Greenland and other news

June 10, 2018

Over the past week we made great progress in our journey of the sea, surveying an eddy off the west coast of Greenland with repeated ADCP and CTD surveys to investigate in detail the structure and content of these dynamic water features. We also deployed 2 more APEX floats in the centre of the eddy.

During the last few days while we finished the Labrador Sea part of our cruise and had our mid cruise celebration, I had the chance to sort out my thoughts and go through notes of conversations with more of the people on board. One thing I realized is that I never mentioned the amazing crew and captain of the Maria S. Merian. Without their patience, experience and watchful eye neither the mooring work, nor our CTD stations would have gone as smoothly as they did.

Besides doing a great job manoeuvring the vessel around always changing CTD station plans, the watch officers are always happy to have us come up to the bridge to say enjoy the sunset or answer questions about the many instruments on board. The watch officer during my CTD shift is 2nd officer Sandra Schilling and she has been on board the Merian for just under a year. I think it is amazing to see women in these leading roles and I am glad I got to meet Sandra on this cruise. I asked Sandra if she misses being on land, since 8 month of the year she spends at sea, but Sandra told me she feels happiest at sea and at the end of her time on land she always feels excited to be back on board for the next voyage. Apparently the coolest thing about her job is to navigate in unchartered waters. Pun intended!

As the current week is coming to an end near the Cape Farewell, Greenland I am also ready to describe more of the great group of people I share this cruise with. I like interdisciplinary nature of our cruise. One of the scientists from Canada, fresh from finishing her honors thesis is Ciara Willis. Ciara described to me a lifelong passion for marine biology that started at age 4 inspired by conservation issues in Nova Scotia. Ciara recently finished a degree in Marine Biology and Statistics in which she took part in projects in both Canada and the US and is now on this cruise sampling nutrients and vitamins from the CTD casts to investigate microbial activity in the sea as part of a research project at her University.

Ocean microbes are poorly understood and hard to cultivate in laboratories. Because microbes have such a fast lifecycle and are at the origin of the food chain for all other large aquatic species it is key to understand changes in their habitat to adapt better to climate change. One of the cool features of microbes such as phytoplankton is that they are a source of oxygen in the water through photosynthesis similar to plants. I think it is amazing to think that microbes in the ocean can behave like plants on the surface of the earth. Ciara’s hobbies at sea include bird watching and reading. We are now closing in on the next and last part of our cruise which is to run CTD stations along Cape Farewell Greenland and then continue with the Eastern part of the OSNAP array, recovering moorings. The US research ship R/V Armstrong is also doing mooring recoveries in the vicinity and word has it we might even see each other in the coming days as a Rendevouz at Sea. Last December I already had the pleasure to visit this cool oceanographic research vessel and it will be exciting to see the ship in scientific action on the open seas!

June 15, 2018 – Greenland

Today we came close to the coast of Greenland at Cape Farewell. It was truly a special moment for us to stand on deck of our ship and see the ragged cliffs and mountains of this place. Living in St. John’s, Newfoundland one sometimes hears stories about Greenland and its presence is ominous on all maps being the world’s largest island and mostly covered by tall glaciers at points over a mile thick. However, there was something mystical seeing this small part of Greenland with my own eyes. It felt somehow untouched and removed from the bustling human activity. And yet Greenland is changing fast! It glaciers are receding and the landscape is shifting relieved by the enormous pressures exerted by ice at times older than mankind. Icebergs were present everywhere and we were able to watch a few as they drifted along the shore passing the cape.

Photo idea of binocular and cell phone: Johannes Karstensen
Joachim and iceberg by Sunke Schmidtko
It was windy! Photo credit: Penny Holiday

One of the researchers on our cruise Joachim Ribbe pointed out that 130 years ago a very famous Fridtjof Nansen also passed by this place on his way to the East Coast of Greenland to start his across country journey to Nuuk on the western part of the island – a journey on glaciers over 600 km long. I wonder what he thought then seeing this same place.

This brings me to my next portrait of our science group: Joachim Ribbe. In a way Joachim has already been introduced given that many of his pictures are shared on previous blog entries. Joachim is an environmental researcher from the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba, Australia – a small place in southeast Queensland on the east coast of the continent. It was a lot of fun to talk to Joachim who has quite a cool background having lived and travelled amongst Europe, Australia and South America doing a wide variety of oceanographic research including modelling radioactive dispersion in the oceans during the time of nuclear weapons tests.

He joined the cruise as part of a research grant provided by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to study changes in mode water formation in the subpolar North-Atlantic. However, Joachim sees this research also as an opportunity to document the various processes involved in collecting and verifying measurements in the ocean. Joachim, who for most of his research relies on published open access climate data is truly astonished by the amount of work involved in collecting sometimes a single data point among a vast expanse of waves. “It is a humbling experience to see where the data comes from we use in our ocean and climate models” said Joachim.

He hopes that his experience will help his students in his small university gain a wider exposure and maybe join other field expeditions: “I work at a small university and it can be hard to gain access to ships and boats to do this type of practical observing work. One of my students is actually going on a cruise next year and I think it will be great to share some of my experience on the Maria S. Merian with him and hopefully help him prepare for his cruise.”

Published by Glider Nicolai

Oceanographic Scientist working at Memorial University

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