The month on Polarstern coming to an end

The cruise on Polarstern basically spanned a section across the Fram Strait, with the last station being in Kongsfjorden. As we sailed eastwards, approaching the station, Claudia and I were on deck to do underway measurements with a towed CTD. The night before we had seen the mountains of Spitzbergen in the distance, and whales had followed us all night, but now, the sea had become misty. Suddenly Andreas pointed behind us, and we now saw that we had sailed into the Fjord without noticing, and that we were now surrounded by steep mountains.

When the last station was finished we sailed down along the coast to meet up with AWI’s smaller research vessel “Heinke” which was doing fisheries research around Svalbard. For logistical reasons, some samples were transferred to Polarstern, so the dinghy went in and sailed over to get them. At the same time they took some awesome pictures of the two research vessels side by side. Mind blowing that Germany chooses to post so much money and energy into Polar research.

Polarstern

Heinke and Polarstern in Isfjorden

As we had been really efficient during the cruise (mainly because we were lucky with the weather) we had time for us to go visit Longyearbyen on Svalbard while the crew handled official things. We all queued up for the life boats, which took us to land despite of rain and 7 Bf wind strength. Longyearbyen came off as rainy and cold, and most of us made our way to the small shopping centre for a coffee and a cinnamon bun. Later we walked around a bit, and then went to visit the small Polar museum, which showed the history of adventurers trying to reach the North Pole in more or less crazy ways. After a few hours we were all pretty much cold and wet, and it was time to go back to Polarstern. In the small harbor sturdy sailboats were moored, and I love the north, but I have to admit that I wondered if the trip to Svalbard really is worth doing in a sailboat. The wind had picked up even more, and a few people were beginning to feel sick on the way back to Polarstern. So As we pulled up alongside, most were happy to leave the life boat. Makes you wonder what it would be like if we had to enter them in a real emergency – I guess the water and the people are not likely to be calm in such an event. Good thing that they make emergency drills with us on the first day on every cruise.
When everyone was back onboard we started the trip back to Tromsø where Polarstern would get ready for the next cruise. On the way we packed up our instruments, cleaned the labs and wrote reports. But many of us also volunteered to help out doing a “plastic transect”.

I guess many people have become aware of the growing problem of plastic in the ocean, with the horrific picture of whales washing up on beaches with bellies full of garbage and the so-called “plastic islands” in the large oceanic gyres. Despite of this, the large amount of plastic observed in the Arctic Ocean has surprised my colleagues working with the subject. On our cruise, Mine was in charge of measuring micro plastic with pumps on the CTD, but also used a number of different methods to account for larger pieces. One of the easier methods is to put a person on the deck of Polarstern for an hour, asking them to note the plastic they see as we steam towards our destination. Only problem is that it’s quite cold, so you need a fair amount of people to get a full transect from Svalbard to Tromsø. And in the end I think they managed to sign up enough to cover every second hour of the trip.

As part of her work at AWI, Mine has created a website with a litter database. Here, everybody can volunteer to count plastic while at sea. All that is needed is to take a georeferenced picture – automatic on most mobile phones as long as they have a signal I guess.

We reached Tromsø early in the morning, and sailed in through the Lofoten Archipelago in beautiful sunshine. Again. The trip to the Fram Strait was a great experience, but we were also all looking forward to seeing our families again.

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