It’s been a week since we left Tromsø. The Kronprins Haakon has very quickly become our home, and we are enjoying life onboard.
Although one would think that ice is ice, I have discovered that sea ice can take many forms, all equally amazing and with their own characteristics, which I am sure any sea ice physicist would be more than delighted to explain. The beautiful unstable pancake ice formations we first encountered have now become a vast surface of ice either covered in snow or displaying amazing frost flowers. It truly looks like a frozen desert. As it moves, the ship leaves a trail of open water behind, which will close or freeze again depending on the weather and ice conditions.
There is a lot of activity happening on board both during both day and night, not always following natural biorhythms, which very much depends on arrival time at the new station. Sampling of natural processes on board is accompanied by experimental work – such as mine – taking place in some of the many cold rooms on board the ship.
For my work, I investigate how organisms respond to stressors on anthropogenic origin such as acidification or warming. Arctic regions are expected to experience the strongest and most rapid acidification and warming of all global seas. It is not well understood how arctic ecosystems will respond to these changes, and how his might affect other ecosystems on earth.
In order to study this, I use as model organism arctic copepods of the genus Calanus (hoppekreps). These are very important in arctic ecosystems since they constitute more than 90% of zooplankton biomass and are food for many arctic species including whales, birds and fish. For my investigations on board I test the capacity of these organisms to cope with different levels of acidification and I do that by measuring the respiration of individual copepods in a special system I set up in a cold room in the dark.
At each station, sampling takes place for the different disciplines and environments: biological samples (living organisms) are begin taken out of the water with nets of different sizes, water samples are taken for chemistry, biology and a whole range of physical parameters and cores of the seafloor are also being taken for observation and experimental work.
As our first long ice station approaches, that is, the first station where we will extensively go on the ice to do sampling (biology, physics, chemistry), the excitement increases. The preparations for “ice work” are now in full swing. There are many aspects that need to be considered before leaving the ship; safety regulations make sure everything we do on the ice is safe and testing and calibrating equipment will ensure that we get all the data we need. This also requires a high level of organization and coordination to get everybody working as a team.
If things were not exciting enough, on Monday afternoon we spotted the first (of many, hopefully) polar bear of the campaign. The captain announced it through the speakers, and we all rushed to the windows on the starboard side to have a look. Two bears were coming in our direction. We all sighed with relief when we noticed the bears seemed well-fed and playful. Then we also spotted the seals between us and the bears, playfully sticking their heads in and out of the water as if they were playing hide and seek with them. The bears walked around the area where the seals were and approached the ship. Most of us put on warm clothes and went out on the deck of the ship. The bears came close, observed and smelled us, and happily continued their journey. A third bear – much bigger than the two first ones – was spotted in the same area and started to move slowly towards us. However, since we are in a tight schedule, we had to continue our journey forward to our next station. We left the spot wondering where those bears were headed and what the future holds for them.