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10 August, 2001

Of Bears and Men

Friday, 10 August 2001


Life on Board After our 9 am Go-Flow seawater sample (My official job now for these easy surface samples is to run the big A-Frame on the aft deck for the CTD team), I got the chance to go out on a snowmobile run with our gun instructor and security team member, Anders Gejer. The purpose of this trip was twofold: First, Anders wanted to scout downwind of the ship to look for bear signs, and second, I was to look for an open water lead where Johan Knulst could launch his surface layer sampling boat. I asked him at breakfast if there were any new specifications for the sampling site that he wanted me to check for and he replied, "No bears." The other security officer, PO Edvinsson, and our expedition leader from the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, Ulf Hedman, went out on skis on the upwind side of the boat to make sure the bear had really left the area. Out on our snowmobile run, we found a good open water lead for Johan then Anders stopped the snowmobile and listened in his headphones. "They woke up the bear," he said, laughing.

Where Are We Now?

We woke up to a cloudy, windless day. Light fog mixed with light snow made a completely gray, flat, featureless landscape most of the day. Early in the afternoon, a light wind came up, adding to the dreariness of the day. At 11 am our coordinates were 88o35' N by 3o34' E.

Scientists at Work

A polar bear can ruin your whole day. After breakfast this morning, Mike Jenson walked his balloon out from its hangar on the helideck to his huts on the ice and the meteorological guys walked out to the Main Mast to work. The polar bear reconnaissance skiers had just left on their rounds. Apparently, they skied around the sleeping bear before they were aware of its presence. Finding themselves with a polar bear between them and the ship, they tried to sneak past it to return to the ship but ended up waking it up. This was the same big bear that had visited us yesterday. I guess it hadn't wandered off, but just had found a comfy snow hollow to sleep in. Shortly after we returned from scouting, our visiting bear, awake and refreshed, was walking around again and the call went out that the scientists had to come back in. Mike didn't want to leave his balloon tethered to the winch out at the ice camp because it might be extremely interesting to a bear, so he walked it back in and put it back in its hangar. The meteorological crew was recalled, too, so everybody ended up back on the ship. The expedition leaders are being very careful to ensure the safety of everyone onboard as well as the safety of the Arctic wildlife.

About 1 pm, we heard that the bear was coming closer to the ship so everybody went out on the decks to watch. The bear was on the opposite side of the ship from the ice camps and it made a really big, lazy circle around the back end of the ship and meandered towards the ice camps with all of their equipment. I was taking a video out on Deck 4 when the ship suddenly blew the REALLY LOUD foghorn to try to scare the bear away. Yikes! The bear started running and I almost did, too. It only ran a few paces then turned again to check out all of that interesting equipment. At this point, the helicopter team went into action and they were flying within a few minutes.

After the helicopter helped the bear decide to find another place to hang out, they were allowing scientists back on the ice with the warning that they might have to leave their equipment if it comes back into the area (Our security team said it is a really slow bear so they would have plenty of warning). Johan Knulst (Sweden), Jussi Paatero (Finland), Brian Thompson (U.S.), and I (U.S.) loaded up the snowmobiles with both surface sampling boats and had the security team take us out to an open lead about a kilometer away. We ran both boats for a couple of hours, collecting surface layer samples automatically in bottles on each boat as they skim the surface of the water. Unfortunately, when Johan was lifting the small boat out of the water, its full sample bottle hit the edge of the ice and slipped out of the holder, falling 4 kilometers to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. The hazards of science in the Arctic!

Vi ses! (See you later!)

From Deck 4 on the Icebreaker Oden, drifting far away,

Dena Rosenberger

Paty Matrai taking a seawater sample from the Go-Flow bottle on the aft deck.

That's me at the surface sampler controls while Brian Thompson looks on. We have to wear life jackets whenever working near an ice edge. It looks like we are just standing by a river but it is actually 4 kilometers deep (about two and a half miles).

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