More swells and an itinerant ice floe

September 17, 2012

The sun peaks over the horizon in this view of the Arctic Ocean from the MV Arctic Sunrise. (Photo by Julienne Stroeve)

It’s been a few days since I’ve written, and a lot has happened.

On the evening of September 11, we abandoned our original sailing plan of  searching for larger ice floes. We left the ice pack and headed west along the ice edge where we ran into a rather large swell. Once were in more open water, half the crew and guests were once again seasick. Luckily, we only spent half the night and half the next day along the ice edge, so I was able to resume my ice watch observations around 2 p.m. on September 12.

Along the ice edge at 82.27N, 21.27E, I observed  a lot of ice at 80 to 90 percent ice concentration. However, after a couple of hours the ice concentration dropped dramatically, typically to values of around 40 percent. I have been surprised by the vast expanses of open water that we came upon after entering the ice. The average ice concentration of the last five days has been about 65 percent, with about 36 percent of that ice being first-year ice, 14 percent being multiyear ice and 10 percent being brash ice (small broken ice floes). Air temperatures have been above freezing, even at 82.82N, 15.16E, so that there have been no new ice formation observed the last five days. Mixed sea and ice surface temperatures range from -2 to -3C.

Because our objective was to find a large ice floe, we once again sent the helicopter out to try to locate one that we could moor to. We finally had success on the 13th of September. This floe was about 100 meters long and 60 meters wide. One of Greenpeace’s objectives was to place flags from the 195 United Nations countries on a floe as a statement to turn the Arctic Ocean into a sanctuary—thus the need to find a large floe. They were able to place half the flags on the floe on September 13. The Cambridge University scientists placed their wave height buoy on the ice and I was able to make one thickness measurement (205 centimeters) before the drill got stuck and we had to spend a couple of hours digging it out. Then it was dinnertime.

After dinner, a large swell began to penetrate the ice. By 8 p.m. we could tell the floe we were moored to was flexing and it was only a matter of time before the floe would break. Sure enough around 9 p.m. the floe broke. A handful of errors caused the ship to lose the floe the following day, which still had the expensive buoy fixed to it.

The entire next day was spent searching for the floe. The weather unfortunately was not good; there were lots of low clouds making visibility difficult. The helicopter made several flights to search for it but was unsuccessful. Everyone was taking turns in the crow’s nest trying to spot it as well. We had all but given up when Grant spotted the floe around 6 p.m. on September 14.

Everyone quickly went about setting up the rest of the flags, while I drilled into the ice for another thickness measurement. This part of the ice floe ended up being a lot thicker than anticipated. After about 270 centimeters, we had to give up, as the drill couldn’t go any further. I had originally thought this was a first-year ice floe with a pressure ridge. I’m thinking now it’s likely a second-year year floe. I should note that this second hole showed biological activity in the ice (algae and other material).

Today is September 15 and I was hoping to take the helicopter out to individual floes for half the day to measure their thickness. Unfortunately the weather is not cooperating. A storm is on its way and the visibility is less than 750 meters. Instead we will moor to a few more floes so that I can make a few more measurements and the Cambridge folks can collect a few more wave height data. Ten-meter swells await us when we leave the ice pack. Looks like I’ll be skipping dinner tonight.

Locations: 82.27N, 21.27E82.82N, 15.16E



  1. Thank you for all your effort. I love this beautiful planet!

  2. One of my dreams is to be part of a scientific expedition in the Arctic, but at least I can follow yours through your blog.
    Good luck and keep up with the good work.
    Captain Ahab

  3. I’m jealous that you get to see this historic low ice pack first hand. What a great opportunity. Thanks for giving us a these little updates. I wonder how many more years before it will be tough to find any ice at all in the Arctic Basin this time of year?!

    • yeah, it was amazing to have a chance to be up there like that. I had only been on the sea ice during winter offshore of Barrow, AK so this was a different perspective. I don’t think ice-free summer’s are that far off. Sadly I think it will happen in my lifetime

  4. Thanks for the blog, and for your continuing scientific work, Julienne.

  5. Were the flags removed from the ice flow afterwards? Otherwise it just becomes more garbage in the arctic ocean after the ice melts.

    • yes John, they were.

  6. I’ve read that you’re back, the trip is finished. A last post with your feeling and finds would be much appreciated!

    Thanks in advance

  7. Ten meter swells? Been there, done that. Not fun. An old ocean tugboater.

    May the wind subside and the ocean calm. Thanks for all you do.

    • Yes not much fun. Never knew that I got sea sick until I was on that boat. But made it through!

  8. […] Klimawandel ist in vollem Gange: Die Wissenschaftlerin Julienne Stroeve untersucht seit Jahrzehnten das arktische Eis. Jeden Sommer reist sie in den Norden, um zu messen, […]

  9. Dear Julienne, happy New Year!
    Maybe you will be interested in an idea that can save arctic and climate at all – Air hydropower – http://airhes.com
    SIncerely yours, Andrew

  10. A new follower of your blog. Found you through long line different articles. Wanted to tell you how amazing you are especially when I see you dealing with crowds of people following the likes of Steven Goddard. I’ve done a lot of different work in my life – a lot of it dealing with sustainability and land management using fire. I’m 41 now and see people like you out there and it’s inspiring. I sometimes look back and wish I had stuck with my science degree instead of design. Who knows… maybe it’s time to go back. 😉

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