So near and yet so far…

By Emily // Sunday 30 Sep // 21:35:57 // No Comments

Well, the 2-4 am watch this morning was particularly horrible. It was quite windy – we were travelling downwind at 8 knots flying only the jib (small foresail) as the snow froze to our backs. A water profile was out of the question; in fact Simon was informed in no uncertain terms that if he even dared ask for the boat to be stopped, the skipper would be sending him overboard with the instrument!

Even so, when I turned in for a few hours sleep, we were still under the impression that later this morning, we would be in the shelter of the coast. Unfortunately we are now heading north of northeast, 020?. Yes, you’ve got it; we are indeed heading back in the direction of Spitsbergen.

As you already know, the ice has come further south this year than usual, and is still covering the entrance to Scoresby Sund, our proposed destination. We were planning, therefore, to follow to ice edge south to the nearest accessible fjord. The problem is that the ice has also spread east, blocking our path southwards. Strong southwesterly winds that we have been experiencing recently are likely to be the explanation for this.

So, all that we can do for the moment is keep the ice on the right and hope that some time soon we get to Greenland. Music is keeping the spirits up for now, but we really do need to find land soon.

Anyway, as promised an update on the science of the Greenland Sea… the good news is that we found the East Greenland Current early this afternoon, marked on the surface by many lumps of ice! This is a very cold current that carries cold, fresh water southwards from the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic to balance the warm water flowing northwards. Today’s picture is another cross section of temperature, but be aware that the colour scale is very different – we are looking at much colder waters on this side of the Fram Strait.


Starting from the left, the warmer than expected water that I mentioned yesterday is shown in red at the surface. This represents surface warming through exchange with the atmosphere of the central Arctic surface water. The large red section in the centre of the image represents Atlantic water which has been cooled upon contact with the colder Arctic water and cool atmosphere. Because it has cooled it has sunk below the surface and occupies depths between 50m and 100m. The blue section to the right indicates where we reached the East Greenland current, and the temperature plummeted accordingly. The surface water was as low as -1.7?C, which is only just above the freezing temperature of seawater (-1.9?C). This was another very good reason not to fight our way through the ice to Scoresby Sund.

There are no concerns about our findings in terms of long term changes in the oceans. Our observations in terms of ice movement and surface warming suggest that abnormal weather patterns are a greater issue at the moment. This is a valuable transect of surface data that will form part of a longer time series and help us to understand the role of the oceans in our changing climate.

So, nearly time for some kip, but not until I’ve finished enjoying some traditional Toureg singing from Aminatou – at least then I can dream I’m in the African Sun! We’re still heading east, but here’s hoping that we’re round the corner of the ice tongue soon and heading for land – the science has done well and it’s high time for some art!

Emily :o)

Tags: Emily Venables