Setting up a demanding scientific expedition to the Arctic Ocean in the midst of a pandemic brings about a very mixed set of emotions.
Text and photos: Andreia Plaza Faverola, project leader SEAMSTRESS.
The Norwegian research vessel Kronprins Haakon (KH) is an ice-breaker class vessel that allows surveying and sampling is usually inaccessible polar areas. But our preference for KH, over other research vessels available to us at UiT, goes beyond the need of breaking into the ice. KH has a so-called A-Frame with powerful cranes and winches, in addition to ample space on deck and a system to accurately keep a position. This makes it possible for us to use advanced marine instrumentation, such as rigs for sediment drilling and piezometers (e.g., Ifremer piezometer).
The Ifremer piezometer was successfully used last year during the first SEAMSTRESS cruise and is the centre of the experiment this year. This instrument is teaching us that the pressure of the water and gas inside the sediment changes with small fluctuations in the sea level, for example, tides, which are in turn caused by the gravitational forcing from the moon and the sun.
It is just amazing to think that there can be such a close connection between the methane seepage phenomenon and forces beyond our Planet.
Now the other face of my emotions – We brought with us two sets of piezometers and sensors to maximize the time onboard and collect pressure and temperature data from at least four stations. However, many challenges have shaped the start of the cruise and our original plan slowly became an illusion. Loading the ship with tens of individual boxes and dispersed equipment for ours, and other expeditions, shaved two days off our cruise time. Packing issues delayed necessary work that had to be done on the deck while the ship was still on the quay. We are just learning that packing for an expedition is an art, and if mastered it can save days. A single day’s delay is critical for an Arctic expedition during this time of the year, where a window of good weather is just gold. But there were more delays to come. Before we could set foot on board, a negative corona test result for one of the new crew members had to be in the captain’s hands. We also used some precious time for the bunkering (filling the tanks) over the night.
Luckily, we are in good hands and with great people. Exciting discussions about science, politics, entertainment and exotic (Arctic) landscapes, keep us occupied as we are heading north.
As the cruise participant, I am craving for some action. As the cruise leader, I am just praying to the Viking gods for a long golden weather window and fewer unaccounted challenges in the days to come.