Sunday, May 11, 2008

On the ice - Part 5

Wednesday May 7, 2008

For twelve days we have been drifting with one and the same ice floe. The wind took us 166,680 kilometer westwards from where we started on April 24 2008.

But yesterday it was decided to move the ship to a new location. Yesterday we cut only through thin ice., which hardly made any noise. But today, I finally feel that we are on an icebreaker. Ice floes crack and break under the ship. Cracks cut tens of meters through the ice and split it in pieces. More than half of the day we are breaking ice. Today we are closer to the coast and the ice floes here are more than a meter thick. But the Amundsen can break through more than three meters. When the ship loses speed by breaking through thick ice, it sometimes moves backward for a while, to gain more momentum.

Both yesterday and today I joined a helicopter flight with scientist John Iacozza and pilot Serge Arseneau. For the first time since we flew from Inuvik to the Amundsen, I can see the ice from a bird’s eye. I see all the details that get lost in satellite images. Small lakes, narrow channels; small ice islands in open water; ice floes that moved on top of each other. Sometimes it looks as if a gigantic crystal glass has broken into thousand pieces above the arctic waters. Beautiful geometry. Almost like abstract paintings that would fit perfectly in the Museum of Modern Art.

The Circumpolar Flaw Lead Study (CFL) started in October 2007 and will continue till august 2008. After that, the scientists will need about two years to analyze all the results, write scientific papers and summarize the CFL-results.

It’s too early yet for detailed scientific conclusions of the CFL-study. But something can be said already about the ice conditions in the Amundsen Gulf. The ice in the Amundsen Gulf is breaking up about a month earlier than usual. That’s even faster than was thought at the beginning of CFL. Over the recent years there seems to be a systematic trend towards later freezing and earlier melting. And the multiyear ice has become thinner, while it’s extent is shrinking too.

This fits into the picture of the state of the sea ice for the whole Arctic. Two days ago, on May 5 2008, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced that, to avoid beating the September 2007 record low ice extent in the Arctic, more than 50% of the first-year ice would have to survive the summer melting season. This happened only once in the last 25 years. On average only 30% of the first year ice survives the summer.

The available sea ice data point to another extreme sea ice minimum extent for September 2008.