WWF is supporting the research of the Catlin Arctic Survey. This year’s research includes an expedition across the ice, as well as an ice base, both in the far north of Canada. The main purpose of the mission is to gather data on the changing Arctic Ocean currents.
By Helen Findlay, ice base scientist with the Catlin Arctic Survey team
The storm that ‘drifted’ over us on Sunday didn’t really show its full strength until later on in the week. Winds increased to about 20 knots, gusting 30 knots at times, with snow being blown across the ground it reminded me of being a kid walking across a beach on a stormy autumn day with sand blowing all around me. It doesn’t take long for the winds to transform the snow, and drifts quickly formed around all our tents.
The visibility dropped to just 100 m or so and there was absolutely no contrast. This can prove very dangerous when walking around, not only because its cold and windy, but also you can’t see where the snow drifts are and they are very easy to fall into, or fall off. Just walking between tents would take twice as long as normal. The south-easterly winds bought with them warm conditions, so while we could see nothing we also spent the last few days in a much warmer environment. That probably sounds a bit silly, but when the temperature increases from -35 ºC to -15 ºC pretty much overnight you really notice it. Everything gets pretty damp and soggy inside the tents, the snow gets slushy and the drifts that form are soft and more easy to fall into. We have to constantly check out the sleeping tents to make sure they don’t get drifted up. Going to the toilet becomes even more a challenge than normal with the high winds. Sleeping in the tents was actually pretty good (we were pretty tired from our ‘trawlathon’). For me it’s like being on a sailing boat and someone has just forgotten to pull the sails in properly. It’s actually quite a comforting sound and every now and again a lull brings a renewed silence.
Today the wind stopped for the first time, the cloud lifted and we saw a brief glimpse of the sun and the land in the distance. The tents seem so quiet now. Unfortunately the storms have meant that the flight we were expected has been delayed for several days now. The runway has had newly formed drifts so in between science and camp duties we’ve also spent a lot of time grooming the runway. As the wind drops and the clouds clear our expectations for the flight to arrive today are increasing but you never know out here, that’s one of the unknowns about working in these extreme environments.