Global warming is upending virtually everything that scientists know about the Arctic ice cap.
During the first half of 2015, a multinational team of researchers froze the RV Lance into the Arctic ice for 6 months so that scientists could study ice conditions from winter’s deep freeze to spring breakup – a cradle-to-grave approach. Researchers spent as long as 6 weeks on the ship, studying everything from the tiny plankton and alga in the Arctic Ocean to turbulent mixing in the waters under the winter ice.
Ice chuncks in a crazy mix
NTNU/UNIS researchers, Aleksey Shestov and Åse Ervik, linked to the Sustainable Arctic Marine and Coastal Technology SFI (SAMCoT SFI), were among the scientists seeking to learn more about this changing environment. They planned the field work together and were at the field site/Lance on two different consecutive legs of the project from mid-May to the end of June. Each day, they would spend between 12 to 15 hours out on the ice ridges selected for study, drilling holes and measuring something called porosity, or the gaps between big blocks of ice at the bottom of an ice ridge.
An ice ridge may sound like a simple structure, but it is anything but. The top layer is called the consolidated layer, which is frozen fairly solid. Underneath is the rubble, which is exactly what it sounds like: different-sized ice chunks frozen together in a crazy mix. There can be holes between the chunks – which are measured as porosity.
Keeping safe and understanding ice
Research on ice is a tricky business because of the complex scenarios and the difficult weather conditions that researchers encounter when gathering data.
Logistics and health, security and the environment (HSE) are key elements of all field activities in the Arctic. Researchers are not only experts in their field of study, they become all-round experts in logistics and HSE, which is a must when getting closer to ‘understanding’ ice.
Working in the Arctic from 8:00 in the morning to 20:00 in the evening is very demanding. There is the pressure of wanting to get the work done, because every day can feel like the last day… the last day that the ice floe might be there before it melts, the last day of good enough weather conditions to be able to safely reach your research site, or just the last day of your research field activities before a helicopter picks you up and takes you home.
All ice and no play makes…
But researching ice is more than a race against the clock and extreme weather conditions. Some of SAMCoT’s researchers see it as a way of life, one difficult to give up once you start.
It has its rough moments and it also have has its fun moments. The excitement of looking for and collecting the data needed can also turn into monotony after 15 days of the same intensive and routine work.
Our researchers always find ways to keep up their motivation, and physical activity like a football match, helps. Some snowmobile work mowing the snow to level and make it compact, color spray will do the trick, an Arctic football field!
Most of us who have not being in the Arctic might think that ice is just a large flat surface of solid water, or maybe, we could imagine icebergs like the ones that appear melting all over the news.
There is more to ice than that… There are very many ridges in the ice, so the work that Shestov and Ervik does makes sense. To understand ridges you need to feel what it is like to drill into one. All the knowledge researchers gather during their many years of theoretical study falls into place once they experience the drill going down to the core of the ridge. It tells then so much more than any book could!
Let’s drill a ridge in the Arctic!
Read more: “Drilling down to understand sea ice”