Rotten Fish and Beaver Vodka


Well this has been a strange and eventful phase in the SWERUS cruise. Mostly nothing involving science as we’ve been parked in an ice floe for nearly 2 weeks. Have been keeping amused with chores, cleaning, splitting cores, writing piston core manuals…

And we had Surstromming, the rotten fish in a can. Just a brilliant experience, smells a bit shit has to be said, the fish looks like it’s boiling when you open the can but actually appears remarkably fresh. We opted into it – not everyone joined – and we set a table in the helideck storage area with a big garage door to open for fresh air and a view aft. The fish is actually fine, salty and anchovy like. Fish and potatoes and bread and onions, beer and aquavit, rounded off by home made beavers ass vodka, created by steeping a gland from the beavers ass in a jam jar of vodka for a year and then diluting it with more vodka, apparently contains aspirin and tastes like it. (Poor beaver!!! Sue)

Last night we had the end of cruise dinner. Was just putting the finishing touches to bow ties for me and Tommaso when a big female polar bear turned up. She came right up to the ship and sniffed and rolled over and stood up and fooled around. She had a big gash on her leg but looked pretty ok, maybe a walrus fought back or a male bear or something. They had to drag us in to sit down and eat dinner.
Time confusion – aha we have to sync with Barrow time which is 8hrs different so, brilliant solution – we have the end of cruise party, stay up all night, have first breakfast at 8, go to sleep, put clocks back, get up 8 hrs later and have second breakfast. Complete genius!
Steaming for Barrow now and landing in Stockholm on the 24th so should be back morning of the 25th. Looking forward to green and maybe some sun if you have any left?

Pete, on Oden

Hugging the Holocene


We’re at around 150 deg east, north of the New Siberian Islands. In fact we just took a turn around Bennett Island which is the first sight of land since Norway, it looks a bit like Svalbard with an ice cap and glaciers. Currently steaming out of the Laptev Sea and into East Siberian Arctic Sea. Most of the last 10 days has been South of the ice front but yesterday we came back into it so we’re intermittently crushing our way through a beautiful landscape of pressure ridges and pure blue meltwater lakes. It’s nice to see it back but it does slow us down.
So this has been a big muddy learning curve, sampling, coring, pistons, slicing, methane analysis, O2, la la la! Mostly we’ve been taking short tubes of mud using the multi-core, 8 at a time, 15-40 cm-ish, simple operation but can take an hour or so to go from the surface to the bottom in 3000m seawater. That’s the easy bit, then we have to divvy them up to different people for methane, O2 etc. and also archive our own and then slice one which if you’re unlucky involves dividing 40 cm of mud into half cm sections putting a bit into a little vial and the rest into a bag. This is an arse! This takes place at designated stations (and opportunistic ones as well) so the last couple of days has seen a multi-core cast every 4 hours or so. This is also an arse as you don’t have time to sort out the mud from the last station before you hit the next one. Things have eased off with the return of the ice and the fact that the stations are further apart. Patrick Crill has given me his Louie Louie playlist, 28 versions of Louie Louie from Motorhead to Barry White. This is our core slicing soundtrack.
In addition sediment collecting I’m the underwater camera operator. We’ve got a GoPro in a metal housing that I’ve strapped to the corer to film the bottom. It’s awesome, you don’t know what you’ve got until you download it and then all these surprising things pop up. I now have 100+gb of underwater film – mostly shades of green and blue interspersed with moments of pretty exciting action and a brittle star snuff movie.
On our third attempt with the piston core I think we struck sedimentary gold. The first was thwarted when the shackle wouldn’t go through the pulley, the second landed on its own trigger weight, which Martin Jakobsson says never happened to him in 500 cores, it fell over and sucked up a load of crap from the seabed. Remembering this thing is 9m long and weighs well over a tonne! The third was text book. We appear to have recovered 4.5m down to what was the beach when the tide was much further out so 11000 years ago. 11000 years in 4 and a half meters of mud. We cored the holocene! Vladimir was impressed, he said (in heavy Russian accent) “No-one has done this in 15 years, you are the first of the new generation. The Germans tried but they only got 30 cm. They said it was not possible but we said maybe the arms are not connected to the shoulders but to the ass!” This is the translation of an apparently classic Russian insult. We felt like heroes and beer was consumed.
Having an awesome time, mostly grinning like a Cheshire cat, daily (more like hourly in most cases) thoughts:
I’m in the Arctic!
Look at that!
Polar bear!
It’s the Lomonosov Ridge!
We cored the Holocene!
I’m on Oden!

Hanging out with lovely, weird, eccentric, dedicated people
In the halls of my heroes.

Pete, on Oden

Stowaway parakeet?


So we’re still bashing our way through the ice, it’s like being on a very rough railway or on a plane in turbulence. Counterintuitive on a ship. Actually like the sleeper train to Penzance, we stop and sit for a bit and then back up (uncoupling the buffet car in Plymouth), then take a bit of a run up. Sometimes it takes a few backups to get through thick ice. The blue stuff seems to be harder multi-year ice that’s tough to get through and occasionally you glance at the nav screens that display speed and heading etc. and find that we turned around or we’re heading for the N Pole, I guess because we have to find an easier way through. This all looks like a lot of fun for the helm who gets to drive Oden like a dodgem rather than sitting looking at the autopilot. We’re running on 4 engines now so that means an (unconfirmed but still Holy Shit!) 50 to 60 tonnes of fuel a day.

We have the sub-bottom profiler running, it’s called a chirp and sounds like a very regular parakeet that gets more excited as the water gets shallower and cheeps more often. Right now it’s pretty deep and the chirp is kind of relaxed about it all, it’s also kind of useful on deck as after a while you get a good sense of how deep the water is.

My presentation went really well, lots of people were saying how much they enjoyed it. I think people just liked looking at pictures of green things so I had an advantage to start with. It was fun to do as well, I haven’t sat down and ordered my thoughts and some images for a while and it was nice to share stories of mud and hippo’s.

Loving this rollicking, rolling, bucking ship life. A couple of years ago I was reading these peoples journal articles, dreaming of fieldwork campaigns that involved icebreakers, Arctic voyages and deep sea cores, polar bears, snow scooters, rifles and hot water ice drills. Now I’m having breakfast with them, the scientists not the Polar Bears (and lunch and dinner and fika!) and discussing methane sampling, salinity profiles and the potential impact of a catastrophic thawing of gas hydrates on climate change. This is going to be one of those research trips that gets written about for years and is way past the pinching oneself end of the scale.
All in all having an awesome time and we haven’t even started doing the coring yet. Tomorrow is the first station and it’ll definitely be chaotic and muddy and cold and tiring and hopefully fun.

Post from Pete on Arctic icebreaker Oden

So here we are rumbling through the ice which is quite a strange thing. Oden is tootling along on 2 of 4 engines which I guess means that there is nothing particularly serious yet but crushing and grinding through ice pack just seems illogical in a ship. She bounces a lot and vibrates and gets knocked off course by the thicker floes and you can watch the cracks propagating away. There is no normal rolling as the ice makes the sea flat and it’s just calm and weird at the moment. Not complaining at all, it’s just it’s nothing like the never-stillness-sea we know. Ice also gets underneath and clanks around in the propeller for a bit which is super noisy if you’re on the aft deck which will be our usual working hang-out. Oops we just hit a big chunk of ice that made the whole ship shake and I had to go outside to have a look. There are some massive looking bergy bits and tabular icebergs on the horizon which should be interesting. The birds follow us to pick off the fish from our wake.

“Good afternoon people. We have a Polar Bear on the starboard side. Polar Bear on the starboard side, about 700 metres. Thank you.”

That was the best announcement yesterday. He lumbered away and hardly noticed us. Walrus too, but didn’t see that one, and birds and fish. Pretty much teeming with life. It’s just amazing and fascinating, you could sit and watch things go past all day, it’s such an alive place and a privilege to be here.

Magnetic North in Ottawa


Having brilliant art adventures with some brave and jolly Canadians – I’m leading a masterclass in Landscape Theatre for the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, Ottawa. Just how much fun is it possible to have with a big sheet of plastic, a bucket of water, 15 fearless artists and a beautiful green space?


Watching the sun arrive…


I’m stalking Pete on Facebook at the moment. His laptop has died in Svalbard and a replacement has to be shipped from Norway. Happily he’s tagged in lots of posts by his fellow Masters students. There he is, skiing across snowy wastes, getting his rifle training (beware the polar bears!), slithering into glacier crevasses on a rope, drinking Arctic beer in log refuges, silhouetted in the mouth of the most beautiful ice cave imaginable. And gradually the light in the pictures has changed, from blue-dark, to long-shadowed pink, to bright sparkling silver. Come home little brother, the sun has arrived in Cornwall too and the surf’s up…