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At the Ice Base – the research begins

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By Laura Edwards

Based on first year sea ice approximately 1.5 m thick and about 10 km from the rugged coastline of Isachsen on Ellef Rignes Island the location of the Catlin Arctic Survey 2010 Ice Base site is stunning. It’s quite surreal here, like being on a different planet and it’s not as flat as you might think. The ice we’re camped on is flat but to the north and south of camp there are regions of multi-year ice which have ridged up over time and created a bizarre but beautiful rubbled ice landscape.

Our sample site is approximately 2km west of camp and initially we used a skidoo to get all the equipment out there to take the samples of water chemistry, biology and underlying physical measurements (currents and temperature profiles). As well as the water studies, we are also taking ice core samples for analysis and atmospheric studies to help with the determination of CO2 flux through the sea ice. The skidoo, like many mechanical and digital systems, did not like the extreme cold and broke down – and it chose to do so on the day a storm developed whilst we were at the sample site. We ended up having to return to camp during the storm on foot. The temperature at the ice base had been around -25 to -40 °C for our first week in camp but the night of the storm, with winds gusting up to 60 mph, temperatures that night reached below -60 °C with wind chill.

Our husky cross, Brownie, came to the rescue for future trips to the sample site. As we no longer had the skidoo, man and dog worked together to haul the science equipment to the sample site. Brownie really enjoyed herself and pulled hard and now gets upset if we don’t take her with us on sampling days.

We’ve had some very successful sampling days so far and the Catlin Arctic Survey 2010 project still has nearly a month to run so hopefully we should collect a really good set of data for the period. Ceri has been delighted to find a wide variety of plankton in the waters (copepods, pteropods) and the electronic equipment seems to all be working well. Our initial ice base team have now headed back home and been replaced with Paul Ramsden (Ice base manager), Alastair Humphreys (Communications manager), John Huston (Polar guide), Malin Hoiseth (Ice base chef) and Russell (Inuit guide). They’re all settling in well and getting use to camp life. We made some good friends within the original ice base staff and miss them but I’m sure they’ll be some new good friendships that develop with the new group.

The Catlin Arctic Survey 2010 is focused on what is widely considered to be the ‘other’ carbon problem beyond climate change – that of ocean change, researching how greenhouse gases could affect the marine life of the Arctic ocean. Laura Edwards, a researcher from Bangor University in Wales, and Rod Macrae, Head of Communications at Geo Mission, are blogging for WWF throughout the Survey from the Catlin Arctic Survey Ice Base in Nunavut, northern Canada – please come back regularly for their updates.

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