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Back on the map

By Diana Udel

Back on the map

By Diana Udel
Provided by Andrew Margolin, Ph.D. student in the Department of Ocean Sciences

About three weeks ago on September 5th, we arrived at 90°N, and to be honest, I was a little disappointed. I had imagined that there would be expansive sheets of sea ice, covered in thick layers of snow with a giant candy cane marking the geographic North Pole, and Santa waiting to greet us with mugs of hot cocoa. Surprisingly, when the GPS hit 90°N, we were presented with pools of open water (covered in thin ice) and Santa was nowhere to be found.

After two days of sampling and thinking about where Santa might be, we realized that he likely drifted away from the geographic pole with the snow-covered ice. Sure enough, once we finished sampling, we navigated to the largest ice floe near the pole and found Santa waiting for us there, like we had hoped. Looking back, I realize that sea ice—whether at the North Pole or further south—is constantly in motion due to the influence of the wind and surface currents (like the Transpolar Drift—see About the Arctic Ocean), explaining why we found less ice at the pole than we had expected.

Following our visit with Santa, we began our southward journey along 150°W. After reaching the 85°N Super Station over the Alpha Ridge (see About the Arctic Ocean and map below), it became very clear to us that we had previously made the right decision by taking a turn in the left direction and doing the planned cruise track backwards. Much of our southward journey consisted of backing and ramming our way through thick ice floes (what the Healy was designed for), while our northward journey was a smooth ride that bought us some extra time to sample, however, provided less ice for ice sampling stations. Since we went through so much thick ice on our way south, we occupied four ice stations to total six for the cruise, while we had intended to occupy a grand total of ten. A lot of factors contributed to our total of only six ice stations, but it is clear that our number of ice stations was limited simply by there being less ice in the Arctic than there used to be. To learn more about the 2015’s fourth lowest ice extent on record, check out Arctic News.

In addition to the thick ice we went through on our way south, we also experienced a number of bitter cold, whiteout snow days. These whiteout days coincided with the mid-point, or “hump day” of the cruise, providing little escape from the monotony of our sampling and analysis schedule. Rather than keeping a calendar and counting down these monotonous days, in the carbon van, we’ve been keeping a station map and counting down the stations. Lately, it’s been pretty exciting every time we leave a station, because not only do we get to add an “X” to the map, but we also get to take a step back and look in awe at the wonderful work we are accomplishing out here.

Over the last couple weeks, the seascapes have changed from white on white to having some variety as we gradually made our way through thinner and thinner ice, and into some better weather. We’ve finally made it back to open water, and more importantly (for you and this posting), we’ve finally made it back to our internet connection.

Thanks for following — it’s great to be back.

–Andrew Margolin

Andrew Margolin is pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Miami‘s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Marine and Atmospheric Chemistry in the Department of Ocean Sciences (OCE) as a National Science Foundation (NSFGraduate Research Fellow.