We’re Less Than One Week Away From the North Pole


The U.S. GEOTRACES team is at 85 °N and ice cover is increasing. The captain has slowed our speed from 10 to 5 knots and fired up a second engine. As we move north into thicker ice we will continue to lose speed and require more power. The crunch of breaking ice underneath the bow is audible throughout the entire ship. There is no ebb and flow to the movement, just an unstructured shaking as we pass through different layers of ice.

At our current location >90% of the surface ocean is covered by ice, however, we have yet to encounter a floe large enough for safe sampling. There are still large swaths of open water and patches of thin first year ice, not the thick multiyear sheets we expected to encounter at this latitude. The Coast Guard will determine when the ice is thick enough for us to exit the ship, and survey the floe before the science team moves on. In preparation for sampling we have had a number of planning and safety meetings. Polar bears present a risk to scientists working on the ice and the Coast Guard will have three armed personnel (two on the ice, one on the bridge of the ship) to protect us. During our safety briefing the Coast Guard provided the following need-to-know polar bear facts:

• Polar bears sit at the top of the Arctic food web and are excellent hunters
• Adult males weigh up to 1700 lbs, females 550 lbs
• They can run up to 25 mph for short distances
• Their sense of smell ranges over one mile
• Polar bears will take a bite out of anything they think is food, including humans

If a polar bear is spotted we will drop everything and —> Read More