Scientific station at the ice pack’s edge

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9 July 2013

Scientific station at the ice pack’s edge

With sea ice knocking against Tara’s hull, the scientists meticulously assemble on deck their usual collection of vials, pipettes and other accessories required for sampling stations. For more than 12 hours, the crew will be taking samples in this ice field. Fortunately, on this summer day, temperatures are mild and the thermometer has stabilized at around -3 ° C. The sampling station will be long, but the Arctic is being generous to the brave.

The beginning was chaotic, or maybe it just took time to warm-up. Was it the cold or new programming for a 50-meter descent? The seabed is shallow at this latitude. In any case, the rosette made 2 unsuccessful dives – stopping midway. The third attempt succeeded and the wealth of the area’s biomass surfaced, revealing a significant amount of phytoplankton from 35 to 50 meters. The number of net launchings had to be changed because the heavy concentrations of plankton made the filtrations very slow. In the samples were jostling chains of diatoms – the unicellular micro-algae that produce a significant amount of oxygen, and also a large variety of copepods –  small marine crustaceans,  and bryozoans – marine invertebrates with individual exoskeletons living in colonies. While some scientists patiently transferred this little world into bar-coded bottles, others continued to immerse sampling instruments among the floating sea ice.

Only the Manta net, which (among other things) samples the surface for plastic particles, escaped the ice bath. To avoid getting the net damaged by ice chunks, Marc Picheral, oceanographic engineer decided against an immersion. Although the main reason for this station in Arctic waters is the ice, its presence certainly added complexity to the operation. We were constantly looking for ice-free spaces where we could drift safely with the instruments.

During one of these drifts, we met the Master of the region
In the early afternoon, with a prevailing fog, a polar bear appeared in the middle of a block of ice. Sergey, the Russian scientist first spotted him. The polar bear licked the air, obviously sensing our presence from a distance, and wanting to learn more about this unexpected visitor. He let us observe him, and even made an athletic jump between two ice floes to impress us. A good swimmer, he then plunged into the water to reclaim his profound solitude.

Everyone resumed their work satisfied with this unexpected encounter. A few hours later, 3 sea angels aroused the crew’s curiosity. They had landed in the 180 micron net and were quickly transferred to the aquarium on board to be observed and photographed. These reddish, transparent animals with small wings have a very appropriate name: Their graceful movements in seawater clearly evoke angels in heaven. To close the show, a seal appeared in the distance. But unlike sea angels, the marine mammal did not make the least effort to give us a performance. Indolently sprawled on the ice, he barely deigned to raise his head and look at us. But no matter, we were feeling totally gratified.

Then Tara resumed her course amidst all this glittering white.

Anna Deniaud Garcia