PhD student Svenja Kohnemann had the adventure of a lifetime when she lived aboard the ice-breaking research vessel, Polarstern, for four weeks. Living and working in the company of scientists from an array of disciplines, she not only obtained essential results for her work in atmostpheric sciences, but also participated in others' studies of the Arctic world.
Bremerhaven (Germany), 6 June 2014:
Finally! Ropes away and full steam ahead towards the North Pole. I, Svenja, a PhD student in the Environmental Meteorology group of the University of Trier in Germany, am excited and nervous. The last weeks were complete chaos as our ‘old lady’, the 32-year-old icebreaker and research ship Polarstern of the Alfred Wegener Institute, had to undergo major repairs for the cruise to go ahead. Thus, timetables, personal questions, research projects and planned routes had to be changed at the last minute. But today, I am standing on the upper deck of my home for the next four weeks, steaming towards the Arctic, excited and happy about the adventure that awaits me.
One month later:
I am back in Trier. I have had one of the best times of my life and my dream has come true: I finally saw the beautiful environment I have been working with for the last five years. There was ice—tons of ice floes swimming on the ocean. Small ones and huge ones that we had to crash with the ship. I was one of the lucky few who were allowed to see the landscape from off the ship during excursions using the helicopter and zodiac raft. Both were totally different experiences, but both fantastically exciting, with ice spanning to the horizon wherever you looked. Also, a lot of wildlife could be observed on the ice, including all kinds of sea birds, ringed seals and polar bears…and also polar bears having seals for lunch.
In the meantime, on the ship, the 24-hour-a-day operation mode was in progress. The almost 50 crew members kept ship operations running smoothly and the same number of scientists were eagerly conducting their research. With my research focus on the atmospheric boundary layer, which is the lower part of the troposphere, I was the only scientist working in atmospheric sciences on that cruise. Despite this, I felt more than comfortable in my new four-week ‘family’ of oceanographers, biologists, geologists and crew members. It was always interesting and fun to help the others out, even if that meant sieving parts of the ocean floor, day and night, to look for worms and other benthic animals or cutting a one-meter soil core into one-centimeter-thick slices. Also, the search for dirty ice in the Arctic was an adventure and definitely not as easy as may be expected, as (thankfully or not) there is virtually none.
However, I was always happy when I could do my work as well. My research on the atmosphere was with a Doppler-wind lidar, which was used for the first time on a ship. With this instrument, I was able to measure vertical and horizontal profiles of wind, turbulence and aerosols by using an outgoing laser beam that was backscattered by the aerosol and cloud particles. This results in a change in the frequency of the light (the Doppler effect), which can be measured. In general, the lidar can operate with a maximum range of 10 km and operates at a wavelength of 1.5 μm with a pulse rate of 20 kHz.
Onboard the Polarstern, I installed the instrument on the starboard side of the upper deck. I measured 24 hours a day and 7 days per week. That meant short nights, tons of data, a lot of different weather and ice conditions and exciting results. The main region of focus for my research, the Fram Strait, is located between Greenland and Longyearbyen and is the principal zone where sea ice is exported out of the Arctic. This area and its wind profiles are of great interest for me, since the coupling of the ocean and sea-ice surface with the atmosphere above determines the wind-driven sea ice drift.
Me, back in the office, sitting in front of my computer for the next year. However, having these data means a lot. Measured data sets about the Arctic are rare, particularly over the ocean, but they are needed as reference data. Now, I can verify the regional climate model COSMO (German Weather Services) against the lidar data, as the representation of the atmospheric boundary layer in the Arctic is a major challenge for the model. The data collected will help to improve the model and obtain realistic simulations of weather situations.
In addition, these data serve as a driving data set for ocean-sea ice models, with which forecasts of the actual and future sea ice situation in the Arctic can be made. For example, in a previous study, I was able to calculate with one of these ocean-sea ice models (NAOSIM; North Atlantic/Arctic Ocean Sea Ice Model of the Alfred Wegener Institute) that the sea ice will be gone for the first time in autumn 2032. With results of this kind, we can better estimate and react to changes in the Arctic influencing our daily life in the future.
In the evenings:
Me, sitting in the kitchen, looking at pictures, remembering the awesome time, hoping for the best results ever and dreaming about me, Svenja, excited and nervous, boarding the Polarstern for another trip towards the Ice.
About the Author:
Svenja H. E. Kohnemann is working towards her PhD at the University of Trier, in the Environmental Meteorology group.