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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After rounding southeast Newfoundland we could finally head north. It’s pretty incredible how far east you have to go before you can turn north heading from the U.S. east coast. Canada is wider than it looks on a map. It was great to finally be heading north towards Greenland but now we had our first real obstacle, southern icebergs.