Svalbard

Posts from Simon Boxall

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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Mythical Land of Greenland

By Simon // Tuesday 2 Oct // 10:00:17 // 8 Comments // View

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To an oceanographer the past eight days has just been – well – work. High seas, cold and wet, but lots of good science – and another step towards beginning to understand the vast marine environment. But to the many assembled artists and film makers the nirvana of our voyage was the increasingly mythical land of Greenland. It became clear why Greenland – which must be the size of Britain, France, Spain and probably a few smaller EU countries for god measure – has a population of 50,000 people; they were the only ones who could get to it. Finding a gap in the fields of sea ice and errant ice bergs was more frustrating than finding a parking space the Saturday before Christmas. This was a close analogy as for some bizarre reason Monday lunchtime felt like Christmas Day – I’m not sure if it was the snow billowing around the deck outside, the strangely promising grey light that always seems to accompany the festivities, or the warm smell of cooking – promising and comforting. If some uncle or group of nieces were to walk through the door laden with presents, expectant of sweet sherry or gifts in return, we’d have raised a glass rather than suprise. White Christmas played in the background (really!) and only the Queen’s Speech was missing.

However this was the first of October and while stores around the world will soon be preparing for their Christmas sales, even my mother won’t have put the sprouts on yet – not at least for another 3 weeks. The Christmas idiom was soon shattered – the winds picked up and the reality that Greenland – 20 miles to our west – may as well have been that free parking space in front of Harrods. By late afternoon the St. Nicholas euphoria transformed to a battle against Neptune. Any attempt to control the Noorderlicht was hindered by ropes and pulleys now embedded in blocks of ice, nice in that Christmas Gin, not good in the Greenland Sea. Within 2 hours the ship was heeling at 30 degrees (no sails up) as force 8 winds blew her sideways. At least the sea water breaking over the booms thawed the ropes – but I could think of better ways. As darkness fell the waters became more sinister and the ice around us ever more menacing.

In spite of all this spirits rose, whether through a combined battle on our environment or just admission that Greenland really was mythical and we might soon be heading to Iceland instead is hard to tell. Liam quite literally broke the ice by appearing like some Austin Power’s character – resplendent in his olive green thermals and ski goggles (nothing else) – ready to take on Neptune. I guess as Neptune was picking himself up from rolling around the floor of the sea bed Liam could have pulled off a David and Goliath task . or maybe not. We worked our way through every children’s tune and musical known, with Vicky providing the tune (angelic voice) and Marcus the words (encyclopaedic memory!). At 0200 I went on watch and by this stage Gert was getting marginally p***ed off with the ice sheets (his words). We had been hove too for 8 hours holding against the wind and ice. With a flick of the throttle and a furrowing of his brows he turned the ship and headed – coastward. The small sheets of ice we’d carefully avoided for the past 3 days became like bowling pins – falling before us as we ploughed our path – with those on watch hoping it was only the paint of Noorderlicht that was suffering. As I finally crawled to my bunk at 0500 I went in the knowledge that when I woke we would either have found Greenland, or discovered that the earth was indeed flat and we had slipped off it.
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Argos float launch

By gorm // Wednesday 26 Sep // 12:00:49 // View

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Cape Farewell starts with a wave of science

By Simon // Tuesday 25 Sep // 16:19:03 // View

The science team of Emily, Carol and Simon ingratiated themselves with the artists on board, in keeping with the Cape Farewell tradition, by heading out into the open ocean to sample the water. As well as the stuff washing over the crew we also wanted to probe below the wavey surface. Why? To investigate the present state of the West Spitsbergen Current, and if it might explain the anomalous ice patterns in the region.

This flow starts life off Florida as the Gulf Stream, becomes the Atlantic Drift as it passes by Britain and then the Norwegian Coastal Current heading north past Norway. In its final form, as the West Spitsbergen Current, it brings warm saline water from the central Atlantic to the high Arctic. This water is cooled by the Arctic climate and sinks just North of Spitsbergen (Svalbard) to contribute to the deep return flow of the Atlantic. The West Spitsbergen current is a sort of sub surface (about 20-80m in depth) “river” in the ocean that moves about 12 million cubic metres of water every second – in plain terms that is the same as 10,000 river Thames’ flowing north. The warm water also transports 70 trillion watts of heat into the high Arctic – that’s the power output of about 100,000 nuclear power stations.

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Currents of the North East Atlantic Ocean (McCartney et al, 1996).

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Profile: Dr Simon Boxall

By Simon // Tuesday 11 Sep // 20:57:12 // View

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Dr Simon Boxall
Oceanographer (UK)
Simon is a lecturer in Oceanography at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. He has monitored ocean environments worldwide in force 11 gales and in the compete calm, from the air, space and underwater, tracking and monitoring pollution and environmental impact.

‘The sad thing is that everyone assumes that cutting back on our CO2 emissions will necessarily be painful and expensive! For the average person in the street using less power, having better insulated homes, and more economical transport, will save them money and saves our environment and lifestyle. It’s a win/win situation.”
Dr Simon Boxall

www.noc.soton.ac.uk

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