Under the Ice

NUI might still be in its shipping container working its way back to Woods Hole, but some of the video from its dives on Mt. Karasik are here! More to come, but here’s the first bit compiled by Chris German during the long steam back to port.

Epi(b)log: Auf Wiedersehen

Hands across the sea. Captain Stefan Schwarze, Shief Scientist Prof. Dr. Antje Boetius, and blog author Chris German celebrating the end of their expedition together with Explorers Club Flag 80. It was not lost on the NUI team that Capt. Schwarze insisted that this should only be "auf wiedersehen," (literally, "see you again") not "goodbye." Should we come back with a deeper-diving NUI and find those vents? (photo by Martin Schiller, AWI)

Hands across the sea. Captain Stefan Schwarze, Shief Scientist Prof. Dr. Antje Boetius, and blog author Chris German celebrating the end of their expedition together with Explorers Club Flag 80. It was not lost on the NUI team that Capt. Schwarze insisted that this should only be “auf wiedersehen,” (literally, “see you again”) not “goodbye.” Should we come back with a deeper-diving NUI and find those vents? (photo by Martin Schiller, AWI)

Friday, October 21 – At the risk of ruining what was already a fine final blog post (if I do say so myself), the further we get from the heat of the action, the more appreciation I have begun to develop for what we DID achieve on this expedition.

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Expedition’s End

Pioneers. Chris German and Louis Whitcomb, two of the co-PIs behind the building of the Nereid Under Ice vehicle together with Antje Boetius, Chief Scientist for Polarstern Cruise 101, approximately 4000 meters (13,000 feet) above the seafloor and the Gakkel Ridge on a frozen ocean. (photo by Jill McDermott, Lehigh University)

Pioneers. Chris German and Louis Whitcomb, two of the co-PIs behind the building of the Nereid Under Ice vehicle together with Antje Boetius, Chief Scientist for Polarstern Cruise 101, approximately 4000 meters (13,000 feet) above the seafloor and the Gakkel Ridge on a frozen ocean. (photo by Jill McDermott, Lehigh University)

Tuesday, October 18 – It appears everything we can do is done. I had hoped that we would get to see the Aurora Borealis as we steamed south past Spitzbergen, but instead we have had cloudy skies the past two nights and now we are already almost as far south as northern Norway, so I am not holding out much hope.

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Driving South

As a farewell to the Arctic, here's the view from Sunday morning as we passed out of thick ice cover into loose ice floes. And no, that isn't a smudge on my camera lens—that's a BIRD! (photo by Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

As a farewell to the Arctic, here’s the view from Sunday morning as we passed out of thick ice cover into loose ice floes. And no, that isn’t a smudge on my camera lens—that’s a BIRD! (photo by Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Sunday, October 16 – I woke up this morning and the world had been transformed. When I went up to the Bridge for my final ice-observation duty around 11:00 a.m. (OK, I was late, it was 11:15) I was just in time to witness our departure from the solid ice of the Arctic (I wonder if I will ever see that again).

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Beats, Rhymes and Life

Nympheas, Arctic style. The originals are in Paris at Musée de l'Orangerie—and you don't need an icebreaker to get there. Recommended. (photo by Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Nympheas, Arctic style. The originals are in Paris at Musée de l’Orangerie—and you don’t need an icebreaker to get there. Recommended. (photo by Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Saturday, October 15 – I had been feeling down all day and struggled to work out why. Our ROV dive never happened, but that was expected, so that wasn’t it. Then I looked at the diary on my phone and realized, if I had been on shore today, I would have been in Cambridge, England, paying tribute with many of my longest-standing scientific friends to Prof. Harry Elderfield, who passed away earlier this year. Harry was my Ph.D. advisor and the one scientist, more than any other, who rescued me from wondering what I was going to do with my life and who set me on the road to my career in oceanography. Professionally, I owe him much.

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Denied?

Looks OK to me! This is how dark it was, looking out from the bridge into thick snow at 10:00 a.m. on Friday. The weather is actually supposed to get worse from here. But we're ready!

Looks OK to me! This is how dark it was, looking out from the bridge into thick snow at 10:00 a.m. on Friday. The weather is actually supposed to get worse from here. But we’re ready!

Friday, October 14 – We are making excellent time through the ice and will be at our final station of the cruise around 4:30 p.m. local time. The ice is thin in the frozen leads of nilas (new ice) that we are able to see using the ice radar and satellite images we receive on the ship. As a consequence, while we are not traveling on a great-circle route (the navigator’s equivalent of a straight line across the surface of a sphere), we are making our maximum in-ice speed of 7 knots as we hasten toward our target. What’s more, the weather this afternoon and evening (but not tomorrow) fall within the boundaries of a NUI operation, so all should be well. Except. . .

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Smoking Guns and Festering Sponges

Festering sponges. This sponge has seen better days, but as it rots and becomes covered in a white microbial mat, it becomes quite the "in" new place to dine out for shrimp and starfish. Indeed, this venue is so hot that other creatures are literally fighting to get a place at a table!

Festering sponges. This sponge has seen better days, but as it rots and becomes covered in a white microbial mat, it becomes quite the “in” new place to dine out for shrimp and starfish. Indeed, this venue is so hot that other creatures are literally fighting to get a place at a table!

 

Thursday, October 13 – It’s two days since my last post and we are making excellent progress toward Spitzbergen. We are due to arrive at the ice buoy station tomorrow afternoon and after that it should only be another 24 hours until we are free of the ice. I’m not sure we will enjoy being in waves in the Norwegian Greenland Sea in late October, but at least it will be a change!

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Closing Time

It could've been awesome. This screenshot of our navigation chart shows how we had OFOS lined up to scream right through the middle of our search area during the last night of our study at the Gakkel Ridge. Everything worked out great and we got the closest yet to finding the active vent source, but we never quite closed the deal.

It could’ve been awesome. This screenshot of our navigation chart shows how we had OFOS lined up to scream right through the middle of our search area during the last night of our study at the Gakkel Ridge. Everything worked out great and we got the closest yet to finding the active vent source, but we never quite closed the deal.

Tuesday, October 11 – We’re heading home and it’s hard not to feel a little deflated. Maybe it’s because I haven’t slept enough the last day or two. Mostly, though, it’s because right up to the end we were getting ever closer to finding our vent, but then, at the very last minute, the weather and the ice defeated us. The balloon analogy from yesterday’s post, of us being swept away over the Arctic, applies very well.

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Getting Warmer

This plot shows sensor depth (red) and temperature (blue) during our last CTD tow-yo through the night from Sunday into Monday. The big temperature anomaly around 2:20 a.m. shows where we believe we intercepted the stem of the hydrothermal plume rising up from the seafloor. Will we get to find the vent, right before our science operations end?

This plot shows sensor depth (red) and temperature (blue) during our last CTD tow-yo through the night from Sunday into Monday. The big temperature anomaly around 2:20 a.m. shows where we believe we intercepted the stem of the hydrothermal plume rising up from the seafloor. Will we get to find the vent, right before our science operations end?

Monday, October 10 – Sunday turned out to be a reeeally long day, but it ended with Champagne at breakfast around 8:00 a.m. Monday before we headed off to bed.

After the excitement of the NUI dive the day before, the day started quietly tempered by the fact that it took many hours to get back from Karasik Seamount to the region of the vent site. We had been due to begin our vent search at 9:00 a.m. Sunday, but when I got out of bed at 10:00 we were still en route and didn’t actually arrive on-site until dinnertime.

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Cold Blooded

Kai, our happy benthic biology team leader, taking proud possession of NUI's first push core fresh from the seafloor. (photo by Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Kai, our happy benthic biology team leader, taking proud possession of NUI’s first push core fresh from the seafloor. (photo by Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Cold blooded—that was how Antje had described NUI at the daily science meeting the day after Dive 15. Long-time followers of this blog (and lets face it, it is been a VERY long cruise) will recall that Dive 15 was one of the two with a very traumatic recovery (at least for me, watching it unfold from the Bridge), but in which the vehicle collected an excellent suite of data in a ruthlessly efficient manner.

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