Svalbard

Posts from Wednesday 3 October, 2007

The Snap Freeze

By Ben // Wednesday 3 Oct // 20:25:01 // 2 Comments // View

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Before delving into today’s installment of Something Spectacular That Is Probably Impossible To Experience Anywhere Else, I should probably mention that we didn’t wind up in Scoresby Sund.  Rather we’re settled into the coast just south, Blosseville Kyst, fjord hopping our way down.  Having spent the first night in Deichmann fjord, we swung around the point to Turner Sound, tucked behind Turner Island.  Here we experienced the aforementioned S.S.T.I.P.I.T.E.A.E.

Which was:  a snap freeze.  Now I’ll implore you to check out the posts from the Science Team for a much better description of exactly what this is.  But here’s how I experienced it:  the boat circled through a spot in the Sound where thin, wispy crystals of ice were barely scattering the surface.  After completing a loop, Beth (thankfully) asked for a second pass, during which the Noorderlicht was breaking through ice probably 2 inches thick, where just 15-20 minutes earlier it had been nearly pure liquid.  Simon guessed that by morning it’d be about 3-4 feet thick.

And that’s why we’ve got to pay attention to where we park.

I think there’s some video I took floating somewhere on the site as well of the freeze, and the Science Team’s reaction.  Check it.

Representative quote of the day:
“Noorderlicht, the icebreaker!”  –Renska, digging the snap freeze.
“Not in 35 or 40 years in the field have I seen it.”  –Simon, also digging the snap freeze.

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Glaciers rock!

By Carol // Wednesday 3 Oct // 19:30:05 // View

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As a non-sailor, coming across the Greenland sea was surprisingly exhilarating. Weirdly, the increasing sense of exhilartion appeared to be exponetially linked to a worsening sea state (although my mum will never believe that in a month of sundays!) But now I’m seeing my glacial geomorphology textbooks come to life in a huge, towering, awe-inspiring way.

On the 2nd we went for an afternoon walk on a large moraine complex. One glacier fed into the head of the current fjord, in a north-easterly direction, and yet the east / west orientated striations on virtually all the boulders contained in the moraine suggested that something had come through from a different direction, exerting huge forces that gouged out lines in the solid rock. On climbing up to the top of the ridge I could see another glacier in the far distance, separated from the first one we could clearly see from the boat by a sharp ridge (arete). This glacier has retreated a long way up its valley, and yet with a bit of imagination and going back a few hundreds of years, you could visualise how these two streams of ice would have met, and carved their way out to sea in one massive ice stream. What I had thought to be a lateral moraine would actually have probably been a medial moraine, marking the join between the two glaciers.

On the 3rd we went for an amble in the Nooderlicht. Initially out to investigate a large iceberg, but then through a sound (Sund) round Turner Island. We went into a little inlet part way through the sund in which we were meant to moor last night. Here we saw something I thought I would never see in all my life – snap freezing of the sea within minutes – read Simon’s blog for more detail on this amazing feat of nature.

At the head of this cove was a classic example of a corrie or cirque. This is an amphitheatre shaped depression, usually located high up in the face of a mountain. It acts as an accumulation zone for snow, and will often develop into the head of a glacier. There was no obvious glacier forming in this one, although a trail of snow leading from it suggests that maybe in the past it was a glacial source. Following the snow down from this, there was a sudden drop into a lower valley, where a small glacier was retreating back from the fjord edge. Although not a classic example, this closely resembled a hanging valley, formed when a tributary glacier joins a main ice stream, and is quite literally left hanging when the main ice sheet retreats. What I couldn’t tell from the boat was when this retreat happened – whether or not the retreat has happend recently (on the geological timescale of hundreds of years!) or as part of a natural cycle of advance and retreat.
Click to read the full post >

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Turner Sound

By Nick // Wednesday 3 Oct // 18:49:47 // View

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Cold cameras and bleeding fingers

By Nick // Wednesday 3 Oct // 18:45:17 // 1 Comment // View

Morning broke. to bits of our video cameras laid out on the breakfast table, the scientists pushed aside their toast and got stuck in with cotton buds and alcohol. The afternoon before my camera had caught a wave as we landed the inflatable, then Matt’s camera had been the victim of an overflowing water system. Despite the concentrated efforts of our best camera surgeons, neither camera pulled through. The weather gets everywhere.

Every roll of the ship and change in gravity finds me mentally checking the various stowed cameras, tied cases and lashed lenses around the ship. Did I bring them in? Did I fix them to a new side, now that the ship’s rolling to port? I keep a set of cameras for use outside and a set inside; a cold camera will take over an hour to acclimatise to a warm cabin.

The cold narrates our days here, this afternoon we filmed Liam perform one of his songs sitting on the bow-sprit against a backdrop of snow-drifted mountains. Two takes in, Liam fingers were bleeding. Indoors we are flexible; trying to do the simplest things outside in this cold makes us realise how fragile we can be. Guitarists’ fingers become stiff and brittle.

As I pack up the cables, the fjord’s cold surface forms a glaze popping and crackling below, musing of freezing our ship fast. Around us cloud-capped mountains tower from the water’s edge, looking down on tiny people tending their bleeding fingers, cold flattened batteries and salt-shorted circuits.

We bring cameras, inks, charcoal and guitars to record and respond to this place and are trumped by the interventionist art of climate itself.

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Unartertaqarteq

By Cape Farewell // Wednesday 3 Oct // 16:48:56 // View

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Unartertaqarteq is the West Greenlandic name meaning place with hot springs
(unartoq means hot springs).

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Quick freeze

By Ben // Wednesday 3 Oct // 16:40:17 // View

Get Flash to see this player.

Quick freezing sea ice in Turner Sound. (Duration: 1:18mins)

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Getting better by the hour

By Simon // Wednesday 3 Oct // 16:00:38 // View

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It’s Wednesday, the sun is shinning again and the mountain scenery of Greenland gets better by the hour. Last night we even had a showing of the Northern Lights courtesy of a relatively clear night. Though we are now focusing on aspects of art, filming and writing – it’s a positive hive of activity aboard the Noorderlicht – we did also get some exciting science. This was the sort that could have kept us on Greenland a bit longer than planned – the sea freezing. We passed into Turner Fjord, a passage between a mountainous island and the mainland more than a fjord really, to look in awe at the glacial terrain elegantly explained by Carol as we went. Part way through the sea took on a slightly slushy consistency, a precursor to the sea freezing.

When a freshwater pond freezes, because the temperature of maximum density (4 deg C) is above the freezing point (zero deg C), a thin layer of very cold stable water sits at the surface as the pond cools towards zero and it freezes slowly from the top down. We have all seen that thin layer of ice that slowly builds up on a pond, lake or even puddle. It causes little problem for vessels in it’s early stages.

When the sea freezes, because the temperature of maximum density (-2.8 deg C) is below the freezing point (-1.9 deg C) for average salinity levels, convection in the water keeps going until the entire water column is close to freezing. This means that when the sea freezes it does so very quickly (hours) and this is why ships can get iced in at sea with little warning.

As we passed into the slush Gert decided to do a quick (15 minute) circle of the area. On the first pass it was slush. By the second it was 2-3 inch ice which was developing very quickly and the ship strained to pull out. One more circle and we would have been there for the winter! We moved on out of Turner Fjord rapidly and realised why, according to the “pilot”, that no one had visited it in the past 70 years. From here on we will be checking the sea temperatures before dropping anchor for the night!

In answer to Tom’s query about Arctic monkeys – the only type of monkey we find up in this part of the World is us – lol. As for Polar Bear pictures? We’ve yet to see the elusive creature but will do our best. With more cameras on board than at an international fashion show trust me, it will become the most photographed bear on the planet.

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Cabin Fever

By Cape Farewell // Wednesday 3 Oct // 15:18:26 // View

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