Ocean science from its frozen surface

  • 1428 Terry snack devant glacier Jakeman ©EB
  • 1000 Eric CTD Fram Fiord ©Terry Noah
  • 1600 Oceanographie 520km de banquise ©EB
  • 1648 Releve hydrgraphique devant glacier Sverdrup avec Tom ©EB

Like most glaciers, Grise Fiord glacier is retreating rapidly. This is shown by the study for which we were digging in poles with Jimmy on May 21st. But what happens to the meltwater? What influence does it have on the ocean? What nutrient supply can we observe? These are questions from the team we have been working for since 2019.

This year, in addition to the summer cruise, we are taking the pulse of the ocean before the melt, before the glacial rivers appear.

First glacier, Sverdrup, north coast of Devon Island. It takes us three days to reach it. The sea ice in Jones Sound is chaotic this year and on top of that, we spend a day in the tent due to blizzard. I team up with Tom Kiguktak. Together we did a long journey from Resolute Bay in 2012, it is a pleasure to share this new field work. We have the same age. Having become a father a few years ago and employed full time in town, he has less time to go out hunting and has not gone out for a long time; also he is extremely happy! Before hiring him for a week, I wrote to his employer to justify his request for unpaid leave. We enjoy every moment like kids and we quickly forget about the rough ice, the wind, the skidoo or auger breakdowns, the hours of filtering sea water sampled from under the ice or deep in the ocean. Some concerns for our second camp, where we spent three nights in an area with many bears (we watch seven of them)... happy to find it intact every evening!

"We are safe, everything is going to be fine, we don't taste good, we smell skidoo," Tom tells me one evening as he steps into the tent, after checking around and observing two bears. One of them is quite close, hunting a young seal. He will eat mainly the skin and the fat, and will leave the meat to the foxes and birds. If we think that a bear is roaming outside, we must signal our presence by saying something like "hum".

I'm never tired of the incredible hunting stories that Tom likes to tell quietly in the tent. He could be the author of dozens of documentaries and adventure books!

Second Glacier, Jakeman, Ellesmere Island, east of Grise Fiord. This time I'm heading out with Terry Noah. He is not yet 30, he too has two children and has started his own business, Ausuittuq Adventures. In addition he processes some of the food he hunts or fishes. Last summer, we had welcomed him aboard Vagabond with his family. And it was him who had brought a young seal to Léonie in 2012!

Not far from the glacier, Terry has just set up a hut that we are inaugurating. Better shelter than a tent against bears or storms. The pack ice here is nice and smooth, but thick fog could be a deterrent... we reach the glacier front as well and can start the hydrographic transect.

In total, 520 km covered in 10 days, 26 profiles with the probe (23 auger holes and 3 "borrowed" seal holes), 42 water samples and frozen filters, depths from 8m to 620m (winch max.).

See the Ellesmere 2021 album.

Concentrated Arctic

  • 0636 Eclipse solaire ©EB
  • 1100 Eric collecte glace iceberg ©Terry Noah
  • 1230 Eric station oceano devant glacier Jakeman ©Terry Noah
  • 1330 Eric filtrations mini labo sur banquise ©Terry Noah

June 10, 2021: What a day!

The evening before, Terry and I arrived to his new cabin at the end of Fram Fiord, 50km east of Grise Fiord. First guests ever! The place is beautiful, the purple saxifrages are in bloom, our snowmobiles (big machines!) are parked a few meters away on still thick sea ice... peaceful spring time.

The sun eclipse begins as expected, the stars play with the fog and offer us a nice show as early as 6am. A great start.

A few hours later, despite the fog and the numerous warnings about possible thin ice areas around Jakeman glacier, we are drilling through 136cm of good sea ice at the foot of the ice wall to send the probe to the bottom and then to take seawater samples at different depths. Over a long day of field work, we are doing 7 oceanographic stations gradually moving away from the glacier. A success. In two months, during the summer cruise, we will repeat these measurements from Vagabond, there will be no more sea ice and we will have to deal with swell, wind, current, drifting ice... Let's enjoy spring!

On our way, we climb on an iceberg to watch around and to collect ice that will give us excellent water for tea and cooking. Terry brought us some delicious country food from his hunting and fishing. Before our trip he made some dried and smoked caribou, dried and smoked arctic char, and grounded muskox! It's so much better that what we find in the store in town. We see an amazing fox like wearing black panty near the cabin, muskox and their young ones, still ptarmigans, geese arriving after their migration, eider ducks flying in formation, polar bear fresh tracks... and many ring seals, lying on the ice, next to their holes. Terry is very happy when he discovers that it is a young seal that I managed to shoot, his family has been craving for it since Christmas. I will be invited to share the uyuq (seal stew) with them in a few days, once back in Grise Fiord. The skin is really nice, I'm happy to keep it.

This day offers us a concentrate of the Arctic life we ​​love, intense, just for my 52 years, unforgettable. The satellite receiver has rang many times today, bringing full of good wishes. Back on Vagabond in Grise Fiord, I will have to open the gifts prepared by my daughters before my departure from Brittany last April.

Back to Grise Fiord

  • 1528 Vagabond au centre de Grise Fiord ©EB
  • 2254 Trou pour perche de suivi de fonte du glacier ©EB
  • 1325 Relais VHF sommet Nuvuk pres de Grise Fiord ©EB
  • 1436 Mesure de la taille d un chabot ©EB

Event this weekend at Grise Fiord: the Fishing Derby. Today is the third and last day of the great annual fishing competition. Arctic char fishing in a lake on Devon Island, a dozen hours by snowmobile (the ice is very rough this year), or sculpin fishing under the ice for those who have not left the village.

Yesterday, from a 800 meters summit above the sea ice, the panoramic view was extraordinary. Perfect weather and ideal snow conditions, a long ski tour that made me forget the three weeks of travel and quarantines to come back to Vagabond.

I was very moved when I dropped my bag on board last Thursday. Several elements reminded me last year's long journey: same seat in the same plane, heading to Vagabond, flying over so many places we visited during our previous winterings and navigations in the area... After 18 nights in hotels, 5 PCR tests (all negative!), 9 stops from Paris, endless documents checks, I was impatient. The death of our friend and guide Alain haunted me. My daughters playlist, who are in Brittany with France until the end of the school year, increased tenfold my feelings!

40°C difference between Ottawa and Grise Fiord but I heard many warm "welcome home".

Already the next day, I was collecting scientific equipment for the upcoming field work, I received my first vaccine injection, and, happy riding a skidoo, I joined Jimmy for six hours of drilling and measurements on the neighboring glacier. To understand the importance of this glacier for the community, read the article The taps of Grise Fiord soon dry (Radio-Canada, May 5, 2021, in French).

Christian Morel is back

  • 20200321j Light painting ©Christian Morel
  • 20200321i Light painting ©Christian Morel
  • 20200321h Light painting ©Christian Morel
  • 20200321g Light painting ©Christian Morel

It was a year ago. France hosted a new artist residency aboard Vagabond, frozen in the ice in front of Arctic Bay, in Nunavut. And then the restrictions fell, the artists left in a hurry. Among them Christian Morel, photographer, used to sea ice and to the cocoon Vagabond.

His photos speak about the balance sought by the Inuit, between tradition and modernity; a very promising look to talk about our relation to the land and to consumption.

Christian Morel explains:

"The Inuit have in one hand a state-of-the-art iPhone and in their eyes a spark of love for these harsh lands where fishing or hunting remains a vital necessity.

I tried to bring to light this paradox, to picture this invisible separation, a sort of virtual passage in space-time and between two worlds. During this residency, and before the covid-19 pandemic suddenly stopped it, I was able to work on a series of stagings with Inuit from the village of Arctic Bay (Ikpiarjuk). All were photographed exclusively in the dark, in the coldest hours of spring, so that the light-painting technique can highlight the difference between reality and history.

A particularly demanding photographic approach for everyone, mixing very long exposure times and light movements at -38°C. Whether it was for the Inuit volunteers who had to hold their position without shaking too much, for my faithful assistant Léonie without whom I wouldn't have succeeded, for myself or for the equipment."

In 2016, during a residency aboard Vagabond near Qikiqtarjuaq (Nunavut), Christian was telling us sea ice stories.

Long-time lover of polar environments, Christian has done valuable work on our polar heritage in 2007-2008, during the International Polar Year.

An artistic epic

  • 20200315 Maude et Mathurin rencontrent les inuit de l atelier d art ©France Pinczon du Sel
  • 20200318f Maud et Mathurin decouvrent le quamutiq ©France Pinczon du Sel
  • 20200320 Fin residence artistes ©Maude Fumey

This period is a good time to look back, at least since the first lockdown, when Maude and Mathurin from the group ToNNe, street shows makers, arrived onboard Vagabond. A nice story to tell.

For me it all began a year earlier with the desire to offer a second artist residency onboard Vagabond, which would question about climate change, in order to awake the consciousness of young people on the future of our overheated planet. A sharing between artists, scientists and Inuits, between witnesses, researchers and scaffolders of other possibilities.

And this desire became real thanks to Caroline Raffin, director of Le Fourneau, National Scene of Street Arts in Brest... and mother of Aurore's friend Tinaïg!

The coming of Mathurin Gasparini, artistic director of the group ToNNe, and Maude Fumey, actress, got organized. They arrived in March as planned in Arctic Bay, while Eric, stuck on board the ice-breaker Polarstern further north, did not manage to meet them; the pandemic had already set in.

Maude and Mathurin were preparing a creation: "NuNaVuT!". The first Sunday during the drawing workshop at school, exchanges began promising with the Nunavummiuts... But two days later, new sanitary rules fell: no more contact with the inhabitants of Arctic Bay, and the French embassy even hurry its nationals to return to the country.

Alone on board, by Aurore

Back home, Maude and Mathurin shared their diary "Days Too Short in Nunavut". And Mathurin's fertile spirit quickly found a new axis from this adventure: "NuNaVut!" became "North-West Passage!". The lockdown was used to work on this new show about past and future explorations of the far North, which also approach climate change. Under the excellent form of an adventure theater for public places, leading their donkeys on foot through the Pays de Quimperlé (Brittany), they experimented and refined their creation. Le Fourneau filmed this public experiment.

Long live creation!


The artists from Group ToNNe tell us about their show "North-West Passage" (26 minutes film).

North-West Passage by Group ToNNe

Report: Group ToNNe going with donkeys

Diary: Days too short in Nunavut

First impressions in Arctic Bay

All reports from Le Fourneau about Group ToNNe

Grise Fiord

  • Vagabond sur la plage de Grise Fiord pour l hiver ©EB
  • Sortie de Vagabond à Grise Fiord ©EB
  • Mouillage au bout du fjord Starnes ©EB
  • Festin pour phoques et oiseaux fjord Starnes ©EB

Here we are alone again, just the family for the last week of the summer cruise. It's getting late in the season and the weather encourages us to explore the sheltered fjords. The first one east of Grise Fiord, the longest in the region (50km), is Starnes Fiord which I visited only once in spring to measure the thickness of the sea ice. This time, we discover its deep waters and its shallows.

We are surrounded with hundreds of harp seals, fulmar petrels, kittiwakes, herring gulls... all of them are stuffing themselves with small polar cods before migrating south when the sea will start to freeze early October. Foxes stealthily take advantage of the remains of the feast they find along the shore.

The seabed is rich, the water becomes clearer in this season, colder too! But above all, quite far from the suggested sites, we find some of the best coralline samples of the entire summer. As a result, centuries of data on the waters and the sea ice of this fjord. During the last dives, I do a few quadrats too, for the Arctic Kelp project.

On 19 September, the weather is good, the swell is weak, the tide is very high at 1 p.m., everything is in order to haul out Vagabond on the beach of Grise Fiord. At same place as 8 years ago, Raymond has prepared a real tailor-made port, the operation is simple and fast.

In ten days, we will leave our ship here for the winter and fly to France, which we do not yet know at the covid time. Nunavut, which we have not left since before the pandemic, has been spared until now. If conditions allow, we will come back to Vagabond in spring 2021, for the next scientific cruise.

Last summer mission

  • Morse Harbour Fiord ©EB
  • Depart Gabriel Grise Fiord ©EB
  • Baie bien protegee Harbour Fiord ©EB
  • Installation sonar pres de Grise Fiord ©EB

We have been on stand by near Grise Fiord for 8 days now. Weather stand by first: it has been 9 days with no plane and Gabriel finally arrives with his 8 boxes of equipment and 3 days delay. Then we have a bit more stand by due to some medical concern for our new arrival. Nevertheless we set up the sonar and, despite the continuous northerly wind in Nares Strait, Eric and I are ready to give a try, at least to Cape Norton Shaw. Even if we know that it will not be easy.

It is ultimately decided not to leave Jones Sound. But we do not have the authorizations to map the sheltered fjords of Southern Ellesmere Island, the long administrative procedures have not yet been completed yet. So where to go and what to do?

After our short attempt to the north, we shelter in Harbour Fiord that we never took time to explore, and we discover a great wintering site that makes us dream! Widely open to several valleys, the peaceful place shelters also our various thoughts about the way that takes this end of mission and it is also here that Gabriel decides to leave earlier, because no work is possible for him. A thick blanket of snow is covering the landscape on the day of his departure, "winter is coming" are saying the grisefiordmiuts (people from Grise Fiord) with a smile!

Meeting our friends again

  • Imooshee Terry et famille a bord de Vagabond ©Aurore Brossier
  • Chez Liza et Aksajuk a Grise Fiord ©EB
  • Festin de morues pour mouettes devant Grise Fiord ©EB
  • Lemming fjord Grise ©EB

Sailing nearby Grise Fiord, we share some happy greetings by radio. Then the chairman of HTA (Hunters and Trappers Association), understanding that we are heading towards Jakeman Glacier, warns us of fear about our scientific activities in this area where the narwhals have been for a while. Although we often see marine mammals around Vagabond's hull, not looking any disturbed... There is also a family of hunters in the small neighboring fjord, Fram Fiord, and they have not heard about them for several days. We promise to keep them informed as soon as we arrive there, especially since they are friends and a transect is also waiting for us there.

However, we are living the worst sailing conditions of the summer to get there...

What a pleasure to meet up with Imooshee and his son Terry, accompanied by his wife and children! Terry has set up his own outfitting company, in order to guide sport hunters, photographers or scientists out on the land. For a week in their tents, they have not been able to hunt at sea because of the bad weather. But they had a muskox. We walk together to the river, then have supper on board Vagabond and share our stories. Last winter, during the night, while they were cutting up a seal on the sea ice, Terry and Imooshee are surprised by a bear very close, who is walking straight towards Terry. He hits it with his knife, without any effect. They try to protect themselves behind their snowmobile, but the bear stands up, its front legs on the machine. Imooshee violently hits his fist on the bear's nose, giving to Terry just enough time to grab the gun that was between the bear and the snowmobile, and to press the barrel against the bear and to shoot!

The next day in the mist, the sea calmed down and we carry out our samplings and CTD transect before returning to Grise Fiord since the Jakeman is forbidden to us.

When we arrive in the dinghy, faithful, Jimmy welcomes us on the beach, then Imooshee back from Fram Fiord and above all, Liza and Aksajuk who came by car. Generous as always Liza invites us for showers and laundry. In the warmth of her home, we have the feeling of being again with our grandparents from Nunavut.

The next morning a lot of inhabitants armed with garden tools are walking between the rocks at very low tide looking for clams! Groups of harp seals are swimming quietly in front of town overflown by swarms of birds attracted by the huge quantity of arctic cods whose livers they devour, leaving their remains washed up by hundreds on the shore.

The village has not changed. We are chatting here and there as if we had left the day before. And from these pleasant discussions comes the idea that Vagabond could stay on Grise Fiord's beach next winter! Indeed we have just been informed that Vagabond is no longer authorized to overwinter in Thule in Greenland.

South Cape Fiord

  • Rencontre du Pierre Radisson dans Fram Sound ©EB
  • France et Leonie cherchent de la coralline pres du cap Morse ©EB
  • Rencontre avec Raymond et Tivai dans le fjord du Cap Sud ©EB
  • France laborantine ©EB

Vagabond is at anchor near the entrance of South Cape Fiord, Ellesmere Island, exactly at the spot where we lived from October 2011 till July 2012. Our daughters were pretty young then, the winter was amazing. Memories are coming back nicely while sorting out the last coralline samples after a good dive at Cape Storm on August 13th...

August 10th: a polar bear is running away on the beach near the old scientific station Truelove. I was diving the night before without knowing he was around! Nice seafloor, a lot of kelp (we monitor our observations for Arctic Kelp team), pretty good sampling. The sea is calm, we keep searching for coralline as well as doing oceanographic stations. During the Jones Sound crossing, from Devon Island to Ellesmere Island, we even manage to send the CTD and sampling water down to 630m deep.

On August 11th, a large group of walruses prevents me from diving near Olsen Island, in Goose Fiord. I don't really want to play around with these big guys... We are searching for coralline near Fram Sound and Hell Gate. We have to deal with quite a lot of drifting ice and strong currents, which make us turn around, precisely before Cape Turnback! In the middle of the sound, while we are getting ready to launch the probe between ice floes drifting East at 2 knots, our AIS is suddenly showing a ship. The Pierre Radisson is a Canadian Coast Guards icebreaker and we can communicate in French! Watching us carefully, he starts moving towards us, probably thinking we are trapped in the ice... But once the station is done, Vagabond pushes, sneaks, and proudly reach open water. We greet the icebreaker, still following us, and enter Hourglass Bay. There, we first have to cross a very shallow and uncharted area (2 to 3 m depth) before getting to a good shelter. The little red hut is still there, it was built 20 years ago to commemorate the Centennial of Fram and Sverdrup expedition (1898-1902).

We enter the great glacial South Cape Fiord on August 14th. We have 21 hydrographic profiles to do with the probe (CTD), as well as 27 water sampling (Niskin bottle) and filtering series (nutrients, oxygen isotopes, Chla, CHN). Conditions are perfectly calm, luckily! Many icebergs, glaciers calving actively, a lot of birds, one more polar bear (we saw 9 in 3 weeks), bearded and ring seals... the rich waters are very attractive when the ice disappear for about 3 months. Raymond and Tivai are here hunting, they caught a seal and a duck, it looks better than our ocean data and filtered water bottles! They are the first people we meet since we left Arctic Bay, and we are really happy to see them again and to chat for a little while with our friends from Grise Fiord (the village is 70km away, to the East).

Vagabond Cruise 2020 map.

Sverdrup Glacier

  • Bonne ambiance sur le pont pendant les manips ©EB

Endless westerly wind is challenging our North Devon Island cruise. After standing by for three days, we took full advantage of a calm weather starting measurements and sampling at 4am yesterday morning in front of Sverdrup Glacier. The transect was completed not long after 1pm, when wind and swell were picking up again! We are back at anchor near Cape Hardy, sheltering as it is impossible for now to head West to followup with the schedule.

However we are determined! Either searching for coralline or kelp, either studying the glacier meltwater impacts on marine ecosystem. Scientific protocols have been digested, jobs are getting clarified, routines start running, fieldwork is going smoothly, more efficient, more fun. Enjoying team work together with the family in an incredible scenery!

We are happy to meet again with Jones Sound wildlife. Despite polar bears, we have been watching muskox, walruses and even belugas. Vagabond keeps faithfully offering us an intense experience, facing wind, swell, snow (already on August 3rd!), uncharted shoals (many times in less than 3 meters depth the past few days) and drifting ice.

Vagabond is sharing her position every two hours, see the Vagabond Cruise 2020 map.