During each field trip, in the area of Vagabond, we can see new polar bear tracks. There, a male has been enlarging the breathing hole of a seal to take it out of the water, after killing it with his paw through the ice. Here, a female and her cub explored the holes I did the day before to measure ice thickness. Further, a big male walked around the fjord, followed by a faithful polar fox... We hope to see our neighbours closer soon, from the boat for instance!
Blue sky set in about eight days ago. Sunglasses are necessary now, and the sun is giving up to 10°C in the middle of the day: -42°C this morning, -31°C at 3pm. Few days after equinox, real night is fading: at midnight, twilight is remaining, in the north. Polar night is not far behind, but midnight sun is already coming.
Icemeter is doing tens of kilometres, behind the snowmobile. Ice thickness in the area, quite variable, will soon be holding no secret for us!
Other trips and activities? getting iceberg ice for fresh water, clearing of snow after March 16th storm, short dog sled trips, slides and games in ice ridges along the shore, miniature gardening (seed tray inside the boat, green vegetables for everyone), solar flight for aerial pictures, hole in the ice to film under pack ice, time lapse trials to show tides (3.50m range!), last pictures in the night before permanent daylight...
During that time, fighting against the cold, Jean Gaumy is focusing on material (ice, snow, rock), and is looking for perfect composition, with twilight. Nice contemplative trips with him. In a few days, he will go and stay in town for a week, before flying back to France._
A photo exhibition about the on going project is presented by FEP during regional general assemblies. All locations and dates are on FEP's website.
After meeting some of our friends from Grise Fiord, who are taking him to see muskox while I'm preparing the snowmobile, Jean is getting in the big sleigh to go to Vagabond. Time to go for 50km of packice, it's -40°C. I'm stopping several times on the way to check my passenger, as well as the icemeter (in the pulka behind the sleigh), and to better tie up a frozen seal trying to give us the slip!
From the day he has arrived, Jean Gaumy is observing, contemplating, and composing his images with material and light, by dint of having much fingers numb with cold! Especially when he is coming all day with me for more measurements with the icemeter in South Cape Fiord.
In his luggages, he brought courageously the buoy Ukiuq. We deploy it not far from Vagabond on 11 March. A phone exchange with students from Ice sentries, a project organized by Délires d'encre, CNES and Sicoval (Toulouse), happened two days earlier.
12 March: first flight, successful, with a solar balloon! Aerial pictures are not yet perfect, but we wait for the end the blizzard, blowing since yesterday, to try another flight.
France has had strange dizzy spells for the past two days, our main satellite connection is not working since 5 March, and Grise Fiord health centre, is closed because of bad weather (100km wind last night)... Happily, we could speak to our doctor with our second Iridium phone, and France is feeling much better! Temperature increased up to -15°C, all condensation ice is melting inside the boat._
Phone exchange with students from Ice sentries, a project organized by Délires d'encre, CNES and Sicoval (Toulouse). Ukiuq buoy will be deployed on packice on 11 March near Vagabond.
Welcoming on board Vagabond the photographer Jean Gaumy, from Magnum Photos agency, for one month. A report will be published in Le Figaro Magazine.
Sun is shining on South Cape Fiord, beautiful, but temperatures are still low. -46°C yesterday morning, when I was leaving Vagabond with the icemeter to explore, at least, the packice of our long fjord: the glacier front is at more than 30km, we came close by boat and then on foot six months ago. On the way, many polar bear tracks and polar foxes tracks. There, a seal hole had a visitor, a well-fed polar bear rolled in the snow many times. At some places, ice is very much uneven, pushed by glaciers that nothing can stop, not even winter. Cracks and fall of seracs are ringing out between the shores of the fjord.
About the hidden part of the ice, the under water video is showing us a hull clear from ice on the bottom, even propellers are free to turn. Amazing!
During the day, while solar panels are charging batteries, sun is heating our panoramic roof, green house effect is highly enjoyable.
France prepared the polar fox skin, dogs have eaten the meat and are keeping an eye on two ravens that cannot stop steeling pieces of seal fat.
On board, we are getting ready to welcome the photographer Jean Gaumy, and Léonie is happy to set up in the same cabin with Aurore.
Very low temperatures probably got the better of the nylon rope used for the CTD casts. It broke yesterday, the probe is now on the bottom of the fjord. It is not possible to recover it, too deep (130m). Two days earlier, I did six casts at the same location, every thirty minutes, to observe the influence of tidal currents... Shattering. But scientists response is incredibly encouraging as another CTD is already considered.
Why Eric works so hard to plumb the depths...
Vagabond is spending the winter in South Cape Fjord.
A fjord is a long narrow bay, usually quite deep, which has a shallow connection (its “sill”) to the sea. It is formed by the flooding of a river valley that has been scoured out below sea level by a glacier.
The ocean outside supplies seawater to the bottom of the fjord and a river at the upper end supplies less dense fresh water to the surface. The two layers of different density remain distinct as long as the inflows continue and their inter-mingling is inhibited by their density difference.
Wind, tidal current or convection could possibly mix the fjord from surface to seabed if the stabilizing presence of light water over dense were to vanish. Alternatively, denser water from outside can spill over the sill to flood the bottom of the fjord, a process, known as deep-water renewal. Such renewal can bring new oxygenated water to the fjord and force pre-existing nutrient rich bottom water up towards the light. In the absence of mixing and/or renewal bringing up nutrients, there may be relatively little algal growth in fjords and not much marine life.
The description so far pertains to fjords at temperate latitude: the stabilizing structure is maintained by stream flow, wind and tidal currents promote mixing within the fjord and wind outside the fjord may occasionally be the impetus for deep-water renewal.
Fjords in the cold climates work the same way in summer. However, the cold weather of winter shuts off stream flow to the fjord and creates a cap of fast ice that protects the ocean from mixing by the wind. At the same time, the steady freezing of seawater through the winter injects salt into the upper ocean, driving convection and reducing the density contrast between top and bottom waters. This dramatic seasonal change in conditions makes ice-covered fjords very different from their temperate relatives.
There have been very few year-round studies of ice-covered fjords, particularly in locations where fast ice prevails everywhere. Vagabond’s sojourn in South Cape Fjord is providing an opportunity to watch a fjord carefully through the winter, to observe how its structure changes and possibly to understand what makes it tick. There are already some interesting questions. Why was the fjord so rich in marine life (narwhal, harp seal, sea birds) last August? Why is its ice cover now so much thinner than that in nearby waters? Is the near-surface water truly often above freezing temperature? If so, what is driving warmer water towards the surface? Could the same process explain why ice here breaks up 2-4 weeks earlier than in adjacent Jones Sound? Could the same process bring up nutrients so as to make South Cape Fjord a great place for marine life?
An understanding of the physical oceanography of ice-covered fjords also has more general value. Fjords attract humans because they offer good shelter to ships (like Vagabond), and often have level ground for habitation at the upper end. Human waste that ends up in fjords – garbage, sewage, mine tailings for example – ideally remains isolated within the dense bottom water that is trapped behind the sill. However, water contaminated by such waste may possibly be remobilized via deep-water renewal or in ice-covered fjords by winter-time mixing. If remobilized, it could spread elsewhere with undesirable consequences. By contributing to the understanding of Arctic fjords, our study at South Cape promotes the stewardship of a pristine marine environment, soon to be under pressure from resource development and change.