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It sounds like thunder

Exploratory research is a labor of love. If you had a choice to further science by developing the methods for an emerging study that directly monitors the influence of climate change, would you? We make it happen, aside of our limited time and resources before our big sea floor mapping project way up North we made a side trip. We are monitoring a few glaciers in NE Disko Bay’s glacial fjords, glaciers which represent the 100’s of high rate melting glaciers draining the Greenland Ice Cap. The observations made from the calving monitoring stations over the Arctic summer season will help scientists determine if they can assess glacier behavior using pressure sensors like RBR’s Solo. Upon recovery of these instruments at the end of the field season we will find out if our field methods effectively captured calving activity in the form of surface waves recorded as changes in pressure along the series of calving monitoring stations.

Typically, calving activity has been studied by looking at seismometer readings and reviewing satellite imagery. The noise the glacier makes when it calves sounds like thunder and echoes for miles. These sensors will allow scientists to assess a glacier at a greater distance and with less complex setups.

In order to deploy these sensors our team explored much of an island shaped like an arrowhead where the NE and SE locations were in direct line of sight of two massive glaciers. Satellite imagery and reconnaissance flight footage from our aerial drone made it clear that sailing the Eastern edge of the island was a no go. I wished I had topographic GIS files at hand to better assess elevations for planning a direct route trekking across the terrain. We made the call to hike to the deployment locations after getting a better view from the top of the ridgeline. The hike was epic, I felt as if I was hiking on another planet. Take a look at our latest Video Blog to see for yourself. It comes out in a week.

Our next scientific objective, is to assess central Baffin Bay, for the accumulation of marine debris pollution which is less influenced by circulating boundary currents. We will be primarily looking at micro-plastic presence, the width of your finger nail or smaller, and a toxic pervasive force reaching the world’s most distant and once pristine places.

Nicole Trenholm

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It never ends

Boats need attention.  If you don’t give them the attention they think they deserve they get mad at you and start slowly committing suicide.  It’s amazing how you can winterize a perfectly functioning boat, leave it for the winter, and come spring it seems like everything is broken.  It’s understandable if your engine doesn’t start easily after sitting for months but when metal brackets on the engine crack in half it leaves you scratching your head.  Like a spoiled child, if you don’t show your boat enough attention it will have a hissy fit.  

Eight months is a long time to leave your boat.  Not that we had a choice, the winter lasts a long time in the Arctic, there is no reason to come back if the water is still frozen.   I knew we would come across numerous issues with our vessel, but there was no way to tell what would and wouldn’t be working when we got there.  Last year I had four months to prepare for our 2015 Greenland Climate Project, this year I only had two and a half weeks.

The first thing we had to do was install a $25,000 sonar system.  This would have been a difficult task in Annapolis let alone Greenland.  A sonar of this nature isn’t just a depth sounder, it’s an entire system.  The heart of this system is an Odom CV/200, Odom let us borrow a loner unit which was very nice of them considering a CV/200 costs $15,000.  We plan on buying this unit if we can raise enough money by the end of the expedition.  We also needed a DGPS, a transducer the size of a cinderblock and a new Panasonic Toughbook powerful enough run hydrography software.  The software we are using is Hypack, which is $8,000 for a one year license.  Hypack sponsored us this year but we will have to pay for it if we want to use the program again next year.   

When I say a transducer the size of a cinderblock, I kid you not.  Not just is it huge but it also weighs 40lbs.  Imagine bolting something that big to the bottom of your sailboat.  If the transducer is big the housing to protect it is colossal.  Lucky for us there was a good welder at the boatyard in Sisimiut who built a housing for our transducer of such quality that even the marine welders back in Annapolis would have a hard time matching it.  In the middle of building this for us he got into an argument with his boss and quit his job.  At first I was quite concerned but he told me that he will finish what he started and he did just that.  

There was a ton of little issues.  The batteries would no longer hold a charge, the water pressure pump wasn’t working nor was my fridge, the ships wiring had gone bad in serval places.  It never ends, every time you fix one thing, two more things break.  All you can do is try to keep up with the problems as they occur, but it’s hard to get ahead of the maintenance.

My trusty crew was up for the task.  Nicole, Dana and I worked 14 hour days while Alexander filmed like there was no tomorrow.  Although it was a lot of work we still found some time for play.  We did a talk at the local high school about our research and a Danish chemistry teacher named Neils evited us back to his apartment for dinner.  His apartment had the most incredible view overlooking the ocean.  He cooked musk ox stew and the red wine poured freely.  This became a bit of a routine; we would work all day in the boatyard then go over to Neils for stew, potatoes and wine.  We even went to a concert with Neils, the band had a Greenlandic lead singer, a drummer from Ghana, a guitar player from Togo, and a bassist and pianists from Denmark; it was epic.  

We finally put the boat back in the water, which was a nail biter.  Every time they moved Ault they broke something.  The first time it was my AIS antenna, the next time they broke four stantions, then they broke my Auto Helm windvane infrastructure.  They fixed everything they broke but it made me nervous every time they moved the boat.   They got the boat into the water without any issues, and then we became a fish sandwich.

They tied us off to a god knows how old, large wooden fishing vessel.  At 5am the next day I wake up to the sound of an engine chugging right next to our boat.  I come running out on deck in my socks just as this old fishing vessel slams into the one part of our boat that didn’t have fenders.  I scrabbled around moving fenders and helping them tie off their lines.  An hour later an even bigger old wooden fishing vessel ties off to that boat.  We were now sandwiched between three large wooden fishing vessels, hence a fish sandwich.  

It’s important to remember that this is their country and they are not set up to handle visiting sailboats.  There is not a single marina in all of Greenland.  These are work boats and the people on board are trying to make a living.  We are the ones who are in their way.  Everyone is very friendly about the situation as long as you smile and help them with their lines.   But you do have to be careful, you can tie your boat off to a seawall for 45 minutes to get some groceries and come back to see four little boats tied off to you, or even worse an old wooden fishing boat that weighs many times more than you do.  Greenland is not a place for fiberglass yachts with a beautiful paintjob and well varnished teak toe rails.  Our sailboat is a work boat, so a few scratches here and there don’t bother us much.

With Ault in the water, the engine tuned up, the problems fixed, the scientific equipment installed it’s time to begin the expedition!

Fortitudine Vincimus

Matt Rutherford

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Back to Greenland

It’s good to be back in Greenland. Last year we left Ault our 42 foot research schooner in Sisimiut which is just north of the Arctic Circle. Believe it or not with a population of 6,000 people Sisimiut is the second largest “city” in Greenland. Last year when we left Annapolis we weren’t planning on keeping our boat in the Arctic, but it takes a while to get to northern Greenland and then you have to do the research. By the time we wrapped up our research projects it was too late in the season to sail back south to Annapolis, so we had to find a place to haul out. When we first came to the boatyard in Sisimiut they told us they didn’t have any room to store our boat for the winter on land, they said “come back tomorrow”. When we came back they took a backhoe and used it to destroy an old 50 foot fishing boat, that’s how they made room for our vessel.
I don’t like being away from my boat for eight days let alone eight months. Not to mention there was no communication from the boat yard. Well there was a little, they sent me an email telling me how much money I owed them but once I paid them they went silent. I must have sent ten emails asking about my boat with no reply. When I saw Ault for the first time in eight months I would have hugged the entire vessel if my arms were long enough. Once the initial joy had passed it was time to assess the damage.
Water had gotten into my rudder somehow and during the extreme cold of the winter had expanded and popped part of my rudder off. The bracket that holds the alternator onto my engine block cracked in half (don’t know how that happened). My ship’s batteries were all shot (they weren’t in the best shape to begin with). All in all, damage was minimal.
On one hand this last winter was very nice. Nicole and I live on Ault, when we left our boat in Greenland we were basically homeless. Friends of ours, Pat and Amy Teeling, sailed to the Bahamas and let us stay in their house in Annapolis for free (as long as we covered the utilities). They really helped us out. On the other hand Ocean Research Project has been struggling.
Every single grant proposal we wrote we failed to get. Failing to get a grant is nothing new, it happens all the time, but normally we get at least one grant. This year we got nothing. I’ve never let a lack of funding stop me in the past, so why let it stop me now?
Part of the reason we have struggled with funding is because our primary research is geophysical data collection. Small non-profits don’t normally do geophysics; it’s usually done on large research vessels by PHDs. Their funding usually comes from the National Science Foundation or NOAA. NSF and NOAA doesn’t fund small non-profits, they fund universities and large institutes. Usually small non-profits do research related to a particular species, counting seal colonies, collecting polar bear droppings to be analyzed, etc. It’s not normal for a small non-profit to be doing this type of research. We can’t understand how climate change is affecting the Arctic without geophysical data. Sea level rise will affect a huge variety of marine species, but hydrography is still a hard sell.
On the up side, we now have a $25,000 sonar system that will allow us to map the sea floor down to 6,000 feet. We can lower our (RBR) CTD (salinity, temperature and depth probe) twice as deep, down to 3,000 feet and we have added another scientific project with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Even though we have struggled with funding we have seriously upgraded our ability to do professional climate change research. To hell with the funding, the research is what really matters.
We are doing four scientific projects in the Arctic this year:
1.) Our primary scientific objective is with NASA scientists who are part of the Ocean Melting Greenland program (NASA’S OMG). There is a warmer saltier water column, deep in the water, some 200-300 meters down, which is coming up from the Atlantic and eating Greenland’s Glaciers from underneath (last year we found this warmer water in a variety of locations). If you were to melt all of the glaciers on earth outside of Greenland and Antarctica you would add a half meter of sea level raise. If you melt Greenland you add 7 meters (21 feet) of sea level rise. Since the Arctic is melting faster than the Antarctic the Greenland Ice Cap will be the first thing that will seriously increase our sea levels. Sea level rise isn’t just about our tides rising higher, it will increase sea surge. It’s the increase of sea surge that will beat and batter our coastal cities. This project will happen way, way north near Qaanaaq (Inglefield Fjord), one of the last parts of West Greenland that hasn’t been detailed yet. It’s possible that this is where the majority of the warmer saltier water column terminates. We will find out soon.
2.) Our second project is with the Smithsonian’s Environmental Research Center. When researching ocean acidification most people look at the level of pH. As we burn fossil fuels it releases CO2 into our atmosphere. Around 30% of that CO2 gets absorbed by our oceans. The CO2, once in the water, becomes pCO2 (some call it xCO2). The CO2 in the water is lowering the pH making the water more acidic. Most scientists have looked at the pH instead of the amount of CO2 in the water because CO2 sensors are ungodly expensive. Our partner Dr. Miller at the Smithsonian has invented a CO2 sensor that is a fraction of the traditional cost. Not just are we collecting Arctic ocean acidification data and helping to trouble shoot this new device but next year we will be installing these CO2 sensors on citizen scientist’s sailboats.
3.) During our third project we will be deploying sensors built by RBR that can detect minute differences of pressure in the water. Every time a glacier calves an iceberg it makes a wave. These sensors can detect the waves and count them. This mean that RBR’s sensors will be able to count the amount of times a glacier calves over the period of time that the sensors are deployed. Typically if you wanted to understand how many times a glacier is calving you would have to stand there 24/7 and count it out as it happens. To be able to get an accurate idea of the rate of glacial calving is crucial to understanding the speed of its melt and ultimately the health of the glacier.
4.) There are five major gyres in our earth’s oceans. These gyres are where the “garbage patches” are, the accumulation zones where plastic trash gathers. Last year we did the first ever micro plastics trawls in Baffin Bay (or anywhere else in the Arctic). There is a small gyre (I believe) in the northern central region of Baffin Bay. We will trawl this accumulation zone to better understand the amount of micro plastics making its way up from the Atlantic into the Arctic Ocean. It should be interesting it see what we find.
Even though we have struggled with funding we still have put together one hell of a scientific research expedition. The obstacles we face only make us stronger. There is no limit to our determination. With the help of Nicole (the beautiful) and our crew (Dana and Alex) we will be successful. There is no stopping us. It’s by endurance we concur.
Fortitudine Vincinimus

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Trashed

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 carwastemanagement, 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.

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Heat Seeking Icebergs

sleepruinerTrying 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.

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Final Education Blog of the 2015 Greenland Climate Project

Captain Matt and I are waiting out some stronger winds before heading back South to Sismut and finishing our work along the way. We are pretty comfortable on anchor hiding on the leeward side of Upernavik Island. Soon we will fuel up and get some food from a food market but we have to seek out a different non-exposed harbor as it needs to be calm instead of full of breaking waves. I can’t wait to get cheese so I can make pizza. We collected 70 casts over 1450 nautical miles for the NASA Ocean Melting Greenland Project so I am ready to celebrate with a pizza party. Check out examples of a CTD cast profile of temperature and salinity of the ocean water column in the pictures below. We definitely found the warm salty North Atlantic Water we were searching for multiple times and it got warmer and possibly wider as we headed south. Next year we will have a longer line to drop the CTD because it would have been nice to get below 2100 feet in order to find how wide the warm/salty water layer was in the southernmost regions of our survey. In the uppermost part of our survey the layer seemed to get narrower and cooler as we headed North.

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Greenlandic

nappupI 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.

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Old School Exploration

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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.

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