The female polar bear and her 2 cubs came close to the boat, we could watch them for a long time, amazed. The cubs were jumping and running around their mother, who was looking for seals in their dens under the snow, on sea ice. Most ringed seal pups are born now, and their mothers are protecting them as much as they can for a few weeks more. Then, they will have to manage by themselves. This intense activity is going on under midnight sun: since 10 days, the vital star is staying above the horizon, it will not set before end of August.
After 2 weeks pretty windy, we could repair the balloon and reinflate it with helium. Lighter than air again, linked to land with a very light but very strong thread, it reached easily 1500m with its valuable weather sensors. The same day, I went to the ice edge, 9km from shore, and I sent down the CTD as deep as possible in Storfjord. It is the best time of the year to move on pack ice, for us and for polar bears. Among the 14 animals we could see in the last 3 days, the 2 young cubs less than 4 months old, running after their mother, were the most touching.
While coming back from my daily measurements (CTD), I suddenly see a polar bear in front of me, partly hidden on pack ice strewn with ice blocks and snowdrifts. It is a big cub, almost as big as his mother who doesn't wait long to show up. The female is wearing a collar transmitting her position continuously, so she is participating to a scientific project. We are looking at each other for a while, but a big male appears suddenly. He has been following them for some time probably, and procession starts again. When passing close to me, the male sniffs towards me, not interested.
Phone call from Vagabond during conference of Rémy Marion in Rennes.
At least, just before leaving, our colleague Nicolas could enjoy a perfect weather. The ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler) was set up under the ice during a complete tide cycle. While it was recording all currents continuously and with high resolution, from the surface to the bottom, we were sending down the CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) every thirty minutes. During this 12 hours station on pack ice, few kilometres offshore, a big polar bear passed not far from us, hidden by ice blocks and snowdrifts.
A second hole was found near the other propeller of the boat. Despite the plugging, we still need to pump out now and then the water accumulating in the bottom. We are looking for a less precarious solution! If the movements of pack ice made holes in the hull, the long one week storm has damaged the weather balloon. The good weather seems to be back, we should be able to repair it and to start again all scientific work. We'll do first series of measurements with currentmeter and CTD during at least 12 hours from Storfjord pack ice.
Sunday, in a calm moment, we could do some measurements with the CTD, from pack ice, at 5 km from Vagabond. But since then, weather has been bad and wind is making big snow drifts around us. Snowmobiles, dog houses, sledge... everything disappeared under the snow, which means many hours of shovelling! Also this morning, we had to get buckets and pumps to empty the boat who started sinking by the back. After few hours, we found a hole and plugged it quickly, near the starboard propeller.
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.