On day 1, the ship left Kirkenes in Norway, heading into the eastern ocean. It was running north of Siberia’s shores a week later, alternating between young ice and open water.
“Coordinates: 81 o 24’N and 118 o 54E,” a cruse log read. “Below-freezing air temperature and strong winds remind about coming Arctic winter.”
The Arctic is one of the most remote areas that also experiences some of the most pronounced effects of climate change. Last week, a group of scientists embarked on a 40-day expedition to look closely at the changes in the Eastern Arctic Ocean.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks is leading the cruise, but 26 participants also include scientists from Russia, Japan, Norway and Denmark. Together, they are recording temperature, salinity and currents at different ocean depths and gathering water and ice samples for chemical analysis. The group met in Kirkenes, where they quarantined and boarded the research vessel Akademik Tryoshnikov. Just in a few days, they moved far enough to leave satellite communications range.
Rob Rember, who helped prepare for this cruise, said “It's always a relief when you plan for a year,” and then “the ship leaves the dock, and everybody's accounted for, everything's there.”
The first four days of the cruise, scientists were occupied by extensive preparations for observations, Dr. Laura Whitmore with UAF wrote in an email from the cruise. The campaign started when they reached the eastern Eurasian Basin and started taking measurements.
The group now has reached the end of their first section, taking water samples at nine locations along the expedition's track, said Hajo Eicken, director of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Whitmore wrote: “We had so much waiting leading up to this expedition with the quarantine and then a few days of transit before we could start our science. Because of that, the crew is largely feeling anticipation.”
On Thursday night, they got to their first scientific sensor that had been recording temperature, salinity and currents at different ocean depths for the past two years. Scientists also set out new equipment to recover more instruments anchored to the seafloor.
The cruise is a continuation of “a long, long-term monitoring project,” Rember said. It marks the 13th expedition to the Arctic Ocean led by the Nansen and Amundsen Basins Observational System since 2002, funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The overall goal is to paint a cohesive picture of climatic changes in the Eurasian and Makarov basins of the Arctic Ocean. The scientists have already started witnessing the ocean warming up, for example, based on the thickness of the ice
“Over the time that I've been going there, I've definitely seen the ice get thinner," Rember said. "That's not even through taking measurements — just from watching the ship transits definitely become easier over the years."
The other thing this project has looked at closely is the amount of Atlantic water entering through the Fram Strait, the passage between Greenland and Svalbard.
“What we've found in the past decade or two decades is that Atlantic water comes in pulses,” Rember said. He added that, overall, “The Atlantic water seems to be rising in the water column, coming closer and closer to the surface. By that I mean, it used to be about 150 meters, now it's 100 to 110 meters.”
With ice thawing, more and more of the ocean opens each summer. The sun directly heats open water surfaces, and in the wintertime, warmer water moves up and adds a little bit of heat.
“It's kind of a feedback, where one thing starts at and then it just keeps multiplying on itself,” Rember said.
This year’s expedition is mainly to understand the flux of the freshwater into the Arctic from the major rivers in Siberia, Rember said.
“While it's water coming out of rushing rivers, we're really measuring what's in the ocean, which is the end result of those rivers, and then how it will move across the Arctic after that,” Rember said. “We're really trying to get at how much water is there before it moves across the ocean into the Canadian Archipelago or the North Atlantic. We're kind of the upstream of that impact.”
To measure that, scientists will deploy a new batch of moorings at nine locations, so that by 2024 they can look at what had happened during the past three years. Right now, the mooring tech team is preparing for the work, Whitmore wrote.
“I would say that we are starting to find our routine,” Whitmore wrote. “We are encountering growing pains as we each find how our jobs interplay on the expedition. It has been nice to see how we are coming together into teams to get the job done!"