Thursday, February 08, 2007

Day 193: Whats Goin' On

Oh my god, news and a half to write about. First things first. After a somewhat draining day, I went out looking for some stuff in the shopping center, and found a PLANT CENTER, where I promptly spent a small fortune on Greeny:

I adore plants. This completely made my day. For those of you who knew me at Pomona, you ought to remember Planty, the massive varigated pothos strung around my room. Greeny is a mini version of Planty.

Annnyway, on Tuesday night I got back from a jaunt around Svalbard on the Norwegian Coast Guard ship KV Svalbard.

And we literally went all the way around Svalbard, one big circle. Very awesome. Our group included me, Jorgen Berge, Jorgen's father (just for fun), John from logistics to keep us safe, PhD student Henrik, Master's student Mikko, and Bachelor's student Katrine. As it turned out, Katrine and I were the only females on board. This becomes vaguely relevant later.

John with some of our gear:

We headed north to Rijpfjorden (apologies for misspellings of "Rijpfjorden" earlier). The first night we got zero sleep because of waves that threatened to fly me out of my bunk bed. The weather wasn't in fact all that bad, but as the crew described it this icebreaker was built "like a bathtub."

The first stop we made was in NyAlesund, which is the world's northernmost settlement at 79 degrees North, with a year-round population of about 30 (that expoentially increases in the summer).

Here's some photos of our arrival:

A sign going into the center:

NyAlesund is a scientist's outpost, with researchers from around the world working on Arctic projects. Rather bizarrely organized, the site is run by Norway, and each country is allowed to build a cabin for their research facilities.

Including China, which apparently went to the expense of hauling in these massive stone lion statues:

FLASHBACK, 2005, Beijing, China, Forbidden City:

However, regardless of the supplies they themselves bring, everyone is required to pay a food-and-lodging fee which allows them to eat at the central mess hall.

So although it functions more as a research station, it calls itself a settlement, and attracts numerous tourists trying to get to the worlds northernmost town.

Dirigible (blimp) launch tower for the Amundsen expedition in 1926:

I don't recommend it unless you're doing research. There's nowhere to stay and scientists hate tourists. If you're a scientist, its pretty much phenomenal.

But here's proof I was there:

More photos of us in Ny-Alesund:

(Jorgen's dad, Jorgen, Katrine, and Mikko)

The Norwegian Polar Institute's building:

Entering said building:

Standing outside the same:

Looking across the center, including Amundsen's head and the Norwegian flag:

Going back to the ship:

A final look across the bay:

So then we continued up to Rijpfjorden, hitting some minor ice on the way.

We also prepared our amphipod traps, which we bait with raw chicken:


And we ran some CTD's (conductivity, temperature, and depth recorders):

Henrik preparing the CTD:

Henrik thinking about the CTD:

Rijpfjorden, you remember, is way up on the top in the north-east. We were making this trip to deliver supplies for the upcoming expedition in March, when the professor I work for and his masters and PhD student will spend 3 weeks hanging out up there doing some sampling.

This place is barren.

That little triangle is the cabin. It's about the size of a big tent.

We got there in the evening, and it was decided that Jorgen, a few of the crew, and Mikko (the master's student) and I would go ashore to check things out. I was going to stay onboard later to help coordinate the moving of the gear, so I got to tag along.

Sometimes people suggest that I should be a model. Do I make you want this hat?

John checking things out:

10 points if you can correctly tell me what this is. Extra credit for the gender:

We also set out the amphipod traps for 24 hrs:

Although it was fully dark, the weather was very calm (if cloudy and snowy) so we decided to start moving the gear immediately, at about 11pm. In theory, we should have been able to use the on-board helicopter. However, 2 helicopters of the same make had had identical mechanical problems recently, and the coast guard had forbidden any of that kind to be used. So we had to transport everything with the zodiac life boats.

That would be - literally - 4 tons of gear. Including 2 snowmobiles, a small boat, and 2 palettes of food, among a million other things. Like fuel barrels:

And snowmobile sleds:


Immersion suits - so hot right now:

Mikko: scientist, Finnish thug:

Most of the team went ashore, and I started to help moving gear around on board. Come about 3am, we still have a long way to go, and my bad foot is not in good condition. I'll admit, I'm not super bright when it comes to "not moving around heavy boxes for hours immediately after taking off your cast". So when the team came back and I was supposed to return to land with them to help out ashore, I had to pull out, and I didn't get to go ashore again. This was extremely hard for me - more than missing out on a very rare opportunity to visit (and photograph) one of the northernmost places I've ever seen, I hate admitting physical weakness, and I abhore even more having to back out of work.

Cleaning up the trap lines later:

We all spent a large part of the next day sleeping, expecting to be home in another day or so (by Sunday). HOWEVER, via a ship-wide annoucement, we were told that there were some Russian ships in the area that the coast guard wanted to check out. Part of the coast guard's job is to check out fishing ships, and they frequently have problems with Russian vessels (including a dramatic episode last year where a Russian troller kidnapped two inspectors, spun away from its coast guard escot, and made a run back to Russia with icebreakers and helicopters in tight pursuit). Needless to say, the coast guard were looking for a way to put the Russian's back in line.

The ominous bridge:

Instead of steaming straight at the Russians, the captian decided to swing far east - into Russian waters. The plan was that if we came at the ships from the east, they would see the ship on the radar and assume it was Russian. Tricky. However, due to slow going through the northern ice, we never actually caught up with them (much to my despair at missing a PHENOMENAL photo opportunity).

By this point, we were far enough along that it was decided to swing full around Svalbard to get back to Longyearbyen. However, for reasons that are a mystery to me, the coast guard decided to take a little trip to Hoppen, a small island towards the south, with some vague ideas about visiting the local science station. Annnd when we got there, there was too much ice to get the zodiacs ashore.

So really the last 3-4 days of the cruise were spent mostly eating and sleeping. And sitting around during a ton of fire drills:

My god, excellent food. Of course, if its not cooked by me, and it didn't immediately emerge from a frozen package or include the words "just add water", then we're talking fine-dining.

Oh yes! And we did see some polar bears out on the ice. But only close enough for this:

Hm, ok, this is quickly unwraveling from chronological. Other than our research team, there were also two other scientists onboard who were doing research for the military on extreme clothing. On one of the days where we had nothing to do, they asked if they could use us for some tests on boots. Two of us were to wear normal immersion suits (big orange full outfits, including boots, that keep you totally dry if you fall in the water), and two others were to wear immersion suits with an extra pair of outer boots on top. I was in the normal-suit group. Katrine was in the extra-boots group:

Jorgen: scientist, supermodel:

They set us up with tempertature sensors taped to parts of our feet and leg (I used my good leg, no worries). Observe sensors (this is NOT my leg):

We wore long underwear and sweaters under the suit, and were supposed to stand outside for 1-2 hours.

After a few minutes, I was sort of cold, but not enough to complain. Henrik, although not part of the experiment, came out to keep us company:

Over the next hour, my feet got real cold. I didn't really mind, as long as I could still move them, and they were pushing to keep us out for at least 1.5 hours. So I sat it out, but towards the end my toes started to hurt and then I definitely couldn't feel them. When I told them so, one made an offhand comment about me being from California and probably not feeling the temperature properly.

So we get inside, and I untape everything and give them my sensor box which plugged straight into the computer. And lo and behold, my toes had gotten down to 8.27C (45F). This isn't like, the air around my toes. That's my toes. My feet were 12C (55F). Honestly, I didn't know human flesh could get that cold and not be dead (only a few degrees drop in your core temperature can kill you). Pretty much everyone was shocked. Mr. Offhand Comment sort of stared and said "that's about where you shouldn't be able to feel your feet." Smooth, Sherlock. Your boots don't work.

But mild frostbite nonwithstanding, within an hour or so I was totally fine. No worries.

Moon over icy water:

Another thing they do in the Arctic on boats is another initiation ceremony at 80 degrees (much akin to this ceremony). Once again, I was largely in the dark as EVERYTHING onboard is in Norwegian. We got a call across the loudspeakers to come to the helicopter hanger ready to go swimming. Having not exactly planned on swimming, Katrine and I donned some long underwear and t-shirts and went up to find this:

Sweet monkey's uncle. This is where it becomes relevant that Katrine and I were the only girls onboard.

The ceremony involved calling us out one by one and sitting us on a chair made out of ice the crew had pulled from the ocean. There we were lectured by a fantastic Neptune, and "purified", via a bucket (or 2) of ocean water over the head.

On the last leg home, we passed Hornsund Fjord! (Location of my 2005 bird research)

Crew cruising around in a drill:

Oof, more to tell, but that essentially covers what happened on the ship, and it's going to take me a few million years to post all the photos, and it probably took you an hour to read this anyway. More soon on the events of the last few days. I need to sleep.


Hans Mundahl said...

10 points if someone can tell you the gender of snow?

Impressive, it should be worth more points though.

Laurel said...

Click on the photo and look closer, I suggest.

Anonymous said...

Um. See email I just sent. It's a totally small world. And I wish I were there.

Anonymous said...

Henkka!!! Henkka Henkka Henkka!!!

Anonymous said...

Um. The girl with the knife is totally cute. Not because she has a knife, though.

Sarah said...

Great post and some amazing pictures. I'm loving following your trip - keep on writing!

Hans Mundahl said...

Polar bear?

Laurel said...

You win!

Hans Mundahl said...

Yay! That's the closest I would want to get to a polar bear though - a fried of mine was once stalked by one on a canoe trip.

Beautfiful and scary critters.