Watching the ice break is as captivating and mesmerising as watching the fire burn.
Text and photos: Mauro Pau, postdoc CAGE
The main difference is that instead of the soothing crackling sound, you hear a loud banging, booming and scratching noise. Especially felt by those occupying a cabin on the lower decks. But that’s all part of the experience and we are going to miss this too.
It’s almost midnight when we reach a new station. Water is almost 2000 m deep, and it takes all night to deploy the instruments. The samples are for the DNA team: Kristine Steinsland and Danielle Grant are looking for environmental DNA from past sea ice organisms found in superficial sediments, while Stijn de Schepper investigates how much DNA from the upper ocean actually reaches the seabed. Danielle explains that the DNA of ancient species may reveal information on the position of the ice sheet in the past. She points out that it is currently feasible to isolate DNA molecules dating back to the last interglacial, i.e. 130 thousand years ago. Rather than looking for a needle in a haystack it’s like looking for a needle in a pile of needles, she comments.
As the day progresses, we find ice so thick and compact that our dear icebreaker gets repetitively stuck. The captain has to momentarily reverse the course and then run up the ice to break it and advance only a few tens of metres at the time. The cruise scientific leaders Jochen Knies and Monica Winsborrow decide therefore to abandon the idea of reaching the continental shelf at the current latitude, and try instead at a more southern location. In the late evening we stop for a further DNA station, where we happen to see the northern light.