Teachers Erik and Kathy
The American teacher, Kathy Couchon, is a seventh grade science teacher at Narragansett Pier Middle School in Narragansett, Rhode Island.
Read Kathys report here.
Erik Zetterberg, the European teacher, is 30 years old and teaches at Järfälla NT-Gymnasium in Sweden, an upper secondary school where the students are 16-18 years old.
Erik presents himself:
"My main subjects are chemistry and technology, but I also teach computer subjects such as web design and environmentally related subjects like science and environmental technology. I have a master degree in chemistry and engineering and have taken a teachers exam after that.
I am interested in nature, parlor games, movies and new scientific. Preferably, I spend my vacation in a summerhouse at the coast in the north of Sweden regardless of season.
The possibility to go to the Arctic feels like a fantastic opportunity to me. The barren beauty and the exciting history of the Polar Regions have for quite some time fascinated me. In addition the science to be conducted is highly interesting and I hope to be able to create a lot of exciting educational material from it."
Read Eriks reports here:
29 August – 6 September 2004
During this period I have been on board the Oden all of the time. Fortunately, Oden is a pleasant as well as interesting place to be on during this expedition. Any spare time can be spent in for instance the sauna, the gym or the cinema. There are also many interesting people with a lot of experience to talk to and lately the constantly misty weather has given in to clearer, more beautiful but also colder weather. Typically temperature has dropped from about zero degrees Celcius to something more like minus five and with a bit of wind, the chill factor equals around minus fifteen. The midnight sun provides light any time of day even though the sun also circles considerably lower each day, and sometimes the remaining clouds shroud it slightly, creating spectacular views.
There is however also a lot of work to be done here, and Kathy and I have been following the scientists and their work. Many spectacular results have been found during the recent days, and there has been reason to celebrate them on occasion, but for now I will focus more on the methods than the results. So how can mud from the seafloor tell us about previous climate?
There are many things that can be investigated to answer that. The first thing is the colour of the sediment as it comes in to the lab. Different colours may give an initial clue to the content of the sediment, such as black colour may signify lack of oxygen and lots of organic material from organisms in the water. If the colour varies a lot with the depth of the sediment, the environmental conditions may have changed during the time period where the sediments formed. One of the first things that happen in the lab is thus photography of the core with a ruler and some reference colours next to it. It is then described by Alexey Krylov using a colour sheet where each colour is given a different code, so that there will be no misunderstanding of the descriptions. Also the consistency and grain size of the sample is investigated by feeling it between the fingers or even tasted and felt between the teeth.
Some of the cores contained sand within the sediment and one day Kathy and I were making slides for investigating such sand under the supervision of Ted Moore. The sample is treated with hydrogen peroxide and some hydrochloric acid to remove microfossils and sieved to remove smaller particles of clay. The remainder is smeared onto glass plates and mounted by special mount media and covered with a very thin glass plate. The resulting slide can then be put into a microscope and examined. To a trained eye the composition of minerals in the sand grains and the erosion of the edges and grain size tells about the origin of the sand. The sample we prepared was tropical beach sand!
That may seem a strange thing to find under the Arctic ice and in the middle of an ocean, but it is not very unexpected to the cientists. The underwater Lomonsov ridge that is drilled here was earlier a part of the continental shelf north of Svalbard and Russia and so it was not very far from land. Plate tectonics later moved it to the position it has today, and during this time global climate also changed from hot to cool. Unfortunately it seems we missed the best bathing season by many million years, but that might be just as well since that was so long ago that dinosaurs still existed.
Most of the science on board is done on microfossils. Microfossils are remnant shells from single celled organisms embedded within the sediment. There is a huge variety of organisms producing shells and most of the scientists are specialised on specific types of organisms. Kathy and I were looking at something called Agglutinated foraminifera with Mike Kaminski. These are one of the larger types and when they are identified under the microscope, it is possible to pick them out carefully with a small and wet paintbrush. Initially I had a hard time even discerning them from the grains and sands in the microscope view, since they make their shells from small sand particles, but they differed slightly in composition and colour and actually it was quite fun to search for them in the fascinating microscopic world revealed by the magnification. When I was done, I was quite impressed to see Mike quickly looking through the sample in just a fraction of the time I had used, giving me credit for good work but still finding a piece that I had missed. Then at only a glance he identified the different species of foraminifera that I had picked out from the sample, that all looked about the same to me and that I had barely been able to identify as remnants of something that was once alive.
By being able to identify the species, the scientists can tell the age of the sample by comparing to the appearance and extinction of certain key species. They can also tell an approximate climate and water temperature depending on the conditions favoured by each species. Some of the scientists compared this to the ability that most people have to say at a glance that a picture of a lion or zebra would likely have been taken in Africa not too long ago and in warm climate. The numbers of microorganisms that produce shell is very large however, depending on type it may be from hundreds to millions of species, so I am still impressed with the scientists’ ability to recognize them.
Ingemar Pomlin has also shown us the Ericsson GSM system on board. A temperature-controlled container on the fourth deck and several antennae throughout the ship and on the deck make up the cell phone system. Through it, all cell phones on board all three ships are connected, with only a few blind spots inside the other ships occasionally, due to the nature of the steel constructions. The phones are very useful for finding people on board the ships that would otherwise take a lot of time to search for. Contact with the outside world is maintained via Iridium satellite phone controlled from another container and separate antennae and it is via this system I am able to send this text. The bandwidth is limited though, and we do not have Internet access. Sometimes I miss this abundant source of information, but fortunately there are a lot of people with great knowledge to ask and I also brought some books providing me with the most crucial information on language issues and oceanography.
The drilling is now completed and on the 5:th of September Vidar Viking was refuelled from the Oden in preparation for the journey home. To do this, the ships had to get next to each other, which felt unusual as I am used to seeing Vidar Viking at a distance. A gangplank was lowered between the ships and for the first time the drillers were actually visiting us. They have been doing an amazing job, I know from my visit to the drill ship that the environment is not always pleasant when temperature is low and wind sweeps across, but I have not been working there for twelve hour shifts every day like they have! Now the ships have separated however, and we are heading for the North Pole, which is at least almost on the way home. Actually we are now heading north, but still getting closer to Tromsö, that lies to the south of us.
23-28 August 2004
Visitors are not common here, but this day we were expecting some. Spare parts for the drill were to be air dropped from a Hercules plane from the Swedish Air Force. In addition the opportunity was taken to order some fresh vegetables and newspapers. Of course this was the topic of the day, and by the time of the event most people were waiting on deck to see it. Soon enough the plane appeared on the horizon and swooped past low and close to the ships. It was quite impressive! After a short while the packages were dropped on a large ice floe on the horizon. All large ice floes closer than that had been crushed by Sovietskiy Soyoz and Oden to keep them from disturbing the drilling on Vidar. A helicopter flew out to get the packages and came back with them in a cable underneath. The packages were then carefully dropped on the stern of Oden and opened. I helped carrying things for a while. Obviously the landing had not been very gentle, since some cucumbers and a melon were crushed. Also some of the packages of milk were deformed. However, most of the cargo had survived and we are now eating food from heaven. Eventually I had to cease carrying things because I was called up to the lab for sieving some samples for fish teeth. Ted Moore had presented this job as something like the most tedious and boring job imaginable. Of course Kathy and I accepted without hesitation.
The idea is to take samples of known volume, extract any fish teeth from them and then analyse them for age and for water exchange between oceans. This information is gained from analysing the amount of different isotopes of strontium for age and neodymium to compare with similar analyses in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for water exchange. Our job was to dissolve the samples as much as possible in hot water by gently stirring, then to sieving the sample through a 63-micrometer sieve in order to remove material smaller than the teeth. However, the teeth were small and even after this treatment it was hopeless to distinguish any teeth from small mineral grains still remaining without the use of magnification. Also the real analysis of isotopes had to be done on shore after the trip. Consequently we were preparing some ten samples at a sieving time of about twenty minutes each plus time for dissolving and labelling without being able to see any results from it, so the job description was not altogether inaccurate. But in the evening we had at least been able to complete it, which was satisfactory enough.
The following day did not promise for any great discoveries. The drilling had to stop in the evening before due to increasingly difficult ice conditions and the pipe had been pulled up again. As it would turn out this was only the beginning of several setbacks and broken equipment aboard the Vidar Viking in the days to follow. While being a test of patience and intensifying the battle against the clock, not much time here is totally wasted. Awaiting the drilling, seismics were performed. Seismics is basically done by letting out transmitters and receivers for low frequency sound behind the ship. The transmitter in this case was an air gun emitting underwater air blasts. The sound bounces off the bottom and off any layers of different density below the bottom. The time it takes for the reflected sound to return is measured and thus a picture of the sediment below the seafloor can be obtained. The seismic equipment was first lowered from the crane in the stern of Oden in the middle of the sunlit but cloudy Arctic night. The receivers look like a long striped string and the air gun hangs underneath a yellow wing shaped much like a small space craft.
There is also lots of tubing, cords and tape leading to the equipment and all of this has to be kept out of the propellers and away from the ice, so Oden has to move slowly ahead during the measurements. At first the movement of the transmitter was a bit wobbly and sometimes it almost surfaced and you could actually hear the sound blasts and feel them in your feet. But it seems to have come into enough control and some good-looking data have been obtained.
A lot of things are tried out for the first time here. I will now tell of yet another of those. The ice is occasionally photographed from satellite and the pictures are transmitted here. The ship does not receive photos every day, however, and in a short while the ice has been drifting away from its original position. To be able to follow the difference from the photo and the actual situation a few days later, some fix points are needed that can be seen in the photo and located and GPS-positioned by the helicopter later. To achieve this, radar reflectors were to be positioned on the ice, many enough to be found on a radar satellite photo from space and to be found by a helicopter flying across the vast and changable landscape of ice.
Kathy and I were lucky enough to be selected to join Ulf Hedman and Anders Karlqvist and the pilot Sven Stenvall on the radar reflector deployment mission. Ulf had the coordinates for some large, flat ice floes suitable for the reflectors, and soon we were nearing one of these. Sven let the helicopter do a couple of small bumps on the ice just as we landed to make sure that it would support the weight of the helicopter. Nevertheless, soon after we got out of the helicopter, some of the ice surface cracked slightly where Kathy was stepping, revealing water underneath. As it would seem, there was still ice underneath the water, so we had landed on one of the shallow meltwater lakes that had frozen over again. But in most places the top layer was strong enough for us, so we started the deployment. Each reflector is a few decimeters across and has to be unfolded and fixed into the unfolded position by a knot on a piece of string. Then a small wooden rod has to be fastened into the ice and the reflector has to be stapled to the rod. We had ninety reflectors to place in three different locations, and we tried a different configuration on each site to find out which would give the best visibility from space. At the first site we put them in long rows, at the second in formations like the number ive on a die and on the third we simply put all reflectors together in a haphazard manner. Being out on the ice this time almost felt like being on another planet, or rather a moon. The white, flat windswept landscape, the clumsy survival suit and the radar reflectors much more looking like something from a satellite, than something to be seen from one all added to this impression.
Less unearthly, but nevertheless thrilling was the occasional ominous creaking and slight bending of the ice underneath my feet as I was walking back and forth with bunches of reflectors in my hands. After a few hours of work on the ice, all reflectors had been placed and we returned to Oden. Unfortunately the reflectors were not easily discernable on the satellite image received on board, due to the lower resolution needed to send it through the narrow bandwith connection here, but at least some of them could be seen and reported to the ship from people receiving the image on land.
The day after, drilling was resumed on a new site, so more and older cores are likely to be retrieved soon.
17-22 August 2004
In addition to the problems with the drilling a large ice floe was nearing the drill site, so the ships moved to get around it and drift into place for resumed drilling, rather than wasting fuel on breaking the floe. While doing this Oden had to break through some ice ridges. I went to the bow to watch this. The ridges seemed to be about three meters high from the ice surface, but that would mean that they were actually about three or four times that size below the surface. It was really impressive to stand at the bow looking down upon the ice ridges as Oden rushed forward using all its power, partially breaking them, cracks spreading like slow black lightnings through the white ice, and pieces of ice coming alive almost pouring out of the ridge and along the ice edge beside the ship. Then the Oden would retract and get ready for another charge. Eventually the ridges gave in completely and huge chunks of ice were rolling over at the sides of the ship. Amazing!
The next day, Kathy and I went to see the engineers on Oden while they were making a copy of a broken piece of drill equipment from the Vidar Viking. It was a bearing that had broken in half, even though it was about a centimeter thick. But a shining new bearing was almost ready for use nearby. As far as I have heard, it has been working great since it was refitted on the Vidar Viking.
The highpoint of this day however would be if the Vidar Viking actually would be able to get some core from the ocean floor. Therefore, there was a lot of nervous waiting during the day, but finally co-chief scientist Kate Moran issued the statement “Core on deck” through the Oden loudspeakers. After that core was coming up at a steady and reassuring pace.
Two days later I was full of expectation. This day I would go to Vidar Viking to take part in the actual drilling and intended to use the morning to prepare for that. But during the breakfast, I also got the opportunity to join a flight to redeploy the ice buoys. The ice buoys are GPS-transmitters that are placed on the ice by helicopter. As the ice drifts, the movement of the ice can then be followed aboard the Oden by using the signal from the transmitters. This information is very important, since it tells which part of the ice is actually approching the drill ship. However, the range of the transmitters is limited and to keep them from drifting out of range, they have to be moved from time to time. This was such a time and my plan for the morning had changed. Soon I found myself on the helideck, climbing into a survival suit. The helicopter flew out low over the ice and in a little while we spotted the first flag, marking one of the transmitters.
This was a great moment, to actually set foot on the ice that I had seen for so long from the ship! The buoys are placed on the ice ridges in order to achieve good reception and we had to climb for a few meters. The ridges are beautiful with small blue cracks and caves with icicles inside. The transmitter itself is inside a small floating box and the only visible part except the box is a cord leading to the antenna on the flag. Ingemar Pomlin from the ICT-department was efficient and moving the buoys did not take very long time, but it still left a few short moments to perceive the beauty of the Arctic. At one of the buoys Ingemar reminded me that we should keep an eye open for polar bears. It seemed to be a good idea, since we were far from the lookouts on the ships. Even though the helicopter was near and we had not seen polar bears for several days, it was a slightly unfamiliar feeling to imagine that this lunar landscape actually holds large and potentially dangerous predators that you have to be wary of. But of course the rest of the buoy redeployment went by without incidents worse than snow getting in my shoes.
Being on board Vidar Viking is really different from being on Oden. Oden is a lot like a science lab, while Vidar Viking is like an industry. People have to wear helmets and hard-toe boots, the floor is wet, oily and slippery and the huge drilling derrick towers above, occasionally hoisting pipes high in the air and lowering them down into the depths below. After reporting my presence to the bridge, I got to watch how a core is handled after it is retrieved. From the inside of the drill pipe, the core emerges in a transparent plastic tube. The tube is lifted onto a bench, inspected and marked into 1,5 meter sections. The sections are then cut off and the ends are capped with differently coloured caps for top and bottom of the sediment. After that they are carefully labelled and analysed. On the ship only a few non-destructive analyses are made, the rest will be made on shore in November at which time the plastic tubes will be lengthwise cut in half. One half will be sampled and analysed and the other will be stored.
One of the instruments used on Vidar Viking is the Multi Sensor Track, where the core is exposed to radiactive gamma rays, electricity, sound waves and magnetism. Depending on how these are attenuated, inhibited, delayed or responded to, information is generated and stored in a database. If a second hole is drilled next to the first one, information should be similar, and cores from that hole could be matched to fill in missing parts from the first hole. Anyway, soon I had learned some of the routine of core handling and could start helping a bit with it. I also got the chance to see how the “drilling mud”, a fluid used to press the drill into the seafloor, was made and I visited the control room for the drilling. All the people I met were very friendly and in all I had an interesting day on the Vidar Viking, but after a twelve-hour shift there I was nevertheless glad to be back “home” on the Oden.
The next day it was Kathy´s turn to go to Vidar Viking, while I was staying on Oden. All the cores that I had seen when I was there were olive green in colour, but this day sediment of other and different colours appeared. In all likelihood this should signify an important change in the Arctic environment around the Lomonosov Ridge millions of years ago. The drilling also exceeded 200 meters in depth below the seafloor.
11-16 August 2004
We met with the other icebreakers VIDAR VIKING and SOVETSKIY SOYUZ on the tenth of August as planned. The ice then came in small floes at first, white on top and with a beautiful blue colour underneath. The amount of ice floes rapidly increased until the ships were completely surrounded by ice with only few holes in it, like lakes in a white landscape of pure ice. It is absolutely fascinating just to watch the ice as the ship passes by it and it is easy to get hypnotized, just looking at it for lengths of time mindless of anything else.
I was staying up late the first day after we met the ice and suddenly, just after midnight I got a call from the bridge saying that they had seen the first polar bear and that my guess for “first polar bear observation” was the closest. I rushed up the stairs to the bridge to get a look at it and it was quite easy to see with the binoculars. It was slightly more yellow than the ice, fairly fast and seemed to have an air of freedom around it as it strolled about on the ice apparently unconcerned even with the fact that three huge icebreakers were passing by close to it. The prize for the polar bear guessing was the book “High Latitudes” by Gösta Liljequist on Swedish polar travels and research. Apparently polar bears are much more common around the ice edge, and five of them were seen from the bridge during the night, but very few after that as we got deeper into the ice.
People and equipment are being transported now between the ships. This is done either by helicopter or by a wire mesh basket lifted by the large crane on the stern of ODEN. When the basket is used, the ships have to get really close to each other and not move too much. But you get a good close up view of the other ship and either way I think it will be a fairly exciting trip.
I do most work together with my teacher colleague from the United States, Kathy Couchon. Together we have begun taking tours of parts of the ship. First out was the kitchen, which has provided us with excellent food so far. Most of it is prepared on board and many meals are typical for the Nordic kitchen. However, storage for a trip as long as fourty days is a problem for some food like vegetables, which we expect to run out of in a few weeks of time. Some other things like milk often need to be frozen to last long enough, but looking through the supplies makes us confident that we will not have to starve at any point. On the contrary it is easy to eat a lot more than at home, so we are lucky there is a gym on board and that the ODEN has a lot of stairs to train us.
We also made a tour through the engine room. The ship is powered by four huge diesel engines with a combined effect of 18 000 000 watts or approximately 24 500 horsepower. That is a lot of power, but there is also a lot of ice to break. For several days now, we have seen ice from horizon to horizon with only minor lakes, cracks and holes. Apart from the engines, there are several rooms below deck for providing anything from electricity to heat and fresh water. There is also an emergency generator capable of operating the entire ship and providing some light, if somehow all four engines should simultaneously fail. All this makes me feel rather safe, especially with the even more powerful nuclear icebreaker SOVETSKIY SOYUZ. nearby, doing all the hardest icebreaking.
Yesterday I had the first helicopter ride of my life! It was Kathy´s first too. We were invited to join on one of the ice reconnaissance flights with only five minutes notice. Of course we took the chance. We also got to try the orange bulky survival suits, as these were required clothing for the helicopter. It was great! It also gave a deeper perspective of the great plains of ice surrounding us as the mighty icebreakers dwindled and vanished into fog in the distance. It seems like fog is the most common weather up here, and by the end of the flight it was decreasing visibility that forced us to return. But we were still up for almost two hours. During the flight, the ice observer on board the helicopter was drawing an ice map, showing the ice situation in numbers and symbols. These are later used to find out which ice floes must be dealt with by the icebreakers. VIDAR VIKING has begun drilling for bottom sediments now, and cannot be allowed to move any more than a few meters by the ice so it is important to find any hazards in time.
Today the first sample came to the lab! VIDAR VIKING had reached the seafloor and some small part of the bottom sediment was recovered. Of course all the scientists were very excited about it even though it was not more than a few decimeters in length and from the top layers of the ocean floor, in other words the youngest sediment that would not tell a very long story of the past. Still, this is what everybody is waiting for, and the reason for us to be here at all. Consequently, there was a lot of activity going on in the lab today. Unfortunately, there seems to be some kind of problem recovering more sediment at the moment. But let´s hope for a quick solution and more and older cores to come from the VIDAR VIKING soon!
10 August 2004
Right now I am heading for the Arctic aboard the icebreaker ODEN. Most things seem to be working well and now I have received a wireless network card, enabling me to send this message. Apart from that I have also been given a Gore-tex jacket too large for me, a fleece pullover, an ACEX t-shirt and a water and shock resistant telephone for internal communication. All set for the Arctic in other words!
Everything has been very nice so far. In spite of some gloomy weather, Tromso was very beautiful with the mountains rising up directly from the sea and the whole town situated upon a small island that could be all seen from one of the mountain summits to which a cable car provided transportation. The VIDAR VIKING arrived in the harbor a bit later than ODEN and has a huge orange drilling derrick. However, VIDAR is slightly behind us now, as some further preparations needed to be done on board.
The food is fabulous and there are a lot of nice and interesting people on board. There have been some science meetings on what research will be conducted. Yesterday there was a short lecture by Anders Karlqvist on earlier expeditions in the area, such as the Andrée expedition and the voyage of the Fram.
At present we are approximately in between Svalbard and Franz Josefs Land and expect to meet the ice by the evening. It is the first day with sub-zero temperatures outside and right now there is some guessing going on as to when we will see the first polar bear. So far we have seen three-toed seagulls (Rissa Tridactyla) and some aboard have spotted dolphins as well.
The sun partly shrouded in clouds, shining on the ice broken by Oden and Sovietskiy Soyuz
The ships are just a few meters away during refueling. Here I am standing on Oden in front of Vidar Viking
The seismic equipment is being dropped behind the ship
Here I am sieving for teeth in multi-million year old sediments from the Arctic
Radar reflectors being deployed
The drilling derrick of Vidar Viking with the white control room to the
Ingemar Pomlin descending an ice ridge after deploying an ice buoy
Basket transfer between ODEN and VIDAR VIKING
Helicopter flyby of the SOVETSKIY SOYUZ