It is a lot of people that ask us "why we are there?" and "what are you doing in the ice?" Well, of course we both have a special place in our hart for the Arctic, and it is our dream to be here and experience the life in the ice. But the main reason why we are here stuck in the ice with our boat Argelvor, is to do our job: assist scientist in their work.
We reshaped our boat Argelvor to be able to assist any requests for scientific sampling. We both have long experience in working with scientists in the Arctic, and after several years we have both come to know what it takes to support scientists in the field both according to logistics and to collect samples. Alan has been working as a logistic engineer in the Arctic for several years and I am educated as a Marine Biologist and has experience in supporting and servicing scientist in the field and in their work in the lab. On board we have therefore build a lab that make room for basic preparations for scientific samples; this including filtration of snow and seawater samples etc. We also have a -80 °C freezer on board for preservation of samples. This is especially important for all microbiological samples that require extreme low freezing degrees to preserve samples, especially for DNA and RNA analysis. To run a lab on board and to be able to keep the scientific instruments running we have both 12V and 220V power-supply on board. Our energy source comes from two windmills, 3 powerful solar panels and a 6.5 kW diesel generator from SDMO.
It is of course important to be able to report to the scientists during our samplings, so being in a remote place as we are, we have a satellite phone (Iridium phone) on board so we can send emails and make phone calls.
Cold and humidity are often a problem for electronic devices. Computers do not escape this rule... We have a Handheld computer – Algiz XRW that we have already tested during an expedition to the North Pole in 2012. This is our field computer, and it is definitely the best choice when working in cold and rough environment.
The Algiz is not only totally water-proof, incredibility resistant to the strong shocks we unfortunately have given to it, but its batteries also last for what seems forever when you know how equipment that runs on batteries don’t cope so well in low temperatures. We are depended on equipment that has good battery capacities and works fine in the cold, and the Algiz from Handheld computer as proven to be excellent in the conditions that we are working in, and we can rely on its functionality even at extreme conditions. It is now that you realize that many years have passed since the first great arctic explorers like Franklin, Parry and Nansen that traveled by ship to the Arctic. At that time they were going out to the unknown, with no maps, no way of rescue, just food supply and fuel for a year or more and let’s see how it goes. Now, we are still going with a ship with one year of food and fuel supply, but thanks to satellites and the Handheld computer, we are not alone anymore. This blog is updated thanks to it, we get weather forecast thanks to it via satellite phone, well, we can communicate with the outside world. We can also use the computer to read maps when sailing and connect it to scientific equipment.
Out on deck we have equipment to be able to make CTD (a device that gives us information of conductivity, temperature and density of the seawater), plankton net, and water samples. This makes it possible to assist for instance biologists or ornithologists, to mention a few, to work on board Argelvor while sailing. Of course, now that we are stuck in the ice, we can do the same sampling with these equipments by drilling and carve out a hole in the sea-ice.
We also wanted to make our localization in the ice in East Greenland possible for scientist to come and use our boat as a scientific base for their work. We have already had scientist on board from Ampère Laboratory and LGGE. They have made a successful field work using our lab on board and our logistic help to conduct their work in the arctic field. We are still, to this date sampling and filtrating snow samples for their research. Click on this link to read the scientists report of their work from Argelvor in March: http://www.osug.fr/l-observation/actualites-in-situ/pris-dans-les-glaces-sur-un-voilier-pour-etudier-la-microbiologie-polaire.html
What is most important to us is to make scientist happy, and to do the best we can to enable a successful sampling or assist the scientist in the best way possible. Sometimes with the condition out here it can be quite a challenge, but that is what is exiting and that is why we love our job!
This month we have dedicated our work to the International Research Institute of Stavanger (IRIS) to conduct an experiment out on the sea-ice. The goal is to mimic an oil spill and to see how the microbial communities will act during time by inducing changes due to oil exposure in an arctic environment. But don’t worry! We are not poring oil directly into the sea, this is an enclosed experiment totally under control, and no harm will be done to the environment during the experiment :)