be blogs there from lots of the people on board as we go along, and they’ll also probably have more pictures than anyone else.
I’ll post updates here, in the “At Sea” section.
The Cosmic Shambles network is about to launch a blog section here, and I’ll be one of their contributors while I’m on Oden. The aim of my blog there will be to have a look behind the scenes at how a human (or 60 of them, in this case) deals with being parked up at the top of the world for eight weeks. Last time around, even my Mum thought I’d gone mad when the biggest storm hit. I’m pretty sure we’ll all go just as potty this time, even though we’re certainly not expecting any stormy seas.
Tweeting is a bit tricky when you don’t have internet, but there may still be some tweets from @helenczerski. Some of my colleagues on the expedition are also on twitter – keep an eye on @IanMBrooks, @MattESalter, @Arctic_Andy, @DrPrytherch, @CKatlein @gshowalt, @AmandaGrannas and @ArcticKerri.
The Swedish Polar Research Secretariat will be tweeting here: @SvenskPolarforskning (sometimes in Swedish, sometimes English), using the hashtag #ArcticOcean2018. They also have a facebook page.
There will also hopefully be some audio updates on Inside Science.