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Out to the Arctic

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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.

By Laura Edwards

Early on Wednesday 3rd March I headed to Aberdeen airport to begin my journey to the sea ice of Deer Bay off the coast of Isachsen, Ellef Rignes Island, Canada. I was finally on my way to carry out some novel and exciting fieldwork attempting to answer questions on the topic of ocean acidification.

I was nervous about the fieldwork and how I would cope in the cold temperatures (averaging around -30 to -35 °C at this time of year) but also excited about the prospect of being involved in the Catlin Arctic Survey 2010 and obtaining rare data in this arctic location during the winter-spring transition period. There are very few measurements on ocean acidification at this time of year in the Arctic and yet it’s a very interesting period when there are large changes occurring within the biology, chemistry and sea ice of the Arctic ocean.

CAS 2010 Ice Base camp in Nunavut, northern CanadaCAS 2010 Ice Base camp in Nunavut, northern Canada

The journey to the sea ice base took several days with brief stops at Ottawa, Iqaluit and Nanisivik and the remote Canadian outpost of Resolute before flying out to the sea ice base. In Ottawa I met up with the other scientist from the UK, Ceri Lewis and Helen Findlay. We caught up with the Canadian scientist on the team, Glenn Cooper, in Iqaluit.

At Resolute we met the rest of the Catlin Arctic Survey 2010 team for the first part of the fieldwork on the ice as well as the explorers Ann Daniels, Martin Hartley and Charlie Paton who would be collecting data for us on their expedition to the North Pole. Our ice base field team consisted of Simon Garrod (Ice Base manager), Harald Kippenes (polar guide), Paul Deegan (communications manager) and Fran Orio (Ice Base chef).

We had 5 days of polar training in Resolute with Harald taking most of the training for our time in the field, which included signs and early symptoms of frostbite, stove lighting in extreme cold and polar bear awareness among other topics. We also spent a night out camping to get a feel for how things would be once we made it to the ice base. The night we stayed out the temperature was around -37 °C and despite three sleeping bags, a couple of sleeping mats and going to bed in thermals and fleeces it still felt cold. In the morning we woke to find ice around our faces on the sleeping bag and on the inside of the tent roof – moisture from our breathing had frozen in the cold temperatures!

Whilst in Resolute we also worked on the science equipment to prepare and test it in the cold environment. My main involvement in the fieldwork is to try and take measurements of the flux of CO2 through sea ice and involves several pieces of digital equipment with liquid crystal displays which tend to not work well in cold environments. We also helped the explorers with their training on the science equipment they would be using on their trek to the Pole.

Weather delays and availability of planes meant that we didn’t get out to the ice base until 15th March (four days later than originally planned). When we arrived at the ice base everything was all ready to go as an advance party including Simon, Paul and Harald had been sent out to find a suitable stable site for the camp and runway. All the ice base staff have a wealth of experience in polar environments and expeditions which not only gives one confidence in their ability to run such an expedition but also makes for some very interesting dinner conversations. Brownie the dog, a local Resolute-owned dog, was also in the advance party due to her skills in giving warning of approaching polar bears.

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