29 July 2015
It’s been 4 days since Tara left Iceland. The thick fog that envelopped the schonner has finally dispersed so we’re sailing at a good speed northwards, towards the largest fjord in the world: scoresby sund.
The Taranautes have all assembled on deck to enjoy the breathtaking landscape. So it’s not particularly easy for this onboard journalist, locked away in the computer room, to be writing this log. Computer on lap, with one eye on the keyboard and the other on the icebergs, the windows of this temporary office on the deck, overlook the stunning mountains of black rock mottled with white. The whole scene is perfectly reflected on the water…
Earlier, at lunch time, Tara made a stop in front of the basaltic cliffs of Cape Brewster, a much coveted object of desire for the two ecologists onboard. Armed with long zoom lenses screwed onto their cameras, the two researchers from GREA, Brigitte Sabard et Olivier Gilg, have been frantically ‘shooting’ one of the east coast’s largest colonies of sea birds. These photos will be assembled later, enabling us to count one by one the thick-billed murres and the black-legged kittiwakes. Olivier, half smiling, jokes about the work that awaits them when they return from this mission: “there’ll be some long winter nights in Burgundy…”
These researchers don’t seem to be scared easily by the endless days of work, as was demonstrated yesterday criss-crossing the frozen island of Dunholm for 13 hours in search of waterfowl. With a bag full of provisions on one shoulder and a rope perched on the other, they were on a mission to capture a dozen eider ducks – a species of sea duck – in order to take a series of samples and measurements. Huddled over their nests, the female eiders are perfectly camouflaged. Only a trained eye could distinguish these birds whose feathers blend into the rocky surroundings. Once spotted, the bird must be captured with a rope and this task doesn’t prove to be easy.
“This is a new part of our scientific program” Olivier explains. “In 2004 we were happy to simply collect eider down to study pollutants. We’ve repeated that operation which will allow us to determine levels of contaminants, including mercury, but we’ve also conducted blood tests on a dozen birds. This is a first, and we quickly realized the difficulty of the task. These new samples will provide us with an additional way to measure the levels of not just mercury, but also hydrocarbons – pollutants which are likely to increase with the development of maritime traffic in the region. These contaminants are anthropogenic: pollution from regions inhabited by humans is carried by wind and ocean currents. There is little or no source of pollution here. So by sampling locally, we can measure the circulation of pollutants around the planet.”
It’s 4pm already, and a few Taranautes have gathered in the large messroom, others are taking a break to recharge their batteries for the next night shift. The schooner is far from the coast and sailing at over 7 knots to reach a safe place. The captain studies the maps: “We’re heading north and it’s a bit of a gamble. A gale is expected during the night of July 29 to 30, so we have to get a move on if we want to cover 200 miles in 35 hours.”