The wind howls down the glacier opposite, heeling the boat over and rattling the rigging. We’ve had to hide from bad weather yet again, having made the crossing in the only good weather on the horizon. The crew has tried hard to make anchorages stick, but the anchor just drags disappointingly away. Without an anchor, we have to trace circles in this relatively protected cleft in the rocks.
Then, a bright spot on the horizon widens, the wind drops, and we take the opportunity to trace the remainder of our route to Grise Fiord. But on the way, the wind drops. Researcher Paul Wilkinson shakes me awake just before 4 am – Clive, can you come help – I drag myself onto deck, along with most of the rest of the crew. It’s finally calm enough, and the water deep enough for Paul’s research. He has to drop a long metal tube down into the water, that then snaps shut to sample water at different depths. Then begins the laborious business of dragging the full metal tube back up to the surface. At the deepest sample, almost half a kilometer goes down, and it takes several people in turn to haul it back up.
Paul will later filter the samples, and then back in the lab, he will sequence the DNA found in the filters. What he’s looking for is the lowest part of the Arctic marine food web, microscopic plants. These plants become food for microscopic animals, and fed larger animals up the food chain, culminating in the whales and polar bears. These tiny plants get nowhere near the attention of larger animals, but they are just as important to the future of life in the last ice area. We expect Paul’s work to help in our efforts to predict how life up here may change or persist.
From here, out trip is almost over – we would like to try for seeing more marine life, but (what else is new) more bad weather is forecast, so were looking for a relatively protected spot near Grise Fiord, so those of us on the second leg can catch the twice-weekly plane, and the participants in leg 3 can make it onboard, and continue the Tern’s journey.