Arctic expedition on board the Oden, summer 2018

MOCCHA logo white reshaped.jpg

MOCCHA research expedition 2018, on board the Swedish Icebreaker Oden

This summer, I’ll be joining a joint Swedish and American research expedition to the “High Arctic”, up near the north pole.   We’ll spend eight weeks on board the Swedish icebreaker Oden, and the majority of that time will be spent drifting with the sea ice in a region of about 95% ice cover.  The expedition planners have already won one of the games that we scientists very rarely admit exists: the game to invent an acronym for the project that is an actual word.   In this case, they’ve come up with MOCCHA, which stands for Microbiology-Ocean-Cloud-Coupling in the High Arctic.  It almost makes me regret vetoing the suggestion a few years ago from a colleague that we give a different project the name TEABAG (in that case, Turbulent Exchange of Aerosols, Bubbles And Gases).  Anyway, MOCCHA it is, and we already have a lovely logo that shows us all at sea in a cup (drawn by Tinja Olenius and Paul Zieger).   

The overall project is to park ourselves deep in the summer sea ice, to become a tiny speck in a vast expanse of white, in order to study clouds and how the ocean and ice affect them.   There will be around 40 scientists on board, as well as the Oden’s crew members.  Pictures of an ice-covered Arctic ocean make it look very calm, but the reality is that the ice, atmosphere and ocean are constantly moving, exchanging energy, momentum and various molecules, and this is an incredibly dynamic system.  The science team is large because there are so many different aspects to study, and it’s essential that we’re all there together so that we can see how the jigsaw pieces link up. I’m part of this project because it seems that bubbles may have a role to play in how this engine works.  I’ll be studying the bubbles that form in the gaps between ice floes, trying to pick apart how they form and what they’re doing.  I’ll post more as we go along about all the various scientific facets that make up the project, but you can read the summary I wrote for the expedition blog here.

I’ll be away from July 30th until September 25th.  It will take us around a week to reach the area that we’d like to work in, perhaps a week to find a nice large ice floe (a few kilometres across) to moor the ship to, and then we’ll drift for five weeks until it’s time to come home (which will take a week).  Oden did a similar expedition in 2008, and there’s a picture of the ship on site below.   The “open lead” marked there is the type of watery gap between ice floes that I’ll be studying.

Oden and open lead site 2008.jpg

Most of my time for the past few weeks has been taken up with packing the equipment, which is now waiting for me on the ship.  I took my kit up to Leeds so that it could travel with the boxes from my colleagues at NCAS, and the photo below is some (only some!) of those boxes waiting in the AMF yard.

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None of us are travelling light, as you can see.  Only 12 of those cases were mine, but there were 81 in total.  And that’s just the equipment for four or five of the scientists who will be on board.   It’s not just science kit – it’s everything that we’ll need for two months at sea.  You do your best, and then you cross your fingers that you haven’t forgotten anything crucial.  But even then, nature usually has a curveball to throw at you. I’ve already accepted that the recent hot weather probably ruined my emergency chocolate supplies before they even left the UK.  But if that’s the only thing that doesn’t get there intact, I guess I can’t complain!


Places to find updates:

There is an expedition website, and Stockholm University has a live ship tracker here.

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.

Helen Czerski