The realities of Arctic research

By Pete Davis

Over the last few days the news coming back from the Nares Strait has been nothing but good. The science team has managed to recover the majority of the ADCP and TS moorings (which hopefully will have recorded data effortlessly for the last three years), the CTD sections are being successfully completed (which give us the most detailed picture of the hydrographic properties in Nares Strait, albeit only as a snapshot), the ship has managed to make it into Petermann Fjord (whilst dodging an ice island the size of Manhattan), and there has been success in servicing the met stations that have deployed in the region. However, although this may give the impression that Arctic research is relatively “easy”, don’t be mistaken!

Running concurrently with the cruise to Nares Strait on the CCGS Henry Larsen, a second ship, the CCGS des Groseilliers, was tasked with recovering three moorings in Cardigan Strait which had been deployed in 2009, whilst transiting though the region on it’s resupply mission to Eureka (a small scientific research base on Ellesmere Island at approx. 80 degrees north). However, a couple of days before I was due to leave the UK and fly to Quebec City, we received an email from the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Regional Arctic Operations Centre informing us that the des Groseilliers had been delayed much further south due to extreme ice conditions in Frobisher Bay. As a result the crew change flight, which was meant to take Dave Spear and myself along with the new CCG crew to the ship in Resolute Bay, was rescheduled to fly into Iqaluit on Baffin Island where we could join this ship. We would then wait in the area for a approximately a week to 10 days before hopefully navigating our way out of Frobisher Bay and heading north to complete the fieldwork.

However, this was not the last of it! A few days later another email arrived from the CCG to inform us that instead of us joining the ship in Iqaluit they instead wanted us to join the ship in Resolute (as originally planned), but 10 days later on August 18th. Unfortunately, after a flurry of emails between Dave, myself and Humfrey Melling (who was onboard the Larsen at the time), it was concluded that it made no sense for either Dave or myself to travel to the Arctic, and Humfrey would crew the ship with some of the science team currently on the Larsen.

Despite the disappointment I felt from no longer going to the Arctic, this is the harsh reality of Arctic research. The region is so remote and unforgiving that any logistical plans are likely to change at very short notice, and you have to be prepared to be flexible. Flights to and from the Arctic are extremely expensive and we may well have learnt our lesson the hard way, and it is better to spend a little more on refundable/changeable tickets, or to wait until you know an exact date before you book anything! Hopefully the insurance claims will help recover some of the lost costs!

Nevertheless, fingers crossed that as and when the des Groseilles does makes it up to Cardigan Strait the moorings are easily recovered and, along with the moorings from Nares Strait, they have recorded three years of good quality data. It is, at the end of the day, this data that is the reason for all the detailed planning and expense that goes into these research cruises, and it is the success of their recovery that determines the overall success of the cruise – not whether you get to go to the Arctic or not!!.

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