Tag Archives: narwhales

Greenland Glacier Ocean Warming

The Swedish icebreaker Oden will visit Petermann Fjord in northern Greenland in 6 months time. The US National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a large geophysical and geological experiment after excruciating peer-review over a 4-year period. The experiment shall reveal climate histories from sediment cores, geomagnetics, and both bottom and sub-bottom sonar profiling. Besides this main mission Oden also supports several smaller auxiliary projects some of which are funded by NSF while others are not. It will be a fine collaboration between Swedish and American scientists working together in perhaps one of the most difficult to reach and beautiful places on earth.

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 towards the south-east across Petermann Fjord with Petermann Gletscher to the left (east). [Photo Credit: Erin Clarke, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

I will aboard the ship to deploy sensors some of which exist and are funded while others are neither. Let me outline first the funded part and then part where you the reader and I can perhaps join forces. First, we will test first elements of an underwater acoustic communication system. Think cell-phones, except the phone towers are under water where they are called modes. The modems talk to each other by sending sound back and forth the same way that whales do talk to each other.

Here is a narwhals sound

that you can use as a ringtone, credit goes to Voices of the Sea web-site at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. These whales visit Petermann Fjord in summer and we saw many of them frolicking in August of 2012 when I visited the area with the Canadian Coast Guard whom I credit for these photos:

Our man-made sound is very quiet, but because it is quiet, it only moves 3-10 km through the water. To increase our range, we plan to install several quiet sound sources that whisper from one water-phone (=hydrophone) to the next. The goal is to get data from ocean sensors moved along this whispering system of underwater “cell phones” to reach a listening station that we plan to install at the edge of Petermann Gletscher’s floating ice shelf. The ice is 200 meters or 600 feet thick and it is not trivial to drill through that much ice, but it can be done, and the British Antarctic Survey is aboard with a team of experts to do so to get sediment cores from the bottom below the ice:


Today I ordered a first cable that will connect the underwater modem hanging under the 200-m thick ice to the surface where a fancy computer connects it to the internet via to a satellite phone. All data calls that the underwater listening station receives will move up the cable to the glacier surface and on to us all via the internet. This challenging engineering project is funded, but I like to use the same hole, computer, and satellite link to get additional ocean and air data.

Additional stations will be drilled through the ice-shelf farther inland to reach the ocean also. Here we also need cables and instruments that tells us how the glacier is melted by the ocean at different location along its 50 km long floating ice shelf. The incremental costs are small relative to the cost of getting a ship and helicopters there, but NSF cannot easily fund small projects rapidly. It takes a long time to pass scientific peer review. This is where you, my dear reader come in: I need your help to raise $10,000 to add science and observations to an engineering feasibility study that is the underwater whispering sound system.

The motivation and details are described with videos, pictures, laboratory notes, plots, ideas, as well as some short, quirky, yet technically correct descriptions at the crowd-funding site


I created and launched it today, it will be up for 30 more days. If you can and if you like the science, work, and fun that I describe on these pages, please consider making a small donation. You have the power to make this happen and I will share all data both from below and above the ocean and glacier surface with you.

As a physicist, gardener, teacher, writer, traveler, ping-pong player, and geocacher I am naturally curious about both our natural and social world. I love experiments and to me the crowd-funding at Experiment.com is a most enjoying experiment to connect to people in a new way. Full disclosure, however, this company takes 8% of all funds generated to supports its wonderful software and staff. Perhaps you like to join this experiment by spreading the word and, if you can afford it, help pay for some of the technology needed to bring Greenland and its mysteries to everyone who wants to connect to it.

Nares Strait 2012: First Petermann Ice Island Photos

The CCGS Henry Larsen dropped its science party of nine at Resolute on Cornwallis Island near the center of Lancaster Sound. We are staying at the “Polar Continental Shelf Project” which is a Government Canada base for science and logistics people working all over the Canadian High Arctic. Over dinner we met a group of graduate students, botanists, whom we had met 4 days ago at Alexandra Fjord where they were living since June. I had missed the rendezvous on the water then, because I freakishly tried to refurbish a tide gauge that we recovered in the morning and re-deployed in the afternoon. One of the students, Anne, told Renske and me, that they saw narwhales at Alexandra Fjord for the first time in at least 4 summers that she lived there. I wonder, if those were the same narwhales that we Petermann Fjord.

North-eastern portion 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.]

Which brings me to the purpose of this quick blog entry: The Internet on land, while not much faster than on the ship, is more stable. This allowed me to download the first photos of both the ice island at the entrances of Petermann Fjord and the new front of the glacier far into the fjord. The pictures were taken from the helicopter checking on the ice island last Friday as we worked sections deep inside the fjord. It was a frantic day of data collection in stunned scenery. It was challenging to stay focused on keeping sensors, computers, and winches running smoothly with so much natural beauty in all directions. I will post more photos in higher resolution as soon as we are getting home late sunday night. As a first teaser, however, here the first of many photos and videos. The two photos below I degraded from 4-6 MB to 0.1-0.2 MB to allow for limited bandwidth up north.

Petermann Ice Island 2012 (PII-2012) as seen Aug.-11, 2012 at the entrance of Petermann Fjord. The view is to the north-west. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen.]

Addendum: Last night I uploaded the 4.6 MB version of the image. Photo credit should again be given to Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen, it was Jo Poole of British Columbia who took the picture using the official ship’s camera. Leaving for Iqualuit in 3 hours.

Nares Strait 2012: Of Walrus, Polar Bears, Narwhales, and Nibbles

Andreas Muenchow, Aug.-13, 2012 off Pim Island 78:50N 74:21W

Steaming out of Alexandra Fjord after another successful mooring recovery, we are heading south to service two automated weather stations at the southern entrance to Nares Strait. During the last 3 days we have seen schools of narwhales in Petermann Fjord, a polar bear on an ice floe in Kennedy Channel just off Hans Island, and now several schools of walrus in Alexandra Fjord. I do not recall this much wild life during prior trips to Nares Strait.

Walrus on an ice floe in Alexandra Fjord on Aug.-13, 2012. [Photo Credit: Kirk McNeil, Labrador, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Most wildlife is first seen on the bridge of the CCGS Henry Larsen. An announcement is usually made via the ship’s loudspeakers that often pipe music or the report of the day. It is a funny sight to see 10 scientists and 10-20 crew scrambles for cameras and a good viewing position. The officer in charge aboard the bridge is also in charge of the ship’s camera whose pictures are placed on a public computer for all aboard to access. I also placed several videos from Petermann Fjord and glacier on the same public access point. It is remarkable how freely everyone aboard shares photos, videos, as well as data, experiences, and skills. It makes for a most pleasant atmosphere working and living together for the 2-3 weeks we scientists are aboard.

Narwhales at the seaward front of Petermann Gletscher on Aug.-10, 2012. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen, Jo Poole, British Columbia]

As for the narwhales of Petermann Fjord, our sadly absent colleague Dr. Helen Johnson of the University of Oxford was the first person to ever report these bottom-feeding mammals deep inside Petermann Fjord from a helicopter flight in 2009. She also conducted the zodiac survey along the edge of the floating glacier that broke off in 2010 and some more in 2012. Narwhales have been observed to dive down to over 1000 meters depth to feed via tiny pressure and temperature profilers attached their thick skins. The data were transmitted via satellite when the whales surfaced for breathing.

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]

The polar bear knows no fear and approaches every moving object, including a red icebreaker without fear, but lots of curiosity and investigates. Our polar bear perhaps thought that the big red moving ship was a wounded, blood-soaked food item. Everything is food for polar bears; some have been successful to tear down automated weather stations. Two polar bears were sighted from the ship’s helicopter today while landing a party of three to install a new weather station with an Iridium link for real-time data display. Everyone tried to finish the job as quickly as possible to get off the small island without encountering the bears.

Which brings me to the last item of this post: I have been struggling for 2 days with “nibbles” while trying to extract information on how battery voltage changed over time on some of our moorings in order to track down and diagnose a potential malfunction in one of our instruments. And the problem was that some information within a he binary data stream was separated by nibbles. It is a beautiful new word that I learnt 2 days ago from our Chief Scientist Dr. Humfrey Melling. Lots of the many data streams we are dealing with from our moored instruments, our survey instruments, our weather stations, our e-mails, etc., etc. are digital data that are stored as binary (composed of “0” and “1”) or hexadecimal numbers (composed of 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,A,B,C,D,E,F) where our decimal number 255, for example is coded as 11111111 in binary or FF in hexadecimal. The number 255 is represented as 8 bits, which equals 1 byte, which equals 2 nibbles. So a “nibble” is half a byte and the F of a hexadecimal number represents the information content of 1 nibble. To get my voltage recordings, I had to separate a single byte into its two nibbles to allocate one (along with another byte) battery voltage while the other was allocated to a second independent battery voltage.

If this sounds “geek,” it is. In order to watch the narwhales, walrus, and polar bears for a short moment of being an intermittent tourist, more advanced skills and a wicked sense of humor and hard work are absolutely essential to be a scientist a research expedition such as the one we are about to conclude. We just finished our last CTD cast at 1:30 am local time to measure temperatures and salinities within one nautical mile off Greenland near 78.5 North and 72.5 West. Rain turned to snow … winter is upon us at 2am on Aug.-14 already.

Addendum: Added photos on Sept.-13, 2012.