Text: Henry Patton, chief scientist.
During the last ice age a vast, 3-km thick ice sheet covered much of Fennoscandia and the Barents Sea. Yet, around 15,000 years ago, its marine-based sectors collapsed catastrophically within a matter of centuries. One of the primary objectives for our team of 5 scientists and 2 engineers over the next two weeks will be to sail into the central Barents Sea to unlock some of the secrets behind how and why this ancient ice mass rapidly disintegrated.
We left Tromsø on July 8th on-board the research vessel Helmer Hanssen, leaving behind the calm waters and sunny vistas of Lyngen and northern Troms. Our first study area is ‘Sentralbanken’, an area that lay at the centre of this Barents Sea ice sheet and where some of its last icy remnants persisted. The transit there is a long one, taking over a day to sail. However, this is not wasted time and there is always plenty to do in preparation, including making sure all the geophysical equipment is working, setting up the instrument room for processing incoming data, and refining our research plans. So far no hitches!
Our route north has also been strategic, taking the opportunity to investigate potential areas of methane seepage from the seafloor, for example, where this ice sheet has eroded the constraining cap rocks; so far our predictions have proved very fruitful, with many newly discovered flaring locations.
Once we reach Sentralbanken we will begin our plans to survey the glacial fingerprint left behind on the seafloor by the ice sheet, as well as collecting glacial sediments that will help unravel the deglaciation story here, including when the ice retreated and what conditions were like beneath the glacier. We keep our fingers crossed for some calm weather ahead.