The Kingdom of Ice


7 July 2013

The horizon has changed color. A white border covers the vast blue. Is the Novaya Zemlya effect playing tricks on us again ? “Ice in sight!” calls the sailor on watch. Euphoria spreads among the crew. Since our departure from Murmansk, we’ve been dreaming of the intoxicating whiteness of ice. Neither the chilling cold nor the constant daylight managed to convince us that we were sailing in the Arctic. Now, here we are! Without hesitation Tara moves at a brisk pace towards the white wall that rises on the horizon. The schooner seems eager to see this old friend who welcomed her for several months during the Arctic drift.

For 3 days the temperature had already dropped below zero. Snowflakes showed up at the last sampling stations, obliging people and instruments to protect themselves against the cold. The scientists decided that we should we go further east, beyond the island of Novaya Zemlya, hoping to collect samples at the edge of the ice pack. Like children, we were eager to play with the ice. But the first alert ended in a big disappointment: Two unfortunate ice cubes battling on the horizon. They looked ridiculous. Global warming couldn’t be this bad! Despite the ice charts we’ve been receiving everyday attesting to the presence of the icepack only a few nautical miles from our position, we had almost lost hope of entering the white realm. And then on Saturday night, while our minds were distracted by Claudie’s birthday party, a new world opened up to us.

It’s 11 o’clock at night, but we’re not sleepy. On the deck of the schooner, we can’t stop admiring the panorama unfolding before our eyes. Total silence and a jumble of ice blocks floating on a smooth sea. It looks like a post-apocalyptic setting. For some people, it’s their first time here, for others it’s a reunion. In any case, we are all overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape. “It’s nice to find the ice!”exclaims Samuel the captain, with a wide grin. “It’s beautiful …” whispers Joannie with emotion. This cold beauty knows how to play its colors and forms to seduce us. In the intense blue of the Kara Sea, spots of pure white contrast with the turquoise blue of the submerged part of the ice. The geometric shapes of certain plaques mingle with the curves of worn-down ice, subtly decorated with rows of transparent stalactites. Slowly, Tara zigzags between these natural sculptures. At the helm, we must be very vigilant.

After a night spent listening to the crackle of ice breaking under Tara’s hull, we’re in the white kingdom. It was not a dream, or even a mirage! And then reality takes over. We’ll have to sample here, plunge nets into the icy water, endure the cold for hours and hours. Tomorrow a long station will begin at the edge of the sea ice. Is life in the deep sea more animated than on the surface? What microorganisms are crazy enough to take up residence in the polar region? Thanks to scientific sampling, the kingdom of ice will gradually become familiar to us.

Anna Deniaud Garcia