Nares Strait 2012: Entering Uncharted Waters

Allison Einolf, Aug.-11, 2012

As scientists, we are constantly exploring new things, but usually our exploration is within the realm of knowledge. Rarely do we get an opportunity to sail unexplored waters or tread where no one has tread before. Yesterday, our location was plotted inside of what was the Petermann Glacier on the now outdated navigational chart. We were in uncharted waters.

As a child, I read hundreds and hundreds of books about exploration. Some were fictional, some were historical, some were futuristic, and some were mythical. I read about traveling to the furthest reaches of the universe or the depths of the ocean. I read about fantasy worlds, I read about sailing off into the distance with the only goal being adventure, and I longed for the life of an adventurer. So I made igloos out of blankets, and my younger brother and I fought off dragons and found new worlds in our basement and the nearby parks.

Growing up, I became slightly disappointed that most of the world we live in is charted and mapped and although I love being able to get directions online, it took the adventure out of things. I came to accept that I would have to find different ways to explore the world around me, and I turned my love of adventure to science.  I would never have guessed that science would bring me to a place of complete unknowns.

I was excited when we saw the Petermann Ice Island at the mouth of the fjord. I was thrilled and amazed, and I kept on taking pictures instead of going inside to get a hat and gloves. That was when it first sunk in that no one had seen this before. The ice island has been talked about and examined from satellite imagery, but no one previously had gotten so close that they almost felt like they could touch it.

I was filled with awe as I took pictures because I realized I could only see the edges of it near the ship, where it was narrower, and that it was so huge that I could barely comprehend it’s size. Pat and Jo got to go up in the helicopter with the ice specialist to check out the extent of the ice, and it was impossible to get the whole island in a photo, even from 3000ft in the air. Although there have been many jokes about the comparison of the ice island to the size of Manhattan, I think it was appropriate. Manhattan may not be a very large island, but it is immense in character, and the ice island is twice it’s physical size and definitely has character of it’s own. The rolling hills and rivers and lakes that cover the surface of the ice may not be as large as the lakes I am used to, but the expanse of white goes on forever. It’s awe-inspiring.

My excitement at the edge of the ice island was nothing compared to my exhilaration as we broke through the ice at the mouth of the fjord and sailed into uncharted waters. Of course the edges of the fjord have been charted, and they can be seen from satellite imagery, but nothing was known about what lay under the ice.

As we lowered the first rosette and brought back the first water samples, I once again realized that we were pioneers. We were the first to be here, since the water here has been covered in ice for at least 180 years, and probably much, much longer. We were the first to take water samples, and the first to take depth soundings. We are explorers. The adventure of it has had me smiling constantly since we first saw the ice island, and I don’t think that anything I write will come anywhere close to describing the wonder of how it feels to be here.


2 responses to “Nares Strait 2012: Entering Uncharted Waters

  1. Words escape me – what a wonderful experience.

    When you’ve returned, you’ll have a number of us eager to share vicariously in your adventure.


  2. Send a picture of that island for the Arctic Sea Ice blog! 😛

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