Today, weather is forcing us to stay inside: blowing snow, temperature -21°C, north-easterly wind 60 km/h, equivalent chill temperature -52°C. The dogs, perfectly adapted, are staying outside, rolled up into a ball. They are watching the camp. Without them, in such conditions, or during the polar night, we could not live and work here serenely. When we are going with skis or dog sledge, they are still looking after us, while pulling us happily and without any risk of break down. Yesterday evening, they had suddenly many visitors: 5 sledges pulled by 39 dogs! Just imagine how excited were Jin, Frost, Imiaq and Zagrey...
The helium balloon, after a weather sounding until 1700m, took off again with the camera. On this picture, you can see the 4 dog houses near the boat, the scooter and the sledge at the back, and the 3 tents of a passing expedition. The camera stayed about 10 minutes only in the air, but long enough to empty a new battery, because of the cold. Then, the chosen picture must be highly resized and compressed to have a good chance to reach destination. A satellite phone, connected to a computer, is the only link we have with civilisation.
Wednesday, it was crowded at Vagabond. 13 skiers total (and 16 pulkas) passed by the only inhabited place in the whole region. 5 French men from Mountaineering Military Group came the day before: an expedition to test some equipment before going to Antarctica. The next morning, 3 norwegians (2 women and a man) stopped for a short while. They are crossing Spitsbergen from North to South within 40 days. In the evening arrived 5 Polish men, they set up their tent near our dogs, then they didn't need to use the trip wire against polar bear. Temperature -30°C (early morning), no wind, blue sky.
Yesterday morning, while going for daily measurements, I passed a very new track from 2 polar bear cubs with their mother. They are just out of the den and are now discovering their future hunting field. This year, March was much colder than usual. Pack ice and its inhabitants are all the better. Is it the result of our efforts, is climate trend reversing, or are we only having a little occasional cooling? Anyway, during 4 years, we didn't see any half-starved polar bear here. Are we living in a real sanctuary?
For the last 2 weeks, sky was clear and temperatures were below mean temperatures. Best conditions to work on pack ice, but also to admire parelie. This is the halo and all images of the sun given by refraction of the beams in a cloud formed with ice crystals. It is sometimes possible to see 3 images of the sun, also called false suns. These are often mentioned in Arctic stories and legends. While spring is starting, this phenomenon is added to the magic of northern lights, the last ones before permanent daylight.
Since we came to Spitsbergen in 2004, we are using a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth). This instrument is recording salinity and temperature of the sea at every depth. At the moment, brines are accumulating at the bottom of the fjord, so much that this very cold and salty water drained off pack ice is filling up the fjord. This spectacular event is fascinating for oceanographers. To better understand it, I'm going every day on pack ice to send the CTD down with a winch.
This big balloon floating gently above Vagabond makes me think about a goldfish, escaped from its bowl to visit the Arctic and check global warming. It set up with us for few months, to sound wind, humidity, pressure and temperature in altitude. For now, the sensors it is carrying towards the sky are confirming that the weather has been particularly cold for one week! Temperature this morning: -25°C. Wind 25 km/h, equivalent temperature -46°C. On board, we have to be more careful to keep a minimum comfort and enjoy the last hours of night, in the warmth. We can already feel the permanent daylight...
For the last few days, the scientific season is at its height and our pack ice is receiving full attention. Diversity of measures is to compare with diversity of researchers welcomed on board Vagabond. American, Estonian, English, Finn, French, all together we are sounding sea ice an its environment with CTD, icemeter, radiometers, thermometers, hygrometers, anemometers, densitometer... Some instruments are diving 100 meters below pack ice, others are climbing up to 1500 meters altitude. What a place full of life! In addition, the weather is perfect: temperature -30°C, no wind and clear sky for the last 4 days.
Our yacht, now hut, seems to be very still, frozen in ice for 8 months. But she is coming up and down with tides. Cracks along the shore are opening and closing with creakings that are sometimes making the dogs mad. These movements are quite strong at spring tides, and as the boat is very close to shore, she is tilting one side, then the other... So we have to hold our cups like when at sea! Somehow, we are sailing at the speed of one meter wave every 12 hours...
If we are here since autumn 2004, it is to study pack ice. So we observe its behaviour, depending and marine currents and weather. But for that, before drilling a hole and plunging scientific instruments, we need to find a way to bring our equipment to the concerned area... Tormented by storms when forming, sea ice is not yet passable. Still captivated by this sight, we wait. Snow and wind should soon level this magnificent chaotic field.