We have been in the area of the Aurora seamount for 3 days and the different teams have started working and getting samples. Working under ice is very different from working in open water. We are at the mercy of the ice drift and our “guesstimations” of where the drift will take us during the several hours that each equipment deployment takes, not really knowing if the drift will change direction and/or speed while we are sampling are sometimes exciting and sometimes frustrating. We are lucky to have an excellent Captain, Officers and Crew as well as scientists with previous experience of sampling under the ice….and we are also learning to be patient and accept that the ice will not always let us get where we want, when we want.
We have been studying and sampling the water column and the vent plume with the CTD, with a multidisciplinary team working on physical oceanography, microbiology and geochemistry, under Benedicte’s coordination.
We have taken sediment samples with the multicore, that takes 6 tubes of sediment of about 40-50 cm length, under Giuliana and Sofia’s guidance. These cores are being analysed for meiofauna (very small animals that live in the sediment), microbes, micropaleontology, biogeochemistry and environmental characteristics. We have also taken gravity cores, that take sediment cores of about 3 m and will be used for micropaleontology, microbiology and environmental parameters. And we also took one boxcore that, when on board, was surrounded by a dozen of eager scientists wanting to take subsamples!
Other activities have been happening as well….but we will tell you more about them soon!!
28 September – 82° 41’N, 7° 02’W
By Giuliana Panieri
During the HACON cruise, in addition to my scientific task which is to investigate foraminifera and their intimate relationship with microbes living at Aurora, I have been given a task from my daughter Carolina: to interview my colleagues and the crew on topics related to climate change and sustainability.
While we are trying to reach Aurora, moving slowly through sea ice which sometimes piles up in front of us in few meters high ridges, between scientific meetings and sampling planning, I am spending some time performing these interviews, where people had to answer those questions:
Carolina (15), in her last year at the International School TRINT in Tromsø (NO), is writing a book for her personal project to be presented in March 2020 to the school committee. One chapter of the book will expand on the topics of the questions.
Being “journalist” for my daughter is an interesting experience: I now see my colleagues in another way, as we never get the chance to talk hart to hart about these topics. Besides, those questions have started very deep discussion on planet earth, human survivals, education and the meaning of our research up here. So far, all the colleagues I interviewed believe that science and education is the key.
27 September – 81° 45’N, 6° 34’W
The phone rings. It’s just about 11pm.
“Get up here, there’s a bear.”
It’s Kevin Hand, calling from the ship’s observation deck. Six decks below, I’m just snuggling in for the night.
“Seriously?!” I asked. (Hand, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is pretty good at pranking me.)
I slid into my shoes, slung my camera over a shoulder and sprinted down the hallway, collecting folks along the way.
We sped up to deck nine and found a dozen scientists already gathered outside — some wearing pyjamas, at least one in gym shorts — breathing foggy clouds into the frigid Arctic air and staring at a distant, icy ridge.
About two hundred meters away, two small, creamy smudges were casually making their way across the snow-covered ground: a mama bear, and her rather large cub. The polar bears were smaller and yellower than I had expected – somewhat off-colored splotches painted onto a mostly monochrome evening landscape, and they sometimes disappeared behind jumbled piles of ice.
The ship’s crew shined a spotlight on the pair, and the mama bear occasionally paused and looked in our direction. Cameras clicked, binoculars were passed around, and the bears continued on, gracefully skirting ridges and frozen ponds amidst continued guidance on their position from sharper-eyed team members and exclamations of “#$&! it’s cold out here!”.
Of the Arctic’s megafauna, polar bears are pretty much number one on everyone’s wish-list of critters to see (narwhals are up there, too), though they’re almost perfectly camouflaged in this frozen sea. Curiously, though, these bears are not actually white. Rather, their skin is black – and covered by layers and layers of translucent, hollow hairs that scatter visible light and lend the bears a whitish appearance. Threatened by shrinking sea ice, the polar bear population is diminishing. Yet here, off the Greenland coast, the bear density is said to be among the highest on the planet.
Locked in thick, multi-year ice for more than 48 hours now, we’d been expecting to see the opportunistic, unpredictable carnivores at any moment, but until last night, had seen only a smattering of pawprints (and about a half-dozen seals).
As the bears escaped our spotlight and moved into the Arctic twilight, I turned away from the indigo sky to head back inside. To the southwest, a crystalline moon carved a gleaming white crescent into the orange, sun-stained horizon – it was the first glimpse we’ve had of the evening sky’s inhabitants since we’d left port.
I high-fived Hand (who had not been joking), and thanked Victor Naklicki, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who’d first spotted the pair (and now has a reputation to maintain!); and now, tucked back into bed, I am busy embedding those precious bears, a razor-sharp lunar sliver and icy blue ridges into my memory. The Arctic as we know it is disappearing – will these scenes even exist in a decade or two?
Nadia Drake is a contributing writer at National Geographic, and is on assignment with the HACON team as it explores the Aurora hydrothermal vent field.
26 September – 82° 13’N, 5° 07W
It has been 3 days since we left Longyearbyen and we are slowly making progress through a maze of ice floes, big and small, some pushing against each other making dramatic pressure ridges that block our way, make us turn, find a new lead of open water. But we slowly move northwards.
During this time, some groups have been preparing their labs, the NUI team has been busy getting the vehicle ready after the first test dive in Longyearbyen and many of us have been using the transit time (away from email) to finish papers or proposals. But there has also been time for seminars about the Aurora vent site and about NUI, for taking a thousand photos of the ice, and more ice, and more beautiful ice….and for the first pub quiz of the cruise, with a price included for the winning team!
21 September 2019 – 81°N
The first days of the cruise have been dedicated to the recovery of moorings for colleagues at the Uni. Bergen and other research groups. The moorings have been collecting data for 1 year and many people are eager to see this data back on shore! Helge was in charge of the mooring operations, with help from several of us on board happy to be out on deck helping to disassemble the moorings, wash and photograph the instruments, while others in the lab downloaded the data and packed everything so the instruments can be shipped back home.
Three of the moorings were on the ice edge, so for many of us, this was our first time at going through ice on an icebreaker. A truly impressive experience, to find yourself on board this stable and strong vessel, surrounded by ice of whites, greys and that unique ice blue. The cold wind did not stop us from going out on the helicopter deck with cameras and smiles!