My plane ticket to Alaska is booked for August 3. In less than two weeks I will trade in my surf boards and bikinis for steel-toed insulated boots and a parka. I’m in the process of shutting down my life in Santa Cruz for the next 2.5 months – organizing a sublet for my apartment, throwing out jars of questionable pasta sauce in the back of my refrigerator, finding a place to store my car, canceling Netflix, making sure my bills are on auto pay. I bought a window fan this week to cool my apartment on an unusually hot central California day; the irony hit me as I was paying at the checkout counter, heat won’t be an issue for the rest of summer while I’m walking on ice sheets and sailing through chilly Arctic waters.
The international GEOTRAES program is sending three ships to the Arctic Ocean this summer led by U.S., Canadian, and German scientists. Each team will study a different part of the Arctic basin and cruise paths will intersect at two different stations to check the reproducibility of our results. This is a historic expedition, one that will generate the largest dataset of trace elements ever collected in the Arctic Ocean. These three cruises are the fruition of planning efforts spanning three years, but already things have been shaken up. The German GEOTRACES expedition, which departs August 16, was recently denied clearance to work in Russian waters forcing the team to redraw their original station plan. Science operations are currently at a stand-still on the Amundsen, an ice breaker operated by Canada’s Coast Guard that left port on July 10 carrying the Canadian GEOTRACES team. Shipping channels near the Hudson Bay coast have been locked up by ice and residents there are quickly running out of fuel and supplies. The Coast Guard has decided to put all science operations on hold, changing course and heading back to the Baffin Islands to help break ice so commercial supply ships can pass through. The U.S. team has been warned of crowded hotels and backed-up parcel deliveries in Dutch Harbor, Alaska where our ship will depart on August 9th – Shell is moving in personnel and supplies to prepare for drilling operations that will begin this summer. We can always hope for the best, but when it comes to oceanography our success is often measured by how able we are to adapt.