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We are on fire!

We are on fire! I am just thrilled that we are finally back to 24 hour operations in the ice, mapping Inglefield glacial fjord’s seafloor and comparing the subsurface temperatures lurking in front of the glaciers. I am kind of the boat’s fortune teller. I wake up every 5 hours for my watch and I ask the Captain, Matt, if the weather forecast has changed. Then I come up with the best case game plan to cover the most ground and update the estimate of when we aim to finish our survey.

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After 24 days of surveying the area we could only work 10 full survey days due to bad weather and equipment issues, but we have managed to cover a few hundred miles and a few dozen CTD casts in the last four days. We need to keep this up, and for now we can because winds look light. This is unbelievable considering how strenuous it had been to efficiently navigate the uncharted environment of 6 highly active glaciers while managing to collect the best scientific dataset possible. It is difficult and exciting to be surrounded in an icy world passing seals sun bathing on ice floes as we explore to further science. Except for the occasional cool snaps, we are in t-shirts and moving along about the same speed one would walk. Imagine walking back in forth in a thick forest the size of southern Maryland for over a week; that is kind of what it is like to survey eastern Inglefield fjord by boat.

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We saw our first major calving in Bowdoin Glacier fjord around the corner from Qaanaaq. We were not in any danger as we kept a safe distance. The glaciers really are slow moving rivers of ice–very slow, but they are shrinking. It is odd to think these glaciers could become like the many carved out channels cutting the mountains in half to the water’s edge leaving only ground-up gravel and sediment behind. At least those areas make for good anchoring locations when the weather is bad. We will head back to the east end of the fjord after another provision stop in Qaanaaq. We just plan to top off on fuel and water and then off we go again. Last time we stopped I saw two villagers moving water hoses around a sloping glacial stream to capture the fresh water for their water supply.  I wonder how long the small ice cap on the mountain where Qaanaaq resides at the base of will provide fresh water for its residents.
We have just 24 CTD casts and 330 nautical miles of survey left. I hope a strong gale does not sneak up on us again. It took a while but now that the project is off and running I am finding some time for art between navigation and science duties. Art takes the edge off. I started painting a mural of a sakura (cherry blossom tree) in the aft cabin, which is my sleeping quarters and study. The tree reminds me of my journey to Japan when I sailed across the Pacific Ocean to sample marine debris in 2014 on a sailboat called Sakura. There are no trees in Greenland and onboard we have no plants. We live on the boat and work on the boat so I wanted to bring a little land onboard in a small way.
This week I start assessing all the CTD casts we have conducted. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. This instrument can detect major changes in the ocean as it reaches the bottom and is returned to the boat. I lower it down and bring it back up on a line with a pot puller. Sometimes it can take up to 45 minutes before I can offload the data and check if it found the warm Atlantic water that threatens to accelerate melting of the glaciers. If we see a layer of warmer water about 2.5-8 degrees Fahrenheit at 900-2000 feet deep and an increase in salinity then we have found it.

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We are only getting started!

There is more on my mind than just puppies and icebergs. Getting through Baffin Bay was a piece a cake except when I interpreted  the radar returns in heavy fog as scattered noise  and a wall of ice appeared  out of the mist. The marine debris trawl samples are always full of life but barren of the plastic that one would expect to find in an accumulation zone. It did not take long to determine the gyre like region in Baffin Bay was not a garbage patch region.  We agree with the idea that because of the freeze thaw cycles that is characteristic of Baffin Bay, the pack ice may trap marine debris and move it further south as the ice retreats in the Spring and Summer. If time and calm conditions allow we aim to collect more trawl samples later in the season toon our way home and if lost discarded and abandoned fishing gear is the major source of marine debris from the Arctic in Disko Bay.
Any town in Greenland is  beautiful and full of wonder, but you also wonder why there is litter everywhere and if what your smelling is a stream of raw sewage flowing by you. The trash and sewage are typically on the town’s outskirts and at the waters edge, washing out to sea with every tidal cycle. The terrain is to rocky to build landfills and there are heaps of rubbish including bags of poo, old appliances, and scrap metal. Sometime you wonder where the town’s dump ends and the town begins, usually the puppies greet you in between. I think maybe there is a combination of low incentive and support for proper waste management and lack of education in identifying re-usable materials reducing community resourcefulness. Though visually marine debris seems to be a big problem coming from these towns, the populations are so small, often less than 500 people so it is not the major contributor of marine debris pollution in the Arctic.
We are 84% complete the first survey area of our project, Murcheson Channel, just outside of Qaanaaq had little ice and was relatively shallow water. Everyone onboard quickly learned what it means to collect quality sea floor bathymetry data and drive straight lines. Whoever is driving the boat has their own monitor with track lines he or she has to follow.  Usually, we do 5 hours on and 5 hours off with 2 people up at all times and take turns every half hour driving. The person not driving the boat needs to keep one eye on the sonar but more importantly the ice around the boat; through blanketing fog they will direct the helmsman on just how close they can get to bergs before getting off course. I do not think I will ever get tired of watching the glaciers appear as we round a bend.  The ice cap above them reaches up to the sky and fog rainbows come out and say hello.
We showed up ahead of schedule, 11 days ago and have barely scratched the surface in starting our sea floor survey. Unfortunately our borrowed sonar’s motherboard burned out. Luckily, the shallow mapping capability of the unit survived but this is a Mount Everest sized challenge of a survey, with the majority of it requiring deep seafloor mapping capabilities. Luckily, Teledyne Marine sent us a spare. So our current challenge is to stay productive while waiting for a little red mail plane to reach the furthest major airport in NW Greenland . Instead of tackling hundreds of miles of survey we will begin acquiring CTD casts throughout the fjord representing a dataset of the major thermal and salinity changes that occur from the sea surface to the sea floor. The delay also buys us time, the ice will clear even more in the end of the fjord making deep water surveying a snap.  I hope.
There has only ever been a handful of depth soundings recorded through history in this region until now. We have two major survey objectives.  First, we will trace the path of the warm water, originating from the Gulf Stream, coming up the fjord deep in the water that melts the glaciers from underneath.  It will be a great accomplishment for Ocean Research Project to watch the seafloor surface appear in our hydrographic software programs. Apparently, there are narwhales in this fjord. I cannot wait to see them!

 

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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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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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Melting from Above and Below: The Effect of a Warming Ocean on the Greenland Ice Sheet

The Greenland Ice Sheet is melting from all sides. Not surprisingly, as air temperatures above it continue to warm, scientists have observed a steadily increasing amount of surface melt each year. What is less known is that where the ice sheet meets the ocean—in valleys and fjords referred to as “marine-terminating glaciers” – the ice is being melted through contact with warm (i.e. greater than 0 degrees Celcius) ocean water. Recent results suggest that the total loss of mass (or ice) from the Greenland Ice Sheet has quadrupled when comparing the periods 1992-2001 with 2002-2011 (see Straneo and Heimbach, Nature 2013). The total mass loss from Greenland includes not only surface melt, but increased melting and glacier calving around the edges.

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Exploration & Science Hand in Hand

Exploration and science often go hand in hand. Since the early days of the polar exploration, science including land and sea survey have almost always been on the agenda. It was totally normal for a crew to sail towards the poles, shoving ones way into totally unfamiliar frozen territory until boats were forced on top of the ice for months, even years and only at that point did their work really begin. It is unbelievable that in the 21st century parts of this world are still uncharted such as in Northern Baffin Bay and Smith Sound where we just were working.

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Ships and Satellites Together Modelling World Ocean Salinity and Temperature

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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.

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Midnight Sun in the Arctic

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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.

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