We have resumed the oceanographic probes


31 December 2007

We have resumed the oceanographic probes that had been stopped in the past two weeks. And this morning while filling out the scientific manipulation logbook, my eyes fell on the previous page:
“12th of December, position 79°38’N/03°20’W, probe 2320m, profile CTD at 2000 meters deep+5 yoyos at 400m).
Then in capital letters “LAST PROFILE, on the 13th everything is breaking up, we are packing up the equipment”.
Flash back on the previous months.

When the new shift team arrived mid-September, Tara was located by 86°N, still in the central Arctic basin with more than 4000 meters of water under her hull. Daylight lasted 24 hours and scientific activities were in full swing. We covered several kilometres daily by ski around the boat for glaciology, snow measures and the monitoring of the seismologic stations. The different masts (radiometer and weather) proudly stood up on a stable pack ice; the oceanographic winch reeled in its 3000 metres of cable. At the beginning of the polar night, the size of our playing field reduced little by little. At the end of October, in nearly utter darkness, we were still able to make the rounds of the “equipment handlings” with a front light in a perimeter of 500 meters.

Until then the boat was drifting toward the South with her speed increasing progressively with the fall wind and the approaching Fram Strait. We were then heading toward the Spitsbergen and some models were predicting an ice exit by the 15th of November…
The depths were reducing and water from the Atlantic expressed its presence under our feet each time in a more insistent fashion in the CTD profiles.
Beginning November, a strong Eastern wind gust suddenly interrupted this momentum and thew us 40 nautical miles toward the West. And moreover, it triggered the first important splits in our garden of ice that had surrounded Tara for a year. The area of scientific experiments reduced furthermore.
From then on and by 83°N, Tara found herself in the middle of the central pit of the Fram Strait (depth exceeding 3000 meters), on a conveyor belt that would lead her more and more rapidly toward the SW, along the coast of Greenland.
Degrees and latitudes started to pass through each celebrated by the crew. The cold polar water was encroaching again (vertical) on the Atlantic water in the CTD profiles and Paris was worried. Models were careful about predicting the exit and the hopes of being visited by a helicopter from the Spitsbergen diminished.

Beginning December, the pack ice more and more unstable made us dismantle all the weather instruments still on the ice and only the oceanographic probes could continue onboard. Our premonitions were justified for on the 13th of December at the end of a strong gust of wind, everything started to break up around the boat. We were close to open water, we could feel a strong swell and exit seemed imminent. We concentrated our efforts on the final preparation of the schooner for the see and all the scientific instruments disappeared in their boxes at the bottom of the hold to leave the deck nearly bare.
But the spirits of the pack ice are playful and decided otherwise. A few days later, the ice was reforming around us and was leading us on the continental Greenland plate. Depths diminished fast from 2 500 meters to 300 meters, where no Atlantic water vein could come get us to redirect us toward open water.
Thus, Christmas was celebrated in the ice and New Year, this evening also.
We are on the Greenland highway (East Greenland Current, EGC in ocean jargon), we have missed the first exit (an Atlantic swirl toward 78°N), and the next one is located near 73° N between the isle of Jan Mayen and Island. If we miss as well, then the final toll bridge will be in the Denmark Strait (between Island and Greenland) and the place has a rather poor reputation with winter depressions that sweep incredibly often. We shall see. In the meantime, we do a bit of science to keep our days busy. And we are preparing our New Year’s Eve party.

Happy New Year everybody

Herve Le Goff