A challenging station in the Laptev Sea


29 August 2013

A change in the weather signaled the end of the latest sampling station aboard Tara. Within a couple of hours, the wind and the waves turned the Laptev Sea (Russia) into a vast battlefield, with drifting ice floes. Fortunately, the scientists had time to do all the planned sampling, and everyone did their best to succeed.

“For me, it was not only a struggle for each sample but also a victory!” recalls Margaux Carmichael, responsible for protist sampling and victim of seasickness. “It was very tough, especially on the second day when the sea was very rough. I’ll always remember my trips to the forward hold to stock my samples in the freezer and refrigerator. “Nevertheless, I am very pleased to have completed this station because it was one of the areas that interested us the most on this leg,” concludes Pascal Hingamp, chief scientist between Dudinka and Pevek (Russia).

Tara’s scientists carried out this sampling station in the Nansen Basin, a region of the Arctic with particularly deep waters, accessible by boat during the summer. The seabed is over 1200 meters below sea level. The rosette CTD was launched down to 1000 meters on the first day of sampling. On the second day, the research team focused efforts on sampling in the 300 meter mesopelagic layer. In the Nansen Basin at this depth, water masses originating in the Barents Sea and the Atlantic come together.

But at the end of the second morning, instrument immersions had to stop. “I ended up with my feet in the water because of the waves, and despite an anchor deployment we were drifting at more than 2 knots. It would have been risky to continue – for us and the instruments,”said Claudie Marec, the oceanographic engineer on board.

The scientists were proven correct in their weather assessment. In the early afternoon, winds exceeded 35 knots, and wave troughs more than 5 meters. Tossed by the waves, avoiding the dancing chunks of ice, we headed east, more specifically towards Pevek in the far northeast of Russia – the next stopover for the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition. Exhausted by the sampling station, chased into their bunks by seasickness, some of Tara’s teammates resembled the survivors from Géricault’s painting “The Raft of the Medusa.”

Unfortunately, nightfall gave us no respite. Kitchen utensils, workshop tools, picture frames in the corridor – everything was tuned to accompany the sad song of the creaking boat. Embarked against our will on a hellish rollercoaster ride, all of us, from the bottom of our bunks, hoped that the boat’s tossing would cease. But our request was not heard. No doubt it was drowned out by the engine noise. The next morning, in a still turbulent Laptev Sea, we had our breakfast. Rested demeanors and smiles failed to appear with the morning call.

But tomorrow is another day. Hopefully the Laptev Sea will be a bit kinder to us.

Anna Deniaud Garcia