We are science, education and exploration.
STEM Education Blog:
Nicole Trenholm- Field Scientist
Matt Rutherford- Expedition Leader
Final Education Blog of the 2015 Greenland Climate Project
Tue, 08 Sep 2015 18:11:59 +0000
It is unbelievable how many different forms of ice we encounter. Ice up in the Arctic has mainly two origins either by land or sea and one can come across combinations of the two. Sea ice is often varying forms and ages of pack ice, where older ice is stronger and best to give some distance. Ice originating from land includes: (from massive to small) iceberg islands, icebergs, bergy bits, and growlers. Land ice is strong and usually has a height to depth ratio of 1:4. The ice calves off of glaciers as pinnacles, blocks, etc. Matt and I had a taste of what it is like to navigate amongst these varying types of ice. We used satellite pictures, forecasts and observations of weather and currents patterns to keep from becoming surrounded by ice while we conducted our survey. Next year we are making a couple modifications to protect our propeller and add a little more support at the bow.
In the last few weeks of our research cruise we will trawl for the potential discovery of marine debris pollution above the Arctic Circle. We will use a device we are very familiar with, a metal trawl called a Manta net which skims alongside the boat, at the surface catching floating debris the size of glitter, the width of your finger nail, to the size of a football. Are microplastics riding the currents of the world and making its way into Arctic waters? Waste management is even a problem in the Arctic, as every town we stopped in there was litter on both the land and in the harbors, mostly plastic bottles. Most towns in Greenland are built up upon hard rock, and instead of landfills, the piles of trash lay next to the sea, most of it they try to burn the rest it is a pile of trash subject to the wind and waves. The small Greenland town’s number #1 industry is fishing, and if we revisit the food web, one can quickly see that small microplastics full of toxic chemicals can wind up bio accumulating in not only the vast fish populations but seabirds as well. How can Greenland protect the boundaries of its fishing grounds and nature reserves from this silent floating threat?
Trawling along the coast will be more challenging than trawling across the Pacific Ocean, we have to avoid icebergs and kelp (seagrass that could entangle our trawl endangering the rig). I will see many of you this fall at the Science on a Sphere Venue at the Goddard Space Center. I cannot wait to show you where we have been, what we have found, and answer any of your questions using a massive globe. Did you like participating in this Blog? Let us know on Facebook!
Student Responses to Ships and Satellites Together Modeling World Ocean Salinity and Temperature
Wed, 26 Aug 2015 19:59:25 +0000
Madelaine H: “Why would the warm water be deeper; isn’t normally surface water warmer?”
ORP: “Worldwide, the sea surface is where you are more likely to find warmer water due to the sun’s ability to warm the water to a certain depth. Surface mixing caused by wave action combined with surface currents can also heat up water the first 50 feet or so. Think of a layered cake. Up here in the Arctic the top layer’s temperature is influenced by sunshine and mixing, then you have a major temperature change (thermocline) where the sun’s UV rays do not reach down enough to warm the cooler polar water, next up around 700 feet we witnessed another warm layer varied in thickness (The salty Atlantic layer), then finally you have another cooler layer all the way to the bottom. That warm salty Atlantic water traveled a long way from the North Atlantic Ocean influenced by the world wide thermohaline circulation. We managed to find it as far North as you can sail, at 78 degrees north and 650 feet below the ocean surface.
Madelaine H: “Why does salinity change the circulation of the ocean around the world?”
NASA: “Large scale ocean circulation or thermohaline circulation (note
thermo=temperature, haline=salinity) is driven by density gradients
(density is a function of temperature and salinity). For example, the
magnitude of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC, part
of the conveyor belt) is driven by the sinking rate of cold, salty water
in the north Atlantic. Fresher water at the surface would tend to
slowdown the sinking rate while salty water would increase it”.
Bryan W: “Why are satellites less sensitive to salinity in polar waters?”
NASA: “Satellites, such as SMOS, SMAP and Aquarius, measure the emissivity of
the ocean. The emissivity of salt water is more sensitive to salinity in
warmer waters, and requires much more precise measurements and
calibration to retrieve a good estimate of the surface salinity in the
ORP: “Why do we study the water around Greenland?”
Anagh A: “We need to study the water around Greenland because when ice sheets melt, they release freshwater into the ocean. This water changes the salinity and temperature of bodies of water around the planet, including oceans and seas. These changes in turn influence the ocean circulation of the planet in a process known as thermohaline circulation. Thermohaline circulation begins in the Earth’s Polar Regions when ocean water in these areas gets very cold, sea ice forms. The surrounding sea water gets saltier, increases in density and sinks. Surface water is pulled in to replace the sinking water, which in turn eventually becomes cold and salty enough to sink. This initiates the deep-ocean currents driving the global conveyer belt.”
Melting from Above and Below: The Effect of a Warming Ocean on the Greenland Ice Sheet
Tue, 25 Aug 2015 18:11:30 +0000
That warm ocean water would melt a vertical wall of ice isn’t too surprising, but recent work has suggested that it may have contributed to the acceleration of Greenland ice loss in a way that was previously un-thought of. As atmospheric temperature have continued to rise, some of the excess heat being absorbed by the planet has been taken up by the ocean, particularly in the North Atlantic which surrounds Greenland and its massive stores of land-ice. Where Greenland’s fjords are connected to the deep Atlantic Ocean, warmer waters have been able to find their way close to the ice.
When the edges of the ice sheet begin to melt “from below”, the melting can change the shape of the face of the glaciers, causing them to “undercut” (see Rignot, et al, Geophysical Research Letters 2015). This undercutting in turn leads to more calving (when large pieces of ice fall off the edge of the glacier), and the edge of the glacier can start to retreat towards the ice sheet rapidly. Such retreats were observed in many of Greenland’s largest glaciers in the late 1990’s, coinciding with the arrival of warmer ocean waters.
However, because the entire ice sheet has to drain through its glaciers (which don’t span the entire coastline but are concentrated in a few steep-sided valleys), the friction of trying to force huge amounts of flowing ice through a narrow channel has a “buttressing” effect, which stabilizes the ice sheet further inland. As the marine-terminating glaciers began to retreat due to increased calving, the buttressing effect was reduced, and a large-scale acceleration of ice flow was observed across the entire ice sheet.
A further complicating aspect of trying to puzzle out how the ice sheet and ocean interact is that when the surface of the ice sheet melts, the melted freshwater also drains into the ocean through the glacial valleys. This can have (at least) two negative effects:
1. Increased melt-water under the glacier may act to “lubricate” the flowing ice above, causing further acceleration, and
2. The freshwater discharged into the ocean enters at the bottom of the fjord, underneath the glacier, where it subsequently rises towards the ocean surface as a buoyant “plume”
It has become clear recently, that such “melt-water plumes” are a major driver of circulation inside the fjord, and turbulent mixing between the cold rising freshwater and deep warm ocean water acts to deliver heat to the face of the glacier at an even faster rate. Thus, one of the most challenging aspects of determining how much the ice sheet will melt in response to global warming (and therefore how much sea level rise we might expect), is that the interaction of the ice-sheet and the ocean constitutes a “feedback” effect, whereby the more the ice sheet melts from the surface, the more heat can be delivered to the edge of the glaciers, which destabilizes and further accelerates glacier flow.
1. Fiammetta Straneo and Patrick Heimbach, : North Atlantic warming and the retreat of Greenland’s outlet glaciers,” Nature 504 (December 2013):36
2. Eric Rignot, Ian Fenty, Yun Xu, Cilan Cai, and Chris Kemp, “Undercutting of marine-terminating glaciers in West Greenland”, Geophysical Research Letters (2015)
Clark Richards, PhD
RBR Ltd, Ottawa ON, Canada
Exploration & Science Hand in Hand
Tue, 25 Aug 2015 18:09:52 +0000
Since man and boat were a team, to determine water depth, a man could stand at the bow of a ship, or in a little rowboat ahead of it and drop a line with a weight attached and count how many fathoms (6 feet is 1 fathom) lied below once it hit bottom. Today we use sonars. A sonar sends a ping (sound wave) at a known rate that travels to the sea bottom then back and measures the depth by recording the time it took for the ping to take its trip. When you know speed and time you can determine distance. Onboard the Ault we have a depth sounder recording depths down to 2100 feet. Our work this season includes hydrographic reconnaissance giving today’s hydrographers (ocean surveyors) a heads up before they set out to these regions to create comprehensive 3D underwater maps using multi-beam sonars. Countries with coastal waters work hard to create accurate nautical charts so that each depth and each position is accurate to well under a meter. There are many things that go into the accuracy of a depth and a position, one has to consider the rise and fall of the tide and the how a ping can falsely detect the bottom at major temperature and salinity changes. These locations where sound can get distorted and struggle to record the real sea bottom are called haloclines and thermoclines.
At 78 degrees north we sailed into an area that had little hydrographic (depth and shoreline feature) information. Our boats GPS (Chartplotter) showed us literally sailing off the charts and on to land! Islands were not where they were charted, at times 0.25 miles off, there were also large charted islands that did not exist at all. In the early days of polar exploration, beginning in the 1800’s, mariners confused ice and clouds for land and distant mountains. Today, in the few uncharted polar places of the world icebergs could be accidentally digitized (drawn) by a mapping agency cartographer looking at a satellite photo on their computer, mistaking it for land.
In order to follow through with our primary research focus in that region, finding the warm salty Atlantic water and determining how far North it goes we had to simultaneously survey the depth. Before heading inland to survey 5 glaciers and their associated fjords we found the warm water miles offshore on our first try with a high of 1.1 degrees Celsius at 700 feet deep. We verified its presence and by searching for it 3 more times before reaching our furthest North location. The warm water layer narrowed and cooled as it headed further North so it was hard to find the further North we went. Satisfied with our results so far and surrounded by ice it was time to start heading south for other areas to study.
Take a look below at this week’s Bonus Guest Scientist Blog written by Clark Richards of RBR Ltd., his organization developed the devices we have been using to study both salinity and temperature of the polar and Atlantic Ocean water.
Ships and Satellites Together Modelling World Ocean Salinity and Temperature
Tue, 11 Aug 2015 17:30:07 +0000
After a mix of snow, headwinds, and fog we made it to Robertson Fjord. I saw my first fogbow! Over the past few days we collected our first deep trough and near glacial casts. It was thrilling. We will be at our furthest North in a few days, planning to get some great never before acquired data. You cannot get much further North than Cape Alexander as the sea becomes ices floes threatening to lock you in.
Enjoy the guest blog below from NASA scientists that we are providing surface salinity data to. We ran a special instrument from Chesapeake Bay (latitude 38° N) and now up towards Dodge Glacier (78° N). This data will serve as a comparison to what the NASA satellite, Aquarius and other international satellites are measuring from space. The device working 24/7 on our vessel is RBR ltd.’s thermosalinograph (TSG) and is in a test and evaluation phase. It is similar to the conductivity-temperature depth proﬁler (or CTD) that we drop to the seafloor for vertical profiles.
The TSG was installed so that a through-hull port below the waterline and a pump supply sea water constantly via hose into small water tank where an internal CTD like device analyzes the sample before it is pumped overboard. Speciﬁcally, as with a CTD, the water properties measured by a TSG are the temperature (T) and electrical conductivity (C). Conductivity is measured as a proxy for the water salinity which is a function of the amount (i.e. mass and chemical composition) of dissolved salts. Using the measured values of temperature and salinity (and pressure when the unit measures at depth), a mathematic formula is used to calculate the salinity. The TSG is installed under our guest scientist’s berth (bunk), a cozy nook in the main saloon.
Why do we study the water around Greenland?
Guest Blog: NASA Scientists Ludovic Brucker, Guillaume Vernieres, and Emmanuel Dinatt
Waters around Greenland and in the Arctic are very dynamic and play a great role in ocean circulation around the entire planet. The circulation of the oceans controlled by ocean salinity and temperature, is named thermocline circulation.
Variations in ocean salinity and temperature can result from complicated physical processes. To understand them, we need in-situ measurements (giving us reference data, they are often associated with ship cruises like the Greenland Climate Project), satellite observations to study a larger area, frequently) and models, (to test out understanding and to create forecasts).
In spite of the importance of polar waters for ocean and environmental sciences, they suffer from a lack of in situ salinity measurements. The polar regions are not easily accessible and offer challenging environments (with icebergs for example).
Therefore, these regions are under sampled compared to other regions on the planet, making it challenging to study the physical processes taking place at high latitudes.
Around Greenland, especially in the Baffin Bay, the Greenland ice sheet melts and releases freshwater into the ocean. This water changes the salinity and temperature of the oceans and seas, and in turn influences the ocean circulation of the planet.
For the last 5 years, satellite data allows us to study salinity almost everywhere and continuously. These satellite observations of salinity are reliable over the tropical and mid-latitude warm oceans, but satellite salinity observations in the polar oceans are challenging. To mention only two examples of the challenges: (1) polar ocean water are cold and satellite measurements are less sensitive to salinity in polar waters; (2) the presence of sea ice and ice bergs adds complexity to the retrieval of accurate salinity.
Very low salinities are observed at high latitudes, but some of the freshest waters are found in narrow coastal currents such as the East Greenland current, making it challenging to be observed using satellite remote sensing because of their proximity to the coast. While the direct impact of runoff on the coastal currents may be difficult to detect from space, model results have shown that large melt water runoffs from the Greenland ice sheet change the salinity of the seas surrounding Greenland, especially in Baffin Bay.
Student Responses to An Arctic Midnight Sun
Fri, 07 Aug 2015 12:50:49 +0000
Russell S: “Does the acidity of ocean water change when you go to other parts of the world like Greenland?”
ORP: There are many factors that alter pH and carbon content of the water. Part of what we are exploring on this expedition is how these variables change while traversing through different climates (temperate to polar). We know in general that the open ocean carbon levels on the surface of the ocean are the same as the atmosphere worldwide but as you approach different coastal ecosystems such as an inland bay like Chesapeake Bay, coral reef rimmed island and glacial fjords that there likely will be major differences.
Colby S: “How long will it take before Maryland is affected by the melting of the polar ice caps?”
ORP: The melting polar ice already has an influence on the sea level within the Chesapeake Bay. There are already islands previously inhabited that have washed away. Tangier and Smith Island are two remaining habited islands in the bay that are predicted to disappear as sea level rises over the next 100 years.
Blaine A and Kevin K: “How does the pH of the water interfere with an animal’s ability to create a shell and influence the growth of coral reefs?”
ORP: Shells are often made of calcium carbonate, shellfish cannot create their shells (skeletons) when the water is too acidic. For calcium carbonate materials like shells and reefs to form and thrive they need a more neutral marine environment.
Jackson H: “Do you think that the melting of the ice caps along with ocean acidification and carbonization could be a reason why you are not seeing as much marine life as you would like?”
ORP: The lack of the marine life observed on this expedition is likely related to the overall shifting of their habitat due to a global temperature increase. Animals have also become wearier of humans due to hunting and probably hear our vessel and flee.
Bryan W: “Will aquatic wild life be able to adapt to the increasing acidity levels in the oceans, if not what percentage of the aquatic life will become extinct?”
ORP: Shellfish and corals will struggle to survive if the ocean acidity continues to change at the same rate.
Phillip M: “What do you think are the three daily activities we could eliminate in order to lower the carbon level worldwide?”
ORP: Learn to power our lives without the use of fossil fuels and use renewable energies instead. Get around using a lower carbon footprint such as bike, car pool, public transportation. Be the change and pave the way for others. If lights or electronics are left on turn them off and other will follow your good example.
John W: “Will polar bears move south since the ice caps in the north are melting and how does the carbon affect them and their prey?”
ORP: The polar bear will likely struggle to adapt quick enough to acclimate to a warmer environment. They spend most of their time on the sea ice and hunting seals there. They have been forced to move closer to shore to figure out how to thrive in an unfamiliar manner. Yet, over the last million years due to their decline they have interbred with brown bears.
ORP: “What impacts could the carbon and acidity have on the surrounding marine life?”
Anagh A: “Carbon has impacts on marine life because when the ocean absorbs carbon, the seawater’s pH decreases which means the acidity in the seawater increases. This increase in acidity also has impacts on marine life. One impact of increased acidity is that it impedes with the ability of certain marine animals to make their skeletons and shells. Another impact of increased acidity is that it can cause reproductive disorders in some fish. One more impact is that is slows the growth of coral reefs which are very important for the survival of marine life.”
Midnight Sun in the Arctic
Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:11:37 +0000
It is 12:00 am and Matt woke me up for my watch, as usual I pull on my boots and warm layers on then emerge from my cabin. I am in awe with what I see and immediately become wide awake. Just off the bow the persistent sun casts a glow behind intimidating dark towering shadows of what’s left of an old mountain chain created when two even older land masses collided some 1800 million years ago. The deformed rocks are topped off with snowy valleys at its peaks. It is 6 degrees Celsius out, I wonder if that is usual. Summer in Greenland was warmest on record last year in Kangerlussuaq, a town nearby where the average June temperature was 2.3 degrees Celsius above the 1981-2000 average. Due to multiple factors, including temperature the inland ice sheet lost 39.3% of its surface mass in 2014.
It is very calm right now and we have motor sailed most of our way from Nuuk, Greenland’s Capital to Sisimut which is just above the Arctic Circle at 66.3 degrees North. Most Greenlandic people speak English but they typically speak Greenlandic and Danish. They are excited to hear that Americans are interested in learning about and studying Greenland. I hope to eventually talk to the Greenlandic students to ask them how global warming is affecting them and how they are dealing with these challenges at home on their melting island.
No ice, no ice bergs, no evidence of what you might expect to find crossing the Arctic Circle. Just a few rocks awash to avoid while piloting my way into Sisimut Harbor. I have seen sea birds every day since leaving Annapolis but I expected to see a lot more marine wildlife. Many of these animals need the ice to thrive like the polar bear. Polar Bears are the ultimate drifters, they sail along the Arctic waters on ice floes of Baffin Bay visiting the shore even in Southern Greenland. They swim long distances to reach shore only if their icy transportation melts away and the seals, their meal disappear with it. They occasionally come to land to have their cubs. Apparently, if you are careful of drift ice, one can navigate to Sisimut year round, riding the West Greenland Current North in the year round open polar waters all the way from the southern tip of Greenland, Cape Farvel. During winter much of the Arctic waters are frozen, and ice extends south into Baffin Bay on the west coast and extensively from the Arctic Ocean on the East Coast. How far south has the ice sheet reached in the past and more recently during this interglacial ice sheet retreat?
Besides searching for the warm North Atlantic water that is creeping its way up North from the depths to melt the glaciers that protrude from the land we are helping Smithsonian develop a shipboard water carbon sampling device. Humans has been burning fossil fuels for over 150 years, pumping massive amounts of carbon into the air which then interacts with the ocean. The seawater’s pH is lowered, making the world’s waters more acidic which makes it difficult for some marine animals to create their shells and it slows the growth of reefs. The Smithsonian’s pCO2 system has been successfully set up and operates at multiple docks throughout the Chesapeake Bay. Can the pCO2 system work just as well on a constantly moving vessel over a 100 day period? We are modifying the system to deal with the inertial motion forces all boats experience such as heave, pitch, roll, yaw and most often heel, considering that our vessel is a sailboat. A variety of sea grasses, such as kelp can clog the pump that draws the sea water sample through the system. We even pulled out a small fish that worked its way in.
The water leaves the pump and joins with outside air in a controlled octopus looking series of chambers, the Equilibrator, which is fastened to the mast high enough so the excess water flows out of the boat and the new combined air sample is sent to a box for the carbon level to be recorded. The carbon readings at the ocean surface are usually in equilimbrium with the atmosphere, so the “brain” , a box stowed in the galley which holds the infrared-gas analyzer reads around 399.6 parts per million (ppm). Worldwide this number increases by 1 every year.
Water surface carbon readings in Back Creek Annapolis soared up to 4000 when we first installed the system in June. In coastal systems the readings can swing by the 1000’s because there are so many factors. Fresh water mixing with salt, photosynthesis cycles, tidal and thermal changes and nutrient intrusions can alter the readings over different geographic or temporal combinations. Off coastal Greenland, the prolonged sun can be a factor and can increase carbon as we sail through plankton blooms. The salinity will be a factor considering the freshwater glacial runoff plumes carrying nutrients along while varying temperatures can also dramatically alter the carbon level measurements. When the pCO2 system is working well its data will provide scientists insight into global CO2 at critical land-sea interactions and we will take corresponding water samples that will help give clues on how coastal marine acidification is affecting a polar environment. I wonder what carbon values we fill find when navigating into glacial fjords as we go North? What impacts could the carbon and acidity have on the surrounding marine life?
8th Grade STEM Students Response to “Sailing a Nearly Frozen Sea”
Sun, 26 Jul 2015 13:52:34 +0000
8th Grade STEM Students Response to “Sailing a Nearly Frozen Sea”
Hannah: “Why did you choose to go to Greenland out of everywhere else you could go?”
Ocean Research Project: Greenland is important. It is the forefront for climate change research and close to North America making it accessible by our sailing research vessel to visit during Greenland’s prime oceangoing research season (July-September).
Alex: “Why are the effects of climate change, ocean acidification, and plastic pollution in Greenland hardly understood?”
Ocean Research Project: Scientists have been studying climate change in the Arctic for years. Ocean acidification or carbonization and plastic marine debris pollution challenges have not been studied more than a few years and or a handful of places in Greenland. Greenland is so big, about the size of Europe and has very few people living there (about 55,000 people). Compare that to how many people live in your county alone! International scientific collaborations have formed to address these issues together and strategize on collecting data to better understand the un studied areas.
Malia: “At this rate, is the melting of ice in Greenland reversible? Or can we only try to stop/slow the melting to prevent further damage?”
Ocean Research Project: The melting is only reversible in time by nature. In fact, there has been many periods in history called glacials and interglacials when the ice recedes, the planet’s oceans rise and visa versa. Currently, we are in an interglacial period so the melting is expected but the difference is the melting should happen much more slowly. There is evidence that the melting usually happened at a much slower rate. We believe due to humanities industrialization and use of fossil fuels this rate of melting has increased. In the future if we learn how to decrease human impact on the environment then we could possibly slow down melting to better assess how to adapt to a rising or falling sea level.
James: “Why is it so important to keep the ice sheets on Greenland frozen?”
Ocean Research Project: The ice sheet if completely melted would raise sea level, increase fresh water where salt water is key for marine life and dump nutrients once trapped in the ice that could alter the ocean chemistry balance.
Alex: “The fresh water would flow into the ocean, so the salinity in the ocean water would lower- the water in the ratio of water to salt in the ocean would rise drastically, and that would kill species of sea life that depend on the ocean’s salt to survive. It would also raise the sea level up to an estimated 21 feet, destroying any structures close to the ocean or anywhere under 21 feet above sea level.”
Anagh: “I learned that the Titanic had sunk because it collided with an iceberg, therefore I am asking these questions. How should the ORP team and their ship be equipped and what precautions should they take so that they do not meet the same fate as the Titanic did? What kinds of skills should the ORP team have so they can survive in such tough conditions?”
Ocean Research Project: We combine Matt’s experience navigating in polar seas with the latest information on ice proximity. Our radar allows us to see the large icebergs even when the visibility is poor such as in the fog. Smaller bergs called bergy bits are harder to see so you have to maintain a good lookout when at the wheel. We receive ice intelligence from various sources including Danish and Canadian sea ice charts, NOAA/NASA satellite radar images, and iceberg frequency maps. All crewmembers onboard must be able to operate the ice detection equipment and become familiar with interpreting the multiple information resources.
Jordan: “In what ways will the plants and animals in our own backyard be affected by glaciers melting in Greenland?”
Nicole: “How could all the aquatic wildlife in Greenland be affected by the increasing melting of the ice caps?”
Ocean Research Project: When sea levels rise plants and animals that occupy submerged regions will be displaced and be forced to move upstream to re-establish and identify a suitable habitat. If sea salinity levels and temperature change dramatically this could have an impact on marine species. There were warmer waters in Greenland in the past because today you can find evidence on the seabed of fjords and just offshore on the shelf. There you can find redeposited bivalves such as blue mussel fossils, a marine species that lives in sea water warmer than today’s.
Hannah: “How big of an impact would the sheets of ice melting would have on the world? Could it cause cities to flood?”
Ocean Research Project: It certainly could cause flooding and scientists hope that these floods will be gradual enough for cities to move inland ahead of time. It is believed that Greenland ice sheet once melted would raise the world’s oceans about 21 feet and if Antarctica’s ice sheet completely melts 192 feet can rise. This rising water will not happen in our life time but future but we can prepare future populations so that they can adapt to this natural phenomena.
ORP: “ Why should we measure ocean carbon, salinity and the temperature of the surface of the ocean from a temperate to polar climate?”
Anagh: “The ORP team should measure ocean carbon, salinity and the temperature of the surface of the ocean because these 3 factors can potentially increase the melting rates of glaciers and other forms of ice.”
Response to Stem Students Elijah and Sarah
Fri, 20 Jun 2014 01:10:53 +0000
It seems like the Plastioglomerate you have reported on could only be created in environments on our planet where active but nonviolent volcanoes produce extrusive basaltic igneous materials that ooze and slowly cool, where the flow can make its way downhill towards the sea level where the washed up plastic debris collected upon the surf line is spread out amongst the natural deposits of sand and shell. The un-natural materials (plastics) and natural deposits would act as the clasts of a conglomerate and then be encompassed by a matrix, the basaltic lava flow and its remaining heat would act to bind the Plastioglomerate composition. Conglomerates are traditionally considered clastic sedimentary rocks and a combination of clasts bined by a matrix. If I came across Pastioglomerate I would surely grab a piece to add the oddity to my rock collection. Finding these rocks would only occur at an active volcanic island producing chain like Hawaii, where underneath the seafloor at that location is hotspot a lava pocket slowly moving and bumbling off of the earth’s hot semi-liquid interior mantle and then pushing up through the earth’s oceanic crust. One way or another humanities waste will likely represent our existence on our planet and be recorded in the rock layers or strata of the earth. I can’t imagine plastics or any plastic rock composite being written in the records of the earth. If you think of the earth’s history fitting into a calendar year, starting on January 1st then man would not have showed up till 15 minutes before New Year’s on December 31st. The rest of the 15 minutes would represent history recorded as we know it with plastic impacting the earth for less than a century. Considering, Earth’s 4.6 billion year age and plastic unable to live past 500 years, plastic would eventually biodegrade and leave little to know evidence of existence. In mankind’s lifetime plastics presence in the environment, underground or at sea with its slow decomposition rate in relation to man’s average age and our when considering descendant populations can have impacts that could contaminate mankind’s vital resources, and debilitate our species and the biodiversity we depend on to survive.
Could you imagine as a future citizen of the planet taking a trip to a Grand Canyon, a place that shows evidence of the earth in the past, where undisturbed sequence of rock indicated younger layer on top of older layers and there near the top sits a layer like Plastioconglomerate, the waste of an intelligent species? Actually, about 99% of the history of species on the planet are extinct and mass evidence of this is written in the rocks, in the strata layers appearing as index fossils. An index fossil helps define the age of rock. A good index fossil will be distinctive, abundant, wide spread and limited in a geologic time range.
Most fossil-bearing rocks formed in the ocean, therefore the majority of index fossils are marine organisms. Plankton the tiny and microscopic community that floats with the currents, whose small bodies rain down onto the seafloor then deposit often as a chalky rock. Lookup the Cliffs of Dover in England on the English Channel to see what the accumulation of plankton and marine species remains exposed in the atmosphere appears like in our modern day. Before dinosaurs ran about on land and fish swam in the sea, creepy crawly ancestor of the crab, the trilobite flourished for 350million years. They are a classic example of an index fossil, a pre-historic water bug that lived in all parts of the shallow seas and once roamed the world in the Middle Cambrian time to the end of Permian Period. They can now be found in a rock layer around the world bookmarking this time period. Do you think we can top that?
On a field trip a few years back my class drove up into the Appalachian Mountains just to pull off the highway and climb the side of a rocky highway cut that exposed the variety of index fossils showing signs of ocean creatures including fossils of corals, brachiopods and bryozoans, mollusks and if you were lucky trilobites and ammonites.
Clearly the earth is dynamic and its ocean and land plates, shift, overlap and twist around. These clues are present on land. Could natural geologic activities further impact plastic’s effect on humanity and our recorded existence on our planet? Could it overturn, bake and fuse rock with plastic and other waste of a landfill that could release its toxicity to ground water or streams headed offshore that humans and marine species could be subjected to? The long term impacts we are yet to discover.
Matt and I are still underway full sail on the Sakura and a bit northeast of the Marianas Trench on our final stretch to Japan. This trench is thought to be the deepest place in the ocean and a major fault line of great powerful geologic activity. It is part of The Ring of Fire, a name for the border of the Pacific Tectonic Plate where the plate’s heavy basaltic ocean crust is sinking underneath lighter continental crust, occasionally causing earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis all around its boundaries. Such natural and catastrophic activity can easily uproot plastic waste on land, displace it offshore and onto islands.
Plastic will not likely be around long enough to withstand the roller coaster ride of the tectonic plates nor survive the variety of possible catastrophic events. Plastic is much more of a present day and near future problem and can be solved.
We will expand on solutions and examples of the R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Redesign and Recover) in a post expedition blog where we will share the outcome of your summer research assignments. Our team will post many of them to share your great solution ideas. Co-writing this blog with the 6th graders of Old Mill Middle School has been the highlight of the research expedition. This summer consider what you throw away, where you throw it away. On vacation or during the 4th of July give this some thought. Ask adults how you can properly dispose of items or refuse the use of one use throw away items. Explain to your friends and family why you are making these decisions and share with them how plastic affects the marine environment, species within it and in return ourselves. Think about what you buy, is it environmentally friendly? One way to learn about whether or not a plastic material is environmentally friendly and without harmful Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) or toxin additives is to research the product. Some companies may be good at fooling us into thinking their products are environmentally friendly, this is called greenwashing you can check which products are greenwashed and which are not at sinsofgreenwashing.com, greenchoice.org and greenwash.org Be careful with using one use throw away plastics, plastic or unnatural items outside this summer the last thing you want is for it to sail out into the middle of the ocean just to wind up in the center of a gyre and ultimately in the belly of your favorite aquarium animal.
26 39 059 N
148 44 0 E
STEM Students Elijah and Sarah
Fri, 20 Jun 2014 01:00:37 +0000
With over a billion tons of plastic thrown away since the 1950s, it will take as long as 500 years for some of it to biodegrade. That’s enough plastic made and used to wrap our Earth completely in plastic wrap! What is happening to all of the plastic washing onto Kamilo Beach,Hawaii. Scientists have discovered it is turning into a type of rock.
Plastic trash and debris bond with basalt, shells, drift wood and sand which fuse together under high heat to form a type of rock recently named plastioglomerate rock. They think that in the future it may serve as a type of fossil evidence of our present day life styles humans lead in the use of plastics in our societies.
The big problem that faces us is what to do about all of this? To walk on a beautiful beach, cluttered with plastics that have washed ashore from our oceans is not a healthy situation. Can you imagine being a world citizen of the future and finding a fossilized toothbrush in a piece of rock one day?
Other than reducing our plastics use, or figuring out how to make a durable quick acting biodegradable safe plastic, we need to think about other ways we can make changes before we fossilize our life styles in plastic rock!
A New Age of Exploration (the final blog)
Wed, 23 Sep 2015 12:49:00 +0000
A New Age of Exploration (the final blog)
There was a geologist named Marie Tharp who was one of the most important people in the discovery of plate tectonics. She gets almost no credit today because she was a woman at a time
when women weren’t treated as equals in the world of science. There is a book written about her called Soundings, in this book near the end is a paragraph that explains the problems we are having with funding exploration. “The era of exploration is over. Scientists have to write convincing proposals that account for how every penny and moment on a ship will be spent, which essentially means that they have to predict what will happen while they are at sea. Without the time and money for exploration, there’s little space for discovery. Research vessels return to the same places again and again, building expeditions around those places because they can be described in proposals. Lack of funding results in less data and fewer discoveries, which result in less public interest”.
The age of exploration is not over. There are still many discoveries to be made, especially in the Polar Regions both north and south. Grants have become so specific that they are now restrictive. I understand that organizations don’t want someone pissing their money away on some crazy scheme, but they have gotten to protective. Exploration by its very nature involves risks. Not just risking life and limb, there are also financial risks. We must be willing to take these risks or there will be no discoveries. Remember, reward lives in the house of risk.
We need to enter a new age of exploration. Just because we have mapped out the world doesn’t mean we understand everything about it. Our world is going through changes, exploration is more important than ever. There are a lot of things that are happening to our planet that we don’t fully understand. Things that could have serious consequences for our species. Exploration is the only way we can better understand these issues. We are only beginning to understand the world we live in.
Exploration becomes discovery. Look at all of the incredible things we have discovered, from harnessing fire to the weightlessness of outer space. Think of the discoveries to come, whether on this planet or beyond. To quote my favorite scientist of all time, Apsley Cherry-Garrard “We should never stop exploring, for exploration is the physical expression of intellectual passion”.
We made it through this year’s Arctic expedition without too much ware and tare. We did get a three foot rip in our mainsail. I used to do handwork for North Sail so it’s not a big deal to patch a sail. Although our mainsail probably has 15 patches at this point. Our hydro generator got torn off the back of our boat by a giant patch of kelp. This is rather mind boggling as I don’t understand how kelp could snap bolts and rip stainless steel tubing, but it did. Another patch of kelp damaged our wind vane rudder bearing but I can fix that fairly easily when we haul the boat out. We received more damage from kelp than ice, never thought that would happen. We lost our main ships inverter, our heaters never worked quite right, etc. Nothing broke that could even come close to stopping us. All off the scientific equipment worked well and we collected a huge amount of important scientific data. This was our most productive research expedition to date.
In an earlier blog I mentioned that we met a 27 year old French single-hander named Manu who was about to sail alone through the Northwest Passage. I let him borrow my satellite phone so he could get ice and weather information, which is very important in such a dangerous and difficult place. A few days ago Manu made it through the Northwest Passage but not without difficulty. When sailing east to west the last part of the NWP is the Bering Straits. Manu was hit by a strong gale while crossing this (Bering Straits) finish line and broke his solar panels, wind vane, auto pilot, etc. He’s trying to get to Chile to marry the love of his life and make a bunch of little sailor babies. He could have taken the easier route through the Straits of Magellan but chose the harder route through the Arctic. I’m going to nominate him for the Jester Award.
While in the Arctic the film about my non-stop singlehanded circumnavigation of the Americas, Red Dot in the Ocean, the Matt Rutherford story, won best film at the Blue Whiskey Film Festival and won another award at New Hope Film Festival. Looks like the film will be on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Itunes. Tory is trying to get it on PBS but needs to raise another 7K to make it happen, fingers crossed.
Ocean Research Project’s mission is science, education and exploration and creating ORP has been the biggest challenge of my life. I believe we have been doing a good job upholding the integrity of our mission. A non-profits mission should always come before salary and overhead. The problem is we barely raise enough funding for the mission so we have nothing left for all the other aspects of the organization. Part of the reason we struggle so much with funding is because we spend most of our time and energy planning solid research expeditions and then doing the research expeditions. We spend very little time and energy working on fundraising campaigns, increasing our social media presence, promoting our organization to larger organizations, although we do spend a lot of time writing proposals for grants. We wish we could hire someone to help us with these important things but technically we can’t even afford to hire ourselves. It’s been three years without a salary which makes it very hard to exist as a person in our society. I don’t let any of this bother me much as I know we will succeed in turning Ocean Research Project into a fully functioning non-profit organization. I know this because we can’t be stopped, our determination is limitless. Or as the most successful explorer during the great age of exploration, Roald Amundsen once said “the secret to my success has been due to self-control and willpower. Control yourselves, be your own masters, and at the same time develop determination. If you undertake anything, determine to accomplish your purpose and let no obstacle no matter what turn you back”.
A brief summary of this year’s data collection:
5,000 miles of pCO2 (ocean acidification) data for the Smithsonian’s Environmental Research Center.
5,000 miles of thermosalinagraph data for NASA scientists at Goddard Space Center. This is used to ground truth salinity satellites as the ice in the Polar Regions confuses them.
1,450 miles of Bathymetric data for NASA’s OMG program along with 70 CTD casts many of which down to 500 meters.
We also collected 5 Nano plastics (very small micro plastics) samples for Adventurers for Science and Conservation. This is a great citizen science project and I advise other sailors to look into it.
We were only able to do two long micro plastics trawls at the end due to bad weather. We did find lots of bits of Styrofoam and Nicole will process the samples at S.E.A an affiliate of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute when we return. According to 5 Gyres, Dr. Marcus Erikson this is the first time anyone has trawled for micro plastics in the Arctic.
Nicole’s education blog went out to 300+ middle school students and Nicole will take them on a geographic tour of our research using science on a sphere at Goddard Space Center this fall.
2015 has been our best year yet and next year looks to be even better.
(We have posted 80 pictures on Ocean Research Projects Facebook page, like us on Facebook to see the pictures)
By Endurance We Concur
Until next year…….
Thu, 17 Sep 2015 21:42:56 +0000
I hear the leaves are starting to change color back in Annapolis. There are no trees in Greenland (except the far south) but it is starting to get dark at night. The darkness brings the cold and it’s not uncommon to wake up in the morning and have ice on the boat. Our heaters are all in a state of rebellion so we live with the cold, unless the engines on. My friend Micha told me to buy and install a car heater from Summit racing, which I did before we left. Just like your car, when our engine heats up we can heat our boat, but when the engine is off it gets cold again. Nikki told me “I’ve been colder spending the winter on a boat in Annapolis” so she’s fine with the situation. Next year we will have different heaters.
The darkness completely changes how we can operate in the Arctic. Normally sailing at night is nearly the same as sailing in the day, I’ve spent more nights at sea than I can remember. Mix the darkness with ice and now you have a very dangerous situation. So we get up before the sun and get underway as it rises, then we drop anchor before it sets. We have been reduced to doing day hops from one anchorage to another (I just make up the anchorages day to day depending on wind direction). At best we can only make 50-60 miles a day so it’s been slow.
We have also been getting stronger winds which makes it difficult to trawl for micro plastics. Like most research when trawling for micro plastics you really want calm conditions. If there is any real sea state the waves hit the trawl and splash water in front of its mouth pushing away the micro plastics which float on the surface. This will completely screw up your “how much micro plastics per square kilometer” average. We have had a little success. It’s impossible to say exactly what we have found at this point as the samples will need to be processed by Nicole in a lab back in the states, but we have found lots of bits of Styrofoam in the water.
Styrofoam is horrible stuff but it’s cheap to make and therefor cheap to buy. We love when things are cheap and convenient, hell we’re obsessed with it. I think we should ban Styrofoam, is it really that bad to spend a slightly larger amount of money on a less destructive material?
The bits of Styrofoam are not coming from Greenland but some of the floating trash is. They really struggle with waste in Greenland. Most of the trash gets burned locally and most of the trash dumps are right on the water. A strong gust of wind comes and there goes some trash in the water. They really are trying to deal with it but it’s such a difficult landscape and for thousands of years they didn’t produce any waste. In Greenland we only throw away our trash in the larger towns that have better trash burning facilities. To throw your trash away in a small town would be disrespectful.
The issue of waste is tied directly to one of the most difficult issues we have, over population. Over population is so difficult because there is no good strategy to deal with it. You can’t say “you can only have one child” to the entire world. There are twice as many people on earth as there was in 1960 when JFK was president. Every single person uses resources and produces waste. Some people are worse than others, but every person has some impact on this planet. In the end we might use so many resources and produce so much waste that billions of people die because of it, but that’s a terrible way of dealing with over population.
Over consumption is also a big problem. In the United States we consume so many resources and produce so much waste that if the entire world lived like we do it would take three planet earths to sustain the current population. We are the most influential country on earth, we could use that influence to teach the world to live in a state of equilibrium with our environment, but we don’t.
All of this has very little to do with us. It has to do with our children and grandchildren. What kind of world do you want to leave the future generations of your family? We have been lucky to live in a time when the earth is still relatively pristine but things are changing for the worst very quickly. I don’t have a bleeding heart and I don’t hug trees but I can understand the damage we are doing to our planet.
It wasn’t that long ago that I read in the news that there are 50% less mammals, birds, and fish on earth than there were in 1970. Things are already changing but it’s not about saving the planet. The planets not going anywhere, it will continue to turn. We need to save ourselves from ourselves. 99.9% of all life that has existed throughout the history of our planet is now extinct. If we don’t want to become a statistic we need to use that big brain of ours and figure out a way convince people to live more responsibly. If we don’t start making changes things are going to get very bad for our future generations.
Heat Seeking Icebergs
Thu, 10 Sep 2015 21:56:00 +0000
Trying to find a good place to anchor in fjords near active glaciers is always interesting. Like usual there are no soundings so you have no idea where the deep and shallow areas are. Although it’s deep almost everywhere, right up to the rocky shore, so finding a good patch of shallow water is the tricky part. All of these fjords were carved out by glaciers which acted like a giant ice cream scoop leaving the cliffs sheer deep into the water. Imagine your boat is a little kid’s plastic bath tub toy boat. Now take that toy boat and drop it into a swimming pool and try to find a good anchorage. Your only option would be to drop anchor on the top step leading out of the pool. Since the pool is “uncharted” you have no idea where that shallow top step is located. Shallow also gets a new meaning as dropping anchor in 50 feet is now considered shallow, 60-70 feet is normal and once and awhile you have to drop anchor in 100-120 feet of water because that’s the shallowest water you can find. You still end up dropping anchor right next to the rocky shore (which is more like a
cliff than a shore) but at least you’re not dangerously close.
The first two years I learned how to sail I lived on anchor from the Chesapeake Bay to the Florida Keys. A couple years later when I sailed from Annapolis to Europe, Africa the Caribbean and back singlehanded I didn’t have the money to stay in marinas, so again I always anchored. I’ve anchored in just about every different bottom type you can imagine and it has taught me an important lesson. Buy the biggest anchor you possibly can fit on your boat and the heavier the chain the better. This may seem like common sense but many boats have puny ground tackle. I have a 73 pound Rocna (I had to cut the roll bar off with a hacksaw to make it fit so maybe it’s only 70lbs now) 150 feet of 3/8th chain (which is all I could fit) and another 1,000 feet of anchor rode. With this ground tackle I could anchor a 60 foot boat in 200 feet of water during a gale. I admit I’m a bit anchor crazy but that is what happens when you’ve lived on anchor, dragged anchor and watched people lose their boats due to insufficient anchors.
Okay, you’re in a fjord, you have spent the last two hours searching the shoreline trying to find somewhere shallow enough to drop the hook. You finally find a spot and down goes the anchor. But wait, that’s only half the battle, what about all the ice drifting this way that that? When searching the shoreline one of the things you look for are areas with less ice (keep in mind there is ice everywhere). Just because the ice isn’t there now doesn’t mean it won’t be there later, like once you’ve gone to bed. Nikki and I found a cove that looked mostly ice free, dropped anchor in 50 feet and went to sleep. Less than an hour later a 60 by 40 foot iceberg was literally knocking on the side of our hull. The tide was going out which I thought would help keep the ice from coming in, but as if possessed this strange berg was like some kind of heat seeking missile. We pulled anchor and moved to the opposite side of the cove and tried to go back to sleep. A half hour later this berg was right behind us just 20 feet away and closing. We ended up pulling anchor five times that night as this berg kept chasing us all over the cove. The berg itself was in the shape of a freighter with a bird’s neck and head coming out of the bridge deck. It was like this crazy ice bird was chasing us with an ice freighter. This all sounds crazy so I added a pic of this thing, the picture was taken from a distance but you can imagine having this thing chase you around all night.
That night like many others we kept an ice watch. That just means you set an alarm so you get up every hour and check for incoming ice bergs. You also get up right after the tide changes (if you can figure out when that is) as now the ice is coming from a different direction. For the most part the ice is more of a nuisance than a danger, but you don’t want a big piece tripping your anchor and pushing you ashore.
We have now officially ended our data collection for this season’s NASA’s Ocean Melting Greenland program. Over the last month we have obtained 1,450 miles of bathymetric data and 70 CTD casts (often down to 1,675 feet). Not bad considering there are only two of us on board. We also found the warmer saltier water column in many places over the last month.
Since Annapolis we have been collecting data for another group of NASA scientists who work at Goddard Space Center near Washington DC. By using a thermosalinograph we have collected surface salinity and temperature data for around 4,500 miles at this point. Dr. Ludovic Brucker and Dr. Guillaume Vernieres are planning to use this data for ground truthing NASA’s Aquarius satellite. Aquarius can determine surface salinity and temperature from space but with all the ice in the Arctic it’s hard to get accurate readings up here, so we were helping to fill in the blank, so to speak. I’m using the past tense because during this expedition Aquarius broke and can’t be fixed. So now that data will go to help with ground truthing a couple other salinity satellites and in some ways it is more important now Aquarius is down for the count.
RBR, an ocean technology company, is the organization who are generously loaning us the CTD and thermosalinograph. Nikki is helping them in return by working with Dr Richards at RBR on a CTD to thermosalinograph comparison. We couldn’t have collected data for both NASA programs if it wasn’t for RBR’s help. You have heard me talk quite a bit about the CTD so I’ve added a picture of Nikki holding it along with a pic of the installed thermosalinograph.
When we do an expedition to the Arctic we don’t just collect data for one source. We collect as much important data for as many different sources as we can manage effectively. We have a very full plate this year, which is the way a research expedition should be.
We are now switching gears to micro plastics research. I know of a person who tried to do some trawling in the Arctic last year on my friend Jimmy Cornell’s boat but for whatever reason it was a bust (according to Jimmy and Marcus Erickson). So that means that at this point there is no data on Arctic micro plastics, zero. So we will trawl our way back to Sisimut and see what we find.
I may have forgotten to mention but we are keeping our boat in Sisimut this winter so we can do more research in Greenland next year.
Wed, 02 Sep 2015 23:24:47 +0000
I doubt any other culture has had to constantly deal with the threat of starvation like the traditional Inuit did. You would think that the cold would be their number one adversary, but it wasn’t the cold it was food. 10,000 years of starvation changed their culture in ways we westerners in modern times have a hard time wrapping our minds around. Fore stance it was rather normal (especially if you weren’t a very good hunter) to make your grandparents commit suicide once they were too old to contribute to the hunting society. In was also rather acceptable to kill a new born girl by placing her on a piece of drifting ice. Their logic was “girls won’t grow up to be hunters”. This is what happens when a culture starves for millennia, either you can provide food, or you’re just a mouth to feed.
It all sounds rather heartless but you’re looking at it through the eyes of your own culture. The Inuit didn’t enjoy these practices, they were living the ultimate version of the survival of the fittest. Since they spent most of their time trying not to starve to death they didn’t wage war like most cultures. After thousands of years without war they seem to have lost most of their sense of bloodlust. I bet your average American has more bloodlust than your traditional Inuit. The great Arctic explorers described them as the happiest people on earth (which is also hard to wrap your mind around). The Inuit went through one of the most extreme transformations in human history going from the Stone Age to the Atomic Age in just a few generations.
Most people in Greenland today wouldn’t call themselves Inuit, just Greenlandic. In the larger towns like Nuuk and Sisimut many people are a mix of Greenlandic and Danish. As far as I can tell it’s only when you get north of Upernavik that you start seeing signs of traditional Inuit culture.
Greenland is part of Denmark. The Danish government gives something like 3-4 billion in subsidies to Greenland every year. This has changed everything. If it wasn’t for the support of the Danish government Greenland would be a truly impoverished 3rd world country. This has also had a huge impact on their culture, the Greenlandic people today are quite western in many ways. I can’t say western culture is always a great thing and it’s sad to see an ancient culture lose its roots but at least they don’t have to deal with the constant threat of starvation anymore.
(An interesting side note, after WW2 the United States tried to buy Greenland from Denmark for 100 million dollars, had Denmark said yes Greenland would be our 51st state.)
It certainly works out well for me and Nicole. Nearly every town has a small grocery store. There is only one grocery store chain in Greenland, it’s easy to find as its logo looks like a polar bear sniffing another polar bears butt (can’t miss that). These stores are full of Danish foods and seem like they have been plucked straight out of Denmark. It’s funny to think that Nikki and I had to sail to the Arctic before we started eating well on an expedition. They don’t really have highways or roads in Greenland but nearly every little town has a helicopter landing pad. If there was an injury you could get to Upernavik’s very nice hospital fairly quickly. Fuel isn’t cheap but since it’s subsidized it’s not terribly expensive either. Greenland has its challenges and isn’t a place for novice sailors, but it also has its perks.
North of Upernavik when approaching one of these small towns the first things you hear are the dogs. The dogs never stop making noise, whether it’s howling, barking or wining. These dogs aren’t the type you walk up and pet as they are more wild then domestic. They are work dogs used to pull sleds in the winter, in the north that is still very common. The dog’s noise isn’t bad, it makes the towns seem more alive. The big dogs are mostly all tied off but the puppies typically run free. If you put your hand out the puppies climb all over you, my guess is they think you have food. Nikki is in puppy heaven every time we go for a walk around these towns. The Greenlandic dogs have two coats of fur so they are always shedding. They wouldn’t be very good indoors or on a boat unless you don’t mind having dog hair everywhere.
We have been taking it a bit easier since the Devils Thumb. We are still averaging 10-14 hour days but that’s a whole lot easier than working for days on end. The research dominates all aspects of our expedition. This isn’t a sailing adventure with a little research on the side, this is a research expedition with a little adventure on the side.
You probably notice that our track line has been zig zaging all over the place lately. It’s all part of our bathymetric survey. We have a 1 kilowatt single beam sonar with data logger and are following lines given to us by NASA’s OMG (Oceans Melting Greenland) program. By doing this we are mapping out the sea floor helping OMG better understand where the deep areas are that may have the warmer saltier water column. Our data isn’t strong enough to be given to the Danish Hydrographic Office, but it’s good enough for NASA. What we really need is a multi-beam sonar but that’s $100,000.
There are almost no depth sounding for any of the areas we have been in so when in doubt we use iceberg navigation. We only draw four and a half feet, most bergs are deeper than we are so if you see a berg of any real size you can assume that the water is deep enough for us near it. There is also almost no tide information north of Upernavik, which makes things tricky when you can have fifteen to twenty foot tides. So we use icebergs that have run aground to gauge the tides by the indention cut out by the rising and falling water. Icebergs can be very helpful at times.
Over the last week the water has been the clearest I’ve seen yet. You can see down fifty feet and at thirty feet you can clearly make out every detail of the sea floor. This makes anchoring a lot easier. Since the bottom is full of large flat rocks and boulders we can find the sandy spots and drop the anchor right on target. The water almost looks tropical if it wasn’t for the fact its freezing cold.
Tomorrow we will enter heavy ice once again in an effort to help map out the fjords around Kakivfaat and Nunatakassaap glaciers, then it’s off to Upernavik.
Old School Exploration
Wed, 26 Aug 2015 20:06:00 +0000
The open polar sea seems like such a crazy theory at this point in history. Before satellites and airplanes people had no idea what the northern Polar Regions were really like. Many people thought that “deep water can’t freeze” or “24 hour sunlight in the summer would not just melt the ice, it would also be a tropical climate”. Some people went so far as to believe that there was land at the North Pole inhabited by a technology advanced people (basically Arctic Atlantis). Better yet, there is a hole at the pole that leads to an underground paradise. That theory was the inspiration for Jules Vern’s “journey to the center of the earth”. However silly all of this sounds in the 19th and early 20th century people took this theory not just seriously, but as scientific fact. Many died because of it. They thought that there was a ring of ice surrounding the Arctic, but if you could only break through that ring of ice you would enter an open polar sea.
In all the Polar Regions north and south the area we have been sailing through over the last couple of weeks has seen the most U.S. lead polar expeditions. The reason for many of these expeditions was to find the open polar sea. Starting with Elisha Kent Kane and ending with Peary Northwest Greenland was America’s contribution to polar exploration.
Unlike Shackleton, I can’t say “I wish I’d been there with them”. Kane was incredibly arrogant and was universally despised by his crew. Charles Francis Hall traveled the Arctic for years on his own living with the Inuit truly respecting their culture. Unfortunately he was a terrible leader of men and was found to be so insufferable by his crew that he was poisoned to death by his own ships doctor. Cook was a fraud. Peary only cared for fame and named practically everything he saw after himself, even places that didn’t exist. More than likely the last 100 miles of Peary’s journey to the North Pole was fabricated. He still deserves to be called the first man to reach the North Pole, like horseshoes and hand grenades he got close enough to count. George DeLong was by far the most likable and honorable of all the American expedition leaders. He too was looking for the open polar sea (although in a different part of the Arctic). He was a man worthy of his crew’s respect, but his boat was crushed in the ice and he died along with 2/3rds of his men.
The great Arctic and Antarctic explorers all deserve respect regardless of their personal quirks. These men endured great mental and physical hardship often without concern or complaint. They lived in a time when polar geography was truly unknown, a time of legends and myths. Men with hearts full of courage, braver than any explorer in the modern era. Compared to them we are nothing but a shadow. They are the ones who taught me what it is to be a man.
Today few places on earth are still uncharted, some of these last bastions of exploration are here in Greenland. The area where we conducted the majority of our research in the High Arctic was one of those regions. NASA scientists gave us a map that showed all of the data collected by all counties throughout history, within this map there was a large triangular shaped blank north of Qaanaaq. To be able to collect truly virgin data these days is about as rare as a leprechaun riding a unicorn, it was a chance we weren’t going to let slip by.
It’s very interesting to compare what is supposed to be there verses what really is. North of Cape Alexander we would see an island here on the chart and there on the chart that simply didn’t exist in reality. When going into a fjord to do a CTD cast we didn’t have a chart with soundings to say its 100 feet deep over here and 20 feet over there, or don’t go over there rocks are hiding just below the surface. We had to use a combination of observations and sailor intuition. As you can imagine my Inner-Shackleton is pumped up like Barry Bonds on steroids. It’s so nice to be back in the Arctic.
We left Qaanaaq and sailed down to Melville Bay to conduct a 150 mile preliminary survey from Cape York to the Devils Thumb. Peary (the guy who went to the North Pole) was in this area when he noticed the local Inuit had tools and weapons made of a very strange rock. The Inuit told Peary the rock was sacred. Peary convinced one of the Inuit to show him the source of this sacred rock. Peary’s suspicions were right, the tools and weapons weren’t made of normal Greenlandic rock, they were made from a meteor (two meteors to be precise). Apparently, the Inuit of the Qaanaaq region have been using these meteors to make tools and weapons for hundreds of years. In one of his more fiendish acts, Peary then stole both of these sacred meteors and brought them back to the United States, denying the Inuit the materials they desperately needed to survive. In a sad twist of irony there is a monument to Peary on top of Cape York overlooking Savissivik, the old site of the sacred meteors. If I was from Savissivik id knock that monument down and drag it back to the old scared site so it could be turned into a latrine, but then again I don’t like Peary.
Melville Bay is the land of a million icebergs, I mean literally a million. In the last week we have seen more icebergs than we have over the entire time we have been sailing in Greenland, multiplied. After passing Cape York we entered Meteor Bay to do a CTD cast. Meteor Bay probably had 500 large monstrous icebergs in it (possibly twice that number). From each berg came an assortment of growlers and bergy bits. I’d never seen anything like it. The icebergs were so thick we had to look for leads between these monsters as if they were pack ice, and that was just one fjord!
From Meteor Bay we skirted the edge of the Melville Nature reserve. You can’t do research in the nature reserve without a permit hence the “preliminary” part of our 150 mile survey. There’s always next year. Once south of the reserve we headed back towards land in an attempt to get to Hayes glacier to do more CTD casts. Hayes glacier is simply massive and constantly calving like crazy. About 15 miles from land you notice what looks like an impenetrable wall of icebergs as far as the eye can see. It’s like a bumper to bumper traffic jam of large icebergs. As you get closer you start to see leads but they don’t look like they go anywhere. Closer still you encounter fields of densely packed small ice between the size of a baseball to the size of a washing machine. There is no way to go around these fields of densely packed smaller ice, you can only go right through. Nikki calls these areas “the crunch” as that’s the sound the ice makes off your haul as you slowly pass through. Unfazed you press on and upon approaching this seemingly impenetrable wall of icebergs you realize there are some spaces between the bergs, so you enter this labyrinth of icebergs. It’s very slow going, Nikki covers the port side and I cover the starboard pointing out the smaller car sized bergs that litter the passageways between the monsters. (We had a three days forecast with no wind when entering the ice, had there been any wind in the forecast we would have stayed the hell away.)
We had been underway for several days since Qaanaaq, dodging ice and hardly sleeping. Now that we were navigating heavy ice sleeping was impossible. Sleep deprivation was catching up to me and I was starting to hear things that weren’t there. We needed to drop anchor and sleep, but where, we are completely surrounded by ice? An old grey bearded sailor once told me “any man can sail, but only a sailor can anchor”. For a guy who has spent so much time at sea non-stop I’ve gotten quite good at finding safe anchorages. There were several small uncharted lumps of rock that I guess you could call islands a few miles away. On one of these rocky outcroppings I found a current shadow, a place the current passes in such a way that the ice doesn’t get pressed up against that side of the island. So we dropped anchor there and slept. In the morning we got an email from Dr Fenty at NASA saying that Hayas was too iced up and we can try again earlier in the season next year when conditions will be more favorable. So we pulled anchor and started working our way through the ice to the Devils Thumb. (I’ve added some pictures of the impenetrable wall of ice but they don’t even come close to showing what it’s like)
We are currently on anchor near the Devils Thumb a place with so many bergs that we have to keep an ice watch when we sleep so we can quickly pull anchor and move before a 100,000 pound iceberg runs us down. Luckily they move very slowly.
What we have been doing here in Greenland is about as close to old school exploration as you can get these days. Venturing into uncharted waters colleting important scientific data in places where no one in human history has collected such data before. And this is only the beginning for Ocean Research Project.
(We have added some pictures of the research we have been doing. The blue line represents where we collected pCO2 (ocean acidification) data, thermosalinograph data and bathymetric data. The white circles represent CTD casts.)
Thu, 20 Aug 2015 13:56:24 +0000
Etah is not a village, there are three small hunting cabins but two of them are dilapidated beyond use. As I was writing my last blog a rather alarming amount of pack ice was drifting to the end of Foulke fjord where we were anchored. Halfway down Foulke fjord is an island that blocks most of the pack ice from getting to the end of the fjord where Etah is, for every piece that you can see at the end there are hundreds on the other side of the island. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get out and sail south.
Once past the island we were in thick of it, ice everywhere. Pack ice is very different then icebergs or bergy bits. Pack ice is not very high off the water, often only two or three feet of ice is showing above the surface but one piece can go on for several hundred yards. It becomes a jumble of slow moving pack ice mixed with icebergs of all sizes. Pieces drift this way and that, leads open and close. I’ve added two pictures but a camera gives the pack ice no justice. When looking at the pictures imagine being surrounded by the pack ice in all directions as far as the eye can see.
We slowly worked our way through the ice looking for one lead after another. Sometimes there was no lead so we would aim our boat at the smallest chunk of ice and slowly (and gently) push it out of our way. And so it went for several hours until some eight miles later we popped out of the pack ice just south of Cape Alexander. This all sounds rather dramatic but it wasn’t that dangerous. We had a reliable forecast (Predictwind) with nothing but light winds and flat calm conditions. Had there been wind we would have stayed in Etah until it subsided. Our hull is also made of steel which makes a big difference. In 2013 when trying to drag an abandoned 48 foot sailboat to Bermuda things got out of control and we were rammed hard by all 38,000 pounds of it and we hardly got a dent. So we weren’t too worried about the pack ice (at least the smaller stuff), we spent most of our time eating cookies and joking around. In these types of situations it’s much safer to remain calm and clear headed, freaking out is counterproductive.
Research can be broken into two categories. On one side you have the act of collecting the data, whether it’s lowering a CTD or dragging a trawl. On the other side you have managing the data, which is hugely time consuming. Nikki has seven different science logs as we are conducting five different types of research some of which simultaneously. We were out of the pack ice and on anchor but instead of relaxing Nikki had hours of different data that had to be moved to various excel spreadsheets along with a typed description of each corresponding event. This whole organization wouldn’t exist without Nicole. I don’t know anything about how to properly manage scientific data, work scientific software, etc. Nikki spent five years working on NOAA research vessels and that’s how she learned. I plan the expeditions and captain the ship but as far as the research goes Nikki deserves all the credit. It works out well as we both have something important that we are in charge of.
We went further offshore to do some deep water CTD casts and again found the pack ice. By this point we were well south of Cape Alexander which seems to usually be the southern edge of the pack ice. Nikki wanted us to get to an underwater ledge where it drops off to 2,300 feet deep to deploy the CTD and look for the warmer saltier water column. We followed a solid chuck of pack ice for a more than a mile until the fog came. This never ending chunk of pack ice was surrounded by a field of jumbled pack ice that went on for a good many miles. We got close to the underwater ledge but once the fog rolled in you can’t really tell where the leads in the ice go, so we did a cast in 1,900 feet and retraced our step back to ice free water.
We are currently in a very interesting anchorage off Qaanaaq a town of 700 (with fuel). We are at the mouth of a large fjord that goes back over 45 miles and it is an iceberg making machine. We have an incredible number of icebergs behind us, some of them are monsters. Icebergs have a very deep draft in proportion to the freeboard (so to speak) and since we are anchored in fairly shallow water we are protected from 95% of the icebergs. Once and a while a small berg comes and you have to push it away with your whisker pole but usually they are no bigger than a refrigerator.
We will to wrap up our research objectives up in the High Arctic and head back south soon. Lots more to do down there.
Etah (78 North)
Sat, 15 Aug 2015 20:23:03 +0000
It’s so beautiful up here. It really feels like we sailed to the Arctic. Fore instance we don’t get rain we get snow. Last week we were snowed on a half dozen times, although it never sticks for long. You’re probably thinking, “Man that sounds cold” but it’s not. We have seen no fog, blue skies almost every day and when the wind dies it can get up to 55-60 degrees. It doesn’t even get close to getting dark up here, the sun just goes round and round, never getting high in the sky and never getting low. We lose complete track of so called night and day and time loses all relevance. The only reason we know what day it is, is because we are constantly logging for our research.
The reason we sailed this far north is to collect data for NASA’s OMG (Oceans Melting Greenland) program. NASA scientists believe there is a warmer saltier water column that is coming up from the Atlantic and eating the glaciers from underneath. This warmer saltier water column can be found around 800-2,000 feet down. What we are doing is deploying a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) probe off the back of Ault searching for this warmer water. We will go into a fjord, deploy the CTD at the glacier, then half way down the fjord, then at the mouth of the fjord and so on. Sometimes we head offshore a ways and deploy the CTD down to 1,750 feet, we have to use a waterman’s pot puller (which I have bolted to the back of our boat) to get the CTD back up again. We will be conducting research for NASA’s OMG program for about a month before we switch gears to marine plastics research.
Conducting this research with only two people is a huge amount of work, and it’s not uncommon for us to work for 24 hours straight. Having constant sunlight helps as you don’t get tired like you normally would. On the flip side, we get to go into some incredibly beautiful fjords. When we were at the end of Robertson fjord where Verhoeff glacier terminates Nikki told me “this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen”. Huge dramatic cliffs with multi -colored rocks, mosses, lichen and birds everywhere. Some of these glaciers, like Morris Jessup (my favorite glacier name) is packed full of ice. There was only one lead through the jumble of ice in and out. Even once you’re through the lead you often zig zag your way between ice bergs that are separated by little more than the width of our vessel. We had a little berg the size of a cow roll and somehow get underneath of us, but we smashed it with our steel bow and kept rolling.
It’s important to keep in mind that we are only entering these ice packed fjords in flat calm conditions. Although there is tons of ice everywhere with no wind and waves it’s not that dangerous. In the larger fjords when the wind does pick up it gets funneled by the mountainous cliffs and the wind can really come screaming down the length of the fjord. We had to spend 24 hours hiding behind a little out cropping in Robertson fjord waiting for the wind to die so we could get back to work. The nice thing was that on this out cropping was the little village of Siorapaluk.
According to the Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation Siorapaluk is the world’s most northern indigenous community with a population of 70. I’d be surprised if there is even that many people there. This gave Nikki and I a good chance to take a walk and look around. As we were walking my heart sank a little as I watched a small cruise ship (still 300-400 feet long) come in and drop anchor next to Ault. There was a flurry of activity as they launched several black ribs into the water each filled with eager eco tourists. They came in waves and were all wearing matching yellow jackets that gave them more the impression of an army than of individuals. Eventually there were more eco tourists than there were villagers, many armed with cameras taking pictures of the Inuit like they were monkeys in a zoo. All the people we talked to who worked for this company were good hearted and very friendly and who am I to say what business can or can’t operate their cruise ships in the far corners of our planet? It was just very strange to be standing on the hillside next to Nicole overlooking this beautiful remote fjord watching what can only be described as the eco tourist version of the landings on Normandy.
Etah is just incredible. Etah was also used by many of the Arctic explorers, Perry for one used Etah to repair his boat which was sinking out from underneath him. This place almost doesn’t fit in up here. It’s very green and lush with fresh water glacial streams and abundant wildlife. Birds are nesting on the sides of the mountainous cliffs by the millions, or at least it looks that way. The birds are so thick in the sky that they look more like a swarm of insects. The birds bring in other predators like the Arctic fox. You can see ten Arctic foxes in one day, I had one pop out twenty feet away when we were walking around, but it disappeared before I could get to the camera. All the greenery brings in Musk Ox which are often grazing in the distance. Musk Ox brings in Polar Bears so when you walk around you’re armed to the teeth.
As much as I’d like to stay here, like climbing a mountain you don’t spend much time at the summit. That said, the ice in Smith Sound looks like it may have shifted east, if so we may have to wait a day or two for it to shift back west as it could be blocking us in. It’s too hard to tell from where we are anchored, we will find out soon enough as we are going to try to leave in six hours.
Etah will be our furthest North. The Humboldt glacier is dumping off so much ice that you can’t get much further north. We have done all the research we can do up here for now so we might as well turn back south for greener pastures (new research areas). I added a satellite picture showing our potion in relation to the impenetrable ice. This picture is a couple days old and the ice in Smith Sound changes day to day, but it gives you a good idea of how far north we have made it.
Thu, 06 Aug 2015 13:13:26 +0000
What causes ocean acidification is climate changes smoking gun. Around the world we are burning various fossil fuels for our vehicles, our power, our heat, ect. When burned all of these fossil fuels admit carbon into our atmosphere. Before the industrial revolution there was 280ppm (parts per million) of carbon in our atmosphere, today we have 400ppm. That’s an increase of nearly 50%. Last time the amount of carbon in our atmosphere increased by 50% it took 10,000 years, we have managed to pull it off in 200. Throughout earth’s history the climate has been constantly fluctuating. A warm spell here, an ice age there, but it changes very slowly over many millennia. A 50% increase in atmospheric carbon in 200 years is unprecedented and undisputable.
Our oceans acts a large carbon sink absorbing 25% of the carbon released into our atmosphere. You might think “well that’s good, at least something is reducing the amount carbon in our atmosphere”. Unfortunately as the ocean absorbs the carbon it changes the waters pH level. Now if this happened over 10,000 years the creatures living in the ocean would evolve to deal with this threat, but it’s happening way to quickly for evolution to keep up. The first things effected are shell fish and pretty much everything else that grows a calcium carbonate shell (including coral reefs). If the levels of pH continue to get thrown off balance the results could be devastating to our already struggling oceans.
If that isn’t bad enough the entire issue of climate change has been completely entangled in the volatile world of politics. Al Gore was the one who got it completely entangled to begin with in the early 2000’s but it was totally on accident. I’m sure everyone has heard of his documentary “inconvenient truth”. I really wish that it wasn’t Al Gore in that film, had it been John McCain or even better a resurrected Ronald Regan we wouldn’t have conservative climate change deniers. We live in a very strange time in politics where some politicians spend more time and energy trying to make the other party look bad instead of working together for the good of our country. This happens on both sides of the political spectrum. It’s not just the politicians who have adopted this attitude, it’s also spread to their constituency. I understand that people want to support their political party but this is what I don’t understand when it comes to climate change. So the scientists at the Smithsonian are wrong about climate change, the scientists at NASA are wrong about climate change, and the conservative politicians are right about climate change? That doesn’t make any sense.
I’m certainly not jumping on Al Gore’s band wagon. He talks all this and that about reducing your carbon footprint yet has a huge house with a huge property and is creating a large carbon footprint. He could have a nice house completely off the grid with solar panels and wind generators galore. He could have a plot of land where he grew his own vegetables and a barn with pigs and chickens. He wouldn’t need to tend to his crops of raise his own livestock, he’s rich, he could pay people to do it for him. I’m not trying to beat up on Al Gore and I’m glad he said something to begin with. It’s just if you champion a cause you should live it and breathe it, not just talk about it. It’s important to remember that at some level or another hypocrisy lives within us all. I know how sensitive people get about politics so I’ll just leave it at that.
So ocean acidification is caused by burning fossil fuels and collecting ocean acidification data is a big part of our 2015 Greenland Climate Project. We are working with Dr. Miller at Smithsonian’s environmental research center collecting pCO2 data (pCO2=carbon in the water). Usually when doing ocean acidification research people measure the waters pH but Dr. Miller is looking directly for the carbon itself. He built a device (check picture) that normally would be mounted on a dock and has tried to convert it to work on an ever moving sailboat. This is a bit of a test for this device as it’s never been used on a boat before and we are modifying it as necessary to keep it running. We hope to work out any bugs in the system so this device can be installed on other sailboats. We are trying to become a marine related citizen science hub for the Smithsonian’s environmental research center. This is one of two projects we hope to integrate into a citizen science platform. If you want to collect ocean acidification data from your boat contact us next year and hopefully we will have the funding to get people like you involved.
Since my last blog we have had very little fog and tons of icebergs. I bet I saw 100 of them in one day near Uummannaq. We stopped in Upernavik which was a nice and very quiet little town. It’s a good place to get fuel, water and fresh food. From here we head north, as far north as humanly possible. From this “furthest north position” we will start our deep water CTD casts, I’ll talk about that later. Well the wind is picking up, should have 20-25kts out of the south by this evening. Next stop Santa’s house, hope he has a dock.
Thu, 30 Jul 2015 13:09:48 +0000
The fog has finally lifted enough to sit done and write this blog. Well, I’m not sitting, I’m standing in the pilot house scanning the horizon for icebergs while trying to write. We spend our watches staring out into the fog prepared to dodge whenever little berg may pop out in front of the boat. The radar doesn’t see the little bergs which are the size of a school bus (or larger). It’s a bit like sailing blindfolded through waters that are teeming with freight containers. When you finish your five hour watch (we do five hours on five hours off) all you want to do is crawl into the warm sleeping bag and rest. Since there are only two of us on board one person is always alone for five hours trying to deal with fog, ice, winds etc. It’s not always foggy up here, but when it is you better pay close attention to the foggy little world around you.
We stayed an extra day in Nuuk so I could install the diesel heater I traded a salted pig for. It would have been fairly straight forward installation back in the states. For instance you need to make a five inch hole through the steel deck for the chimney. No problem, go to the hardware store and buy a five inch hole saw, problem solved. That’s not so easy in Nuuk so I tried to cut the hole with my grinder, but it broke my only large invertor (I have used it 100 times before with my large invertor, but it chose this moment to die). Then my jig saw broke. I ended up spending hours cutting a five inch hole through my steel deck using a pair of vise grips that were holding a broken hack saw blade. I felt like I was trying to break out of prison with a nail file. And so it went for the next 14 hours until finally the installation was complete, or as complete as its going to be under the circumstances.
We left Nuuk with good southerly winds and a couple days later we pulled into Sisimut, Greenland second largest city with a bustling population of 5,000. Pulling into these little harbors in Greenland is such a crazy experience. There are little boats tied off everywhere in the most chaotic fashion. Boats tied to boats tied to boats until you have 20 or 30 small powerboats tied off in an incredible jumble. If I was still sailing my old Pearson 323 id just join the jumble but at 42 feet of steel plus a bow sprit I’m way too big to join the pack. Seawalls can be sketchy, not just because they are a combination of broken wood and jagged metal but because the tides can range 15-20 feet. If you tie off to a seawall underestimating the tide thinking “hmmm this is a nice place to stop” the tide drops, the water leaves, your boat falls over on its side, the tide comes back in and floods your boat, bye bye boat. It sounds like a headache but I find these harbors quite fun and amusing.
The whole reason we stopped in Sisimut was to find a guy named Bent who runs the local boatyard, old fishing boats mostly. We have decided it would be best to leave the boat in Greenland this winter. We plan on doing more research up here next summer and sailing 3,000 miles back to Annapolis then another 3,000 back to Greenland seems a bit ridiculous. Also by keeping the boat in Greenland for the winter we can double the amount of research that we can do this summer. The down side is the boat is also our home, so we will be homeless for 9 months (fall, winter, spring). You may be thinking “well heck, why don’t you just stay on the boat and spend the winter in Greenland?” We have a hard enough time running our non-profit organization from Annapolis, let alone Greenland. Plus I need to find work this winter and unless I want to shovel snow for a living ill need to get back state side. In the end Bent said he “could” pull our boat and put it on the hard for the winter but for some reason he needs a couple weeks to decide if he wants to and will do it. So everything is still up in the air.
While in Sisimut we met a 27 year old French guy who is about to single hand the Northwest Passage. He had crew but they left and took their sat phone with them leaving him with no communication. I let him borrow our spare sat phone under orders to mail it back to me from Alaska. This way he will have ice info which can save your life in the Northwest Passage. I wouldn’t normally give a stranger a $1,000 piece of equipment but there are very few sailboats up here so when we meet we treat each other like family. That’s the way it should be everywhere, one big sailing family.
Ocean Research Project wouldn’t exist without help. Many people reading this blog have helped us over and over again throughout the last three years. Without your help there would be no research organization, we exist because of you. I can’t thank you enough. Like usual we did this Greenland Climate project with only 20% of the funding we needed. It’s only because I have such a long history doing expeditions on a shoe string budget that we left the dock and went anywhere. Any size donation makes a big difference and 100% of the funding goes to research and education (check out Nicole’s education blog!). You can donate via the donate button on the website and it’s all tax deductible. I feel very fortunate to have had your help. Thank You.
Thu, 23 Jul 2015 17:26:31 +0000
Outside of hurricanes and tropical storms July is a great month to sail the North Atlantic. Both times I’ve sail the Labrador Sea I’ve had steady Southeast winds around 25kts for days on end. The Labrador Sea may be foggy and wet but pushes you north at a good speed. The sun did finally make an appearance for a day or so and we saw our first ice berg of the trip. Then the fog came back until we spotted land. The radar sees icebergs easily but not growlers (little bergy bits) those you just have to watch for.
We took the southern approach to Nuuk, crossing through fjords and passing by rocky little islands. After so many days in the fog it felt like we had sailed to some mythical land of the lost. This also gave us a chance to stop and further test our scientific equipment. It’s absolutely crucial that all devices and sensors are working properly, or else this entire Greenland Climate Project will be for nothing. Although we have been collecting data with both the PCO2 device and the thremolsainiagraph since Annapolis it is the Arctic waters just north of us where the real interest lies. I’ll explain the research more as we sail north.
It was nice to get back to land, but it’s not like you’re going to pull into a marina and tie off. There are no marinas. We spotted Nuuk from a distance and watched as it would get completely shrouded in fog, then clear up, then disappear. I didn’t want to navigate Nuuk harbor blind as a bat and luckily the fog cleared briefly as we entered the harbor. But Now what? Should we just tie off to some random boat, hope the owner is ok with it and isn’t about to go anywhere? What else can we do?
We temporally tied off to a tug boat until customs came and we could figure out a better place. When you look at the picture of Nuuk’s inner harbor can you see our boat? We are the boat that’s tied off to a boat that’s tied off to a boat that’s tied off to a boat that’s tied off to the wall, with another boat tied off to our other side. As you can imagine Nuuk is not set up to handle sailboats, it’s about as far from being “yachty” as possible. But everyone is very nice.
We met another sailing couple around our age, Jessie and Samantha. They sailed through the Northwest Passage last year and are on their way to Iceland. Only three boats made it through the Northwest Passage last year so they had to deal with serous ice that wasn’t there when I sailed through in 2011. You never know what you’re going to get in the Northwest Passage. Money doesn’t mean much up here as there is not much to buy, so it’s all about trading. I traded Jessie a giant salted pig for a Refleks diesel heater, with the chimney and day tank (Jessie was being very generous). I hope to install in in our aft cabin where we sleep.
We have used our time in Nuuk fairly well. It can be difficult to get around to fixing the boat when all you want to do is walk around town and get a break from the boat. We will push off either tonight or tomorrow heading for Sisimut. It’s a brief layover, I have to find a guy named Bent, ill explain later. All in all everything is going well.
To get from Renee and Bobby Muller’s back yard in Annapolis MD, to Nuuk we sailed 2,669 nautical miles at an average speed of 4.7kts (113 miles a day). We were underway for roughly 23 ½ days, which compared to 63 days last year and 73 days the year before isn’t bad. We even got to stop twice. We certainly aren’t breaking any speed records with this boat but it is fairly comfortable, all things considered.