Category Archives: Nares Strait 2012

Arctic Heart Beat and Disappearing Old Ice

Have a look at this beautiful movie that shows how the Arctic Ocean moves its oldest and thickest ice around from 1987 through 2013:


[Credits: Dr. Mark Tschudi, University of Colorado and NOAA's climate.gov.]

The Beaufort Gyre moves ice off western Canada and Alaska clockwise while the Fram Strait outflow between eastern Greenland and Spitsbergen exports much of the ice into the North Atlantic Ocean with the East Greenland Slope Current. The dividing line between the westward flux (into the Beaufort Gyre) and the eastward flux (into Fram Strait) stretch out to the north of the Canadian Archipelago and Greenland.

My only quibble is that, according to the movie, no old ice exits via Nares Strait or the Canadian Archipelago which is not true. During our field work in Nares Strait from 2003 through 2012 we always met rather heavy, thick, and old ice streaming south:

A graduate student in our oceanography program, Autumn Kidwell, is credited with directing me to this movie. Oh, and the Norwegian Ice Service in Tromso has a job opening for a smart remote sensing person ;-)

Petermann Photos, Places, and People

Petermann Gletscher sent off Manhattan-sized islands of ice in 2010 and 2012 that now litter the eastern seaboard of Canada from its farthest northern Ellesmere Island to its farthest eastern Newfoundland. The ice is streaming south along thousands of miles within icy Arctic waters. Petermann Gletscher itself is flat, hard to grasp by the naked eye, its endless expanse of white vanishes into the horizon when we look towards the Greenland Ice Sheet ALONG the glacier:

North-eastern section of Petermann Glacier on Aug.-11, 2012, the meandering river is the centerline, view is almost due east. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen.]

North-eastern portion of Petermann Glacier on Aug.-11, 2012, the meandering river is the centerline, view is almost due east with Kap Fulford and Kap Agnes on the left center and Daugaard Jensen Land in the background on the right. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen.]

Next, lets look ACROSS Petermann from roughly the same latitude. This perspective is more dramatic as vertical cliffs give shape, cliffs are cut by smaller side-glaciers. More specifically, we see the CCGS Henry Larsen helicopter flying down Belgrave Glacier as we look across Petermann which flows from the Greenland Ice Sheet on the left out to sea on the right. On the other (south-western) side we see Faith Glacier in the background about 10 miles away.

Seaward front of Petermann Glacier Aug.-11, 2012. View is from a small side-glacier towards the south-east across Petermann Fjord with Petermann Gletscher to the left (east). [Photo Credit: Erin Clarke, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Seaward front of Petermann Glacier Aug.-11, 2012. View is from a small side-glacier (Belgrave Gl.) towards a similar glacier (Faith Gl.) across Petermann Fjord with Petermann Gletscher flowing from the left out to sea on the right. [Photo Credit: Erin Clarke, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Contrasting large Petermann Gletscher, the many smaller glaciers on both its sides evoke drama as ice plunges down from 3000 feet above in a rage of forms, colors, and shapes. These side glaciers have their own side glaciers that sometimes rival the Alpine glaciers in Europe, Asia, and the Americas that most of us are more familiar with.

Some side glaciers have names, but they are rarely seen on maps and charts. The side glaciers are mapped, but photos are hard to find. Flying over them last year, I was utterly lost. Reviewing photos now, I remember people, smells, computer troubles, and exciting ocean discoveries. Nevertheless, I am hard pressed to place the places we saw on a map or name them. Distances are deceiving, the air is clean and 50-80 miles of visibility are common. A moment later, I cannot see the other side of the ship as we are suddenly in clouds and fog. Everything is always in motion, the ice, the water, the ship, the clouds, all of this without strong reference points like the exit or distance signs on a Turnpike, Interstate, or Autobahn.

Northern Kennedy Channel near the entrance to Petermann Fjord with Kap Morton in cloud banks. [Credit: Andreas Muenchow]

Northern Kennedy Channel near the entrance to Petermann Fjord with Kap Morton in cloud banks. [Credit: Andreas Muenchow]

And along comes Espen Olsen, a frequent contributor to Neven’s Arctic Sea Ice blog and forums, and discovers a plethora of names that I can check, google, and use to remember expeditions to Petermann over the last 10 years with many good friends. So with his help and that of other explorers like Lauge Koch, Tony Higgins, and the collected wisdom of the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency, I labeled some prominent glaciers and capes on an Aug,-21, 2012 MODIS-Terra image that I constructed from data that NASA provide to anyone free of charge. I chose this image and time, because the 2012 ice island is already in Nares Strait and thus out of sight:

Names of glaciers, capes, islands in Petermann Region over MODIS of Aug.-21, 2012.

Names of glaciers, capes, islands in Petermann Region over MODIS of Aug.-21, 2012.

Espen tells me that his Danish sources are protected by copyright (I still like to cite them), but the aviation maps of the U.S. military are in the public domain and can be downloaded from the University of Texas in Austin Library, e.g.,

Petermann Gletscher and surroundings extracted from U.S. Defense Mapping Agency Chart ONC A5 (January 1991).

Petermann Gletscher and suroundings extracted from U.S. Defense Mapping Agency Chart ONC A5 (January 1991).

while the modified version of Figure-2 from Dr. Tony Higgins 1990 publication is available at the Alfred Wegener Institute. Nevertheless, it should only be used for non-profit educational purposes or as a reference:

Petermann Gletscher extend and topography from 1953 through 1978 (from Higgins, 1990) with 2012 terminus position drawn in by hand.

Petermann Gletscher extend and topography from 1953 through 1978 (from Higgins, 1990) with 2012 terminus position drawn in by hand.

With all these details out-of-the-way, we can now start placing photos into places and add names to them. Perhaps others like Espen Olsen can write or edit Wiki entries or correct the false latitude and longitudes that populate the many databases that provide such information on the web. Over the next weeks and months I will try to post as many photos of Petermann’s natural beauty along with an evolving MODIS map that names and shows places. Here are just a few teasers without further comment except what’s in the captions.

The merging of Sigurd Berg and Hubert Glaciers which discharge into Petermann Gletscher on its eastern wall. The view is landward towards the north-east as the helicopter flies in from Petermann. [Credit: Barbara O'Connell, Canadian Coast Guard]

The merging of Hubert (left) and Sigurd Berg (right) Glaciers which discharge into Petermann Gletscher on its eastern wall. The view is landward towards the north-east as the helicopter flies in from Petermann. [Credit: Barbara O'Connell, Canadian Coast Guard]

Petermann Gletscher and Fjord in Aug.-2012. View is to the north-west with Faith Glacier (top left) and Kap Lucie Marie (top right) showing the western wall of Petermann. [Photo Credit: CCGS Henry Larsen]

Petermann Gletscher and Fjord in Aug.-2012. View is to the north-west with Faith Glacier (top left) and Kap Lucie Marie (top right) showing the western wall of Petermann. [Photo Credit: CCGS Henry Larsen]

Looking down Belgrave Glacier discharging into Petermann Gletscher at its terminus in Aug. 2012 [Credit: CCGS Henry Larsen]

Looking down Belgrave Glacier discharging into Petermann Gletscher at its terminus in Aug. 2012 [Credit: CCGS Henry Larsen]

Higgins, A.K. (1990). Northern Greenland glacier velocities and calf ice production Polarforschung, 60, 1-23 Other: 0032-2490

Did I ever see a Polar Bear?

When people hear that I have worked as a physical oceanographer in the Arctic for almost 20 years, their first question is often: “Did you ever see a Polar Bear?” The answer is a yes, but when we see bears, it is usually as a tiny moving speck of yellowish white near the white, icy, and hazy horizon. Only twice was it different. The first time was in October 2003 to the north-west off Arctic Alaska when a young bear swam towards and around the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy doing station work:

Polar Bear seen Oct.-10, 2003 from aboard the USCGS Healy to the north-east of Alaska [Credit: Andreas Muenchow, University of Delawarel]

Polar Bear seen Oct.-10, 2003 from aboard the USCGC Healy to the north-east of Alaska [Credit: Andreas Muenchow, University of Delaware]

The second close encounter was last year as the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen was about to leave Nares Strait on Aug.-12. Out of the 100+ pictures snapped of this bear, the ship’s Steward Kirk McNeil of Labrador probably took the best shot:

Polar bear as seen in Kennedy Channel on Aug.-12, 2012. [Photo Credit: Kirk McNeil, Labrador from aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Polar bear as seen in Kennedy Channel on Aug.-12, 2012. [Photo Credit: Kirk McNeil, Labrador from aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

This bear approached the drifting ship leisurely over a 10 minutes period from a large piece of ice that also drifted with the tides and currents. My PhD student Pat Ryan captured the last 2 minutes of this visit with her iPhone. The voice is hers (I also discern the voice of Ice Specialist Erin Clarke). Greenland is in the background to the east:

ADDENDUM Feb.-13, 2013: I just found this map of the spatial distribution of polar bears from a Dec.-23, 2012 article in the Washington Post by Juliet Eilperin entitled “Polar bear trade, hunting spark controversy.” Writing for the Wall Street Journal Feb.9, 2013, Zac Unger commented with the question “Are polar bears really disappearing?”

Polar bear population and their trends. [Source: Polar Bear Specialist Group. Laris Karklis/The Washington Post. Published on December 23, 2012, 5:24 p.m.]

Polar bear population and their trends. [Source: Polar Bear Specialist Group. Laris Karklis/The Washington Post. Published on December 23, 2012, 5:24 p.m.]

Addendum Feb.-25, 2013: A very funny bear commercial.

Academic Freedom and International Collaborations

Working in the Arctic is hard. Despite climate warming, despite diminishing ice cover, despite public interest and global impact, it is still a hostile and challenging place. It is also very expensive to get to. It usually takes me 2-4 days to travel from Delaware to the ship at Thule, Greenland. An icebreaker costs anywhere between $45,000 and $95,000 per day to operate. Last year’s recovery of scientific instrumentation and a survey of the oceanography of Nares Strait and Petermann Fjord used 8 days or almost $500,000 in ship time alone.

CCGS Henry Larsen at the entrance to Petermann Fjord in August 2012 adjacent to the 2012 Petermann Ice Island. [Photo Credit: Jon Poole and Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

CCGS Henry Larsen at the entrance to Petermann Fjord in August 2012 adjacent to the 2012 Petermann Ice Island. [Photo Credit: Jon Poole and Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

These large costs are best shared among different institutions and many countries, but they can be difficult to justify at times of shrinking economies and pressing needs to balance budgets. Personally, I feel strongly that these costs are justified if (a) the data, technology, or other information are shared and distributed as widely and speedily as possible and if (b) the science has been evaluated and vetted thoroughly and fairly by peers to ensure that the work has both intellectual merit and broader impacts.

Drs. Humfrey Melling and Kelly Falkner working in Baffin Baffin Bay aboard the USCGC Healy in 2003. [Photo Credit: Andreas Muenchow]

Drs. Humfrey Melling and Kelly Falkner working in Baffin Baffin Bay aboard the USCGC Healy in 2003. [Photo Credit: Andreas Muenchow]

My collaborative work the last 10 years with Drs. Humfrey Melling and Kelly Falkner in Nares Strait has passed such peer review, as the U.S. National Science Foundation funded a series of joint grant proposals. Such work requires international collaborative agreements as it involves moneys, ships, and legal rights of multiple parties. In 2003 a 5-year joint project contained an 11 page short agreement. The section on data sharing and publications consisted of these two sentences:

Subject to the “Access to Information and Privacy Acts”, Project Data and any other Project-related information shall be freely available to all Parties to this Agreement and may be used, disseminated or published, by any Party, and any time. Any proposed publication that incorporates a significant amount of Project information shall be provided to the other Party prior to public dissemination.

In 2013 a 1-year joint project of smaller scope required a legal (draft) document 19 pages long. The section on data sharing and publication now consists of almost 2 pages containing language like

Any technology, data, or other information of any kind related to or arising from the Project (collectively “Information”) shall be deemed confidential and neither Party may release any such Information to others in any way whatsoever without the prior written authorization of the other Party … The obligation of the Parties herein shall survive the expiration to which this Appendix is affixed and of which it is part.

I believe this is disturbing political climate change. I feel that it threatens my Academic Freedom and potentially muzzles my ability to publish data and interpretation and talk timely on science issues of potential public interest without government interference. Canadian officials convey that this language is a new standard template to simplify and streamline all collaborations that involve Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It reminds me of last year’s chilling editorial in the pre-eminent British science magazine Nature appealing to the Canadian government to let its scientist speak freely about their science. The new draft language is excessively restrictive and potentially projects Canadian government control onto me and those I work for and with. I will propose changes to this language and hope that some of these will be accepted to further mutually beneficial exchange of information and data to the public without restrictions.

There are many such collaborations as almost all Arctic research is international and collaborative as it is expensive and hard to work in the Arctic … on so many levels. The ever-changing political climate just adds another challenge that I may very well fail, because I cannot in good conscience sign away my freedom to speak, publish, educate, learn, and share both of what I know and what I do not know. Both science and debate prosper in an atmosphere of openness that engages a wider public, but science and debate are diminished in the darkness of secrecy when only the politically correct have access.

ResearchBlogging.org
Editorial (2012). Frozen out Nature, 483 (7387), 6-6 DOI: 10.1038/483006a

O’Hara, K. (2010). Canada must free scientists to talk to journalists Nature, 467 (7315), 501-501 DOI: 10.1038/467501a

CCGS Henry Larsen: More on People, Places, and Services

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship is powered by such a diverse and talented group of women and men from Newfoundland, Labrador, and beyond, that one or even two posts here hardly do justice to describe how well they run their ship and its many facilities that many mid-sized cities do not have. Monday I wrote about the people who run the power plant and electric departments as well as the seamen who fight fires and run fishing fleet and port facilities. Today I want to show the airport and talk a little about the civil administration that oversees and manages all aboard the ship.

Landing deck of the CCGS Henry Larsen with aircraft preparing for take-off to survey the ice conditions ahead. Shown are Chief Officer Brian Legge (far right) who is in command of the airport and is talking to Pilot Don Dobbin (2nd from right), scientist Renske Gelderloos (3rd from right), Ice Services Specialist Erin Clarke (4th from right), and Helicopter Engineer Pierre Autran performs last checks inside the helicopter. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

The airport consists of hangar, landing pad, helicopter, traffic control, and fire fighting stations. Don Dobbin was our pilot and Pierre Autran his engineer who was pulled out of retirement for this trip. Incidentally, Pierre and I had sailed together on the same ship in 1993 more than 200 miles north of eastern Siberia. Then all flights were prohibited by Russian aviation authorities: Politics were different 20 years ago, one hopes. No such threat of being shot down existed this year between Greenland and Canada, but for severe ice conditions and poor internet connections, the airport was very busy almost every day for both ice surveys ahead and behind the ship. It also supported landing parties to set up and/or service 4 weather stations.

Helicopter pilot Don Dobbin with scientist Dave Riedel on Hans Island servicing a weather station in the center of Nares Strait. Ellesmere Island in the background. [Photo Credit: Allison Einolf, Minnesota]

The air traffic control takes place both on the flight deck where Chief Officer Brian Legge is in charge and from the bridge where the officer-of-the-deck is in overall command as either First Officer Chris Steward or Second Officer Rebecca Acton-Bond place the ship, alert the entire ship, and often oversee other science operations as well. All of these are demanding jobs, all these jobs need precision in the concise communication of orders and permissions granted or denied as well as execution of all operations, because helicopter operations are probably one of the most dangerous and critical operations possible on the ship.

Attention to detail, clear communication, and calm execution lower the risk of death and destruction that helicopters can and often do cause. The National Science Foundation sent me to a 4-day course in helicopter safety and what to do if accidents happen over water or on land. It was a sobering course. For this reason, perhaps, Captain Wayne Duffett is almost always on the deck during flight operations, but as all good chief executives, he lets his officers and navigators run the operations but is available for help on consultation should it be needed.

Second Officer and navigator Rebecca Acton-Bond on a sunday on the bridge of the CCGS Henry Larsen in August of 2012 in Nares Strait. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard, Kirk McNeil, Labrador]

Leading Seaman and helmsman Melvin Cobb on the bridge. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

The navigator always works with a helmsman or quartermaster who steers the ship following instructions of the officer of the deck, they are on the look-out for ice and bergs to find the best routes. “Best” here refers to the route that requires the least amount of ice breaking. So, if there is one thing that icebreakers like the Larsen are really good at, it is how to avoid ice, because it is a violent and high-energy activity. Fuel is not cheap and less ice is broken, the faster and more efficient the tasks at hand can be accomplished.

And as all people on the ship, everyone has more than one job and this includes the helmsmen and quartermasters like Melvin Cobb or firefighters like Derick Stone, Carl Rose, Paul Gillingham, and Rueben Hillier. They are often members of the deck crew that help landing parties to get ashore and stay save while ashore. This involves the zodiac as well as guns to protect from polar bears:

Seamen Paul Gillingham and Rueben Hillier in the zodiac steered by Chief Officer Brian Legge in Alexandra Fjord, Ellesmere Island on Aug.-13, 2012. A tide gauge was recovered and re-deployed near this site. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Ship Henry Larsen, Barbara O'Connell]

Zodiac launched for a landing part to dismantle a weather station at Cape Baird, Ellesmere Island. Chief Officer Brian Legge at the helm with Melvin Cobb and Derick Stone in the back and center left of the boat filled with scientists Humfrey Melling, David Riedel, Andreas Muenchow, and Renske Geldeloos. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Landing party at Cape Baird, Ellesmere Island to dismantle a weather station. Scientists David Riedel (foreground) and Humfrey Melling (background) are protected by Melvin Cobb (with gun) from polar bears. View is towards the north-west across Lady Franklin Bay to the west of Nares Strait. [Photo Credit: Renske Gelderloos, Oxford University]

Taking down a weather station on Cape Baird, Ellesmere Island, view is to the south-west. People from right to left, the author, David Riedel (kneeling), Melvin Cobb, and Humfrey Melling (covered). [Photo Credit: Renske Gelderloos, Oxford University]

Polar bear on an ice floe in Kennedy Channel as seen from the bridge as the ship was approaching a station a day’s polar bear walk from Cape Baird. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

There is still more to describe such as the hospital, the restaurant and bar, as well as the superior fishing of sailors and fishermen from Newfoundland to find and hook valuable items such as sensors and computers that some scientists left unattended for 3 or 5 or 9 years at the bottom of the unspoiled seas that border Arctic Greenland and Canada. There will be more … as there are more great people who make great science possible.