Yesterday, while working on the icepack, a strange grumble surprised us suddenly. We first thought it was a polar bear, but it was only a seal scratching the ice to enlarge its breathing hole, not far from us.
Isabelle Autissier parle de Vagabond dans la chronique Grand Large du 20 mars.
To try and reach deeper waters in the Storfjord, not far from Kvalvagen Bay, our small convoy with 4 snowmobiles had to go on glaciers (5 hours, 140 km return trip, wonderful), as the icepack is not practicable. Hummocks also stopped us few kilometres away from the expected location, but we could still do some observations nearby the coast. Many seals on the icepack, each of them taking care of a breathing hole. We even used one of these holes to cast the CTD! When 2 polar bears started running to us, a bit too curious, we had to leave the place quickly...
Great party on board yesterday for Hervé's 50th birthday ! And good working day on the ice of the Storfjord today.
Jean-Claude, Hervé and Jens, the team 'brines' and their guide, arrived yesterday for one week more studies about the Storfjord. Today, we could analyse the icepack situation from a magnificent summit (500 m), after coming up the very large glacier Beresnikov with snowmobiles. The progression is going to be difficult, the ice is very chaotic and very few areas are accessible with snowmobiles, with all the scientific equipment. Nevertheless, experiments started, we must take advantage of the excellent weather: -28°C, light wind, high pressure (1028 mb), blue sky. Also now we have daylight from 4 am to 8 pm, what a change! Emotion of the day was no doubt when our dog Frost collapsed for a long time. While separating him from his brother he was fighting with, we found him unanimated, non breathing. During long minutes, the icepack became an intensive care unit. Good relief for all of us when he got over, our best friend almost died!
Despite the persisting cold, we still enjoy going out on skis, with the dogs. Especially since our snowmobile have broken down, about 12 km from Vagabond, which ended in a more than 4 hours ski trip back to the boat, under twilight and northern lights... Yesterday, alone wit the dogs, I decided to follow a recent track of a young polar bear. After some hesitations, Jin and Frost started following carefully the trail meandering towards the bottom of Inglefieldbukta. Less than 1 km from Vagabond, in the middle of the icepack, the polar bear was there, laying down, and let us watch him for about 10 minutes before looking at us. Then he stood up, wondering about us, but laid down again. Back to the boat without disturbing him anymore, hopefully polar bears are not as interesting for dogs as reindeers. Then France went to see our neighbour, but the dogs barked and scared him away. We were disappointed, but the animal seemed more timid than the previous visitors we had, and at least, he should not get closer to Vagabond. We watched him crossing the bay, on the wide white area. Today, impossible to find his track again, the strong wind already wiped them away.
" Great ", here is what France told me Tuesday morning, when I said it was -33°C. The coldest day of the winter was also the Women's Day (March 8th)! For the last 3 days, despite these low temperatures, the very nice weather is keeping us outside for scientific experiments and to scout the surroundings: climbing a little iceberg to get a better view on the tortured ice pack after the last storms, following reindeers on skis with the dogs excited, discovering our sticks - snow area limits for studies - destroyed by a young polar bear, sampling the last snow falls with hands very cold, climbing quickly a nearby summit (600m) with the snowmobile to locate practicable zones on the icepack, doing some ice thickness measurements pulling the instrument with the dogs... Yesterday, we were really happy to reach 94m depth with the CTD, and to observe some of these famous brines, 5 days before the arrival of Jean-Claude Gascard. It is thanks to him, and to study these very cold and very salty waters, that we are having this fantastic winter adventure.
More than 8 hours were used last Friday to do a CTD profile, a snow bank analysis, and a long ice thickness profile. We are only 2 and temperature is about -20 degrees, also everything is more complicated and takes more time. Deep sleep guarantee then, even a polar bear could have come in the boat without waking us up! Yesterday, first trip on the glacier covered with snow, a nice perihelia remained in the sky for few hours. We had then to start removing few cube meters of snow from the large snow drift becoming too big at the back of Vagabond. Wind and snow today, inside occupations. No need to go to the Arctic to get rid of computer problems, my laptop hard disk just crashed today! At least another PC on board is allowing me to send these news.
After one week of good weather, cold and dry, snow and northerly wind are keeping us inside Vagabond today. We are happy to relax a bit in fact. The ice expert and his guide Stefano left us yesterday, the next team will come after 2 weeks. Until then, we have more than enough things to do to keep busy all day, with the suggested observations and sampling of snow! And still the CTD, the current meter, the ice meter, the weather reports... Arctic snowpack sampling and oceanography soon will not have any more secret for us!
Great day yesterday, to welcome Florent Dominé, from Grenoble Ice Laboratory: perfect weather (1032mb), sun on ice pack, polar bear met close to the polynia, and wonderful northern lights in the evening! Today, France and I were learning the basics about snow mantle analyses, in order to study the origin of salt in the snow.