Surprise visitors for the Canadian team

Live from the Arctic: Three adult polar bears circle the Amundsen and the researchers onboard reflect on the bears and their own fate in the light of climate change.

AshleyMy name is Ashley Elliott and I am a Masters student at the University of Manitoba studying at the Center for Earth Observation Sciences (CEOS). I am co-supervised by Dr. Feiyue Wang and Dr. CJ Mundy and as their graduate student I have been afforded the opportunity to experience the beauty of the Arctic through fieldwork. My graduate work has been focused on understanding how algae cope with increasing levels of ultraviolet radiation in a sea ice environment. Currently, I am bringing my field and laboratory experience to the Amundsen to assist with air, water and ice sampling along with mercury analysis on board.

Travelling from Winnipeg, MB to Sach’s Harbour, Northwest Territories was a far journey that took Kang and I across many beautiful landscapes. It is difficult to appreciate how far we have come to be here, because it felt like we were on board the Amundsen in the blink of an eye!

Three commercial flights and a helicopter whisked us onto the ship. On arrival we tried to have quick meeting with our team member, Wen, who we were coming to replace. She was waiting to show me my workspace and how everything worked before she took the helicopter back to Sach’s Harbour.

Ashley (green hard hat) and Priyanka (white hard hat) get to work collecting sea ice samples.

Kang and I have been on board the Amundsen just over a week now and I am beginning to understand how things work out here. Things either move very slowly or very quickly. On our first day of transit we stopped to do a test run with the equipment we use to collect water for mercury samples and other trace metals being sampled in the GEOTRACES program. After a few adjustments and references to the trusty operation manual, the test run was a success. We were set to collect our first set of samples the next day.

The 24 hours leading up to our first sampling destination dragged on as we were excited to get started.  Then, 24 hours were extended to 36 hours due to fog. So we waited. I was woken up at around midnight the next evening to start sampling. Everyone rushed to get ready to start collecting samples.  To our dismay there was a malfunction with important sensors on our sampling instrument and all sampling was delayed for the next 18 hours. And so, again, we waited. Things have carried on this way ever since, with a lot of waiting around while remaining ready to jump into action at any hour. Luckily, we have completed all planned stations with success. We were even able to do some opportunistic ice sampling that is always exciting.

Three adult polar bears swim in the waters around of the Amundsen west of Banks Island, far from land or ice. Photo credit: Lauren Candlish.

At our last station we had the most unlikely visitors swim up to the ship 100 miles from land or ice. Three adult polar bears were circling the ship, obviously as interested in us as we were with them since they tracked us down after we steamed a few miles off. The endurance of these animals is beyond belief. It caused me to reflect on how truly remarkable it is that these mammals can survive, and even thrive, where any human would quickly perish. Many of us were saddened by their visit, worrying about the fate of these bears. We reflected on the disappearing ice in our great North and the effects that it is having on these top predators that rely on sea ice to hunt. What were they doing so far from land and ice? I like to think that we would be underestimating these incredible creatures to think that they are lost and wounded. They look as though they are exploring the boundaries of their knowledge just as we are. Perhaps we should reflect on how easily we will be able to adapt to climate change. We are so entrenched in a system reliant on fossil fuels to sustain us I believe we will have a greater difficulty acclimating then these resilient creatures.

Read our full coverage of the GEOTRACES cruise:

Tough instruments on the CCGS Amundsen

Update CCGS Amundsen: Bon voyage GEOTRACES!

Live blog: Mercury in the Arctic Ocean