August 8, 2018

Troubleshooting in the dark

Our flight to Longyearbyen was a little delayed, and all ~40 of us arrived there around 1:15 in the morning on July 30.

Once we got off the plane and retrieved our luggage, we boarded a tour bus that took us down the road to a small harbor where we waited for a small boat to take 5-6 of us at a time to Oden, since the harbor was too small for such a big, icebreaking ship.

I was in one of the last groups to catch the boat, so I walked around the area and took some photos.

View of the road back towards the airport, taken at 1:59 in the morning.

The following day (July 31) was spent getting reoriented on the ship, and getting instruments running and ready in the labs.

That evening a few of us took small-boat shuttles back to the harbor and walked into the town of Longyearbyen. On my walk, I stopped by a grocery store to buy souvenirs, candies and chocolate, as well as the neighboring brewery for my last beer on land.

View of Oden from the small boat on its way to the harbor, taken at 6:48 in the evening.

The following day (Aug 1) at 1:02 in the afternoon, a pilot boarded Oden to navigate us through the straits near Longyearbyen, and out to the Greenland Sea on the western side of Svalbard.

As the ship moved, my troubleshooting began, which involved testing a variety of things and solving a number of small problems that presented themselves. Since this is the first expedition that I’ve been on without having a supervisor on board, it was and is my responsibility to resolve any instrumental issues by troubleshooting.

However, I do have the capability to email my lab’s technician, Olivia, who is an expert with all of our instruments, or my supervisor, Elizabeth, who is the principal investigator of my Arctic project. Unfortunately, though, I quickly learned that for some reason my institute’s email server thinks my shipboard email is spam, so I wasn’t able to exchange emails with Olivia or Elizabeth until yesterday (Aug 7) evening! Over the past week, I truly was troubleshooting in the dark.

To take breaks from my troubleshooting, I’ve gone up to the bridge to get a nice view, as well as to focus on reading and writing. A few days ago I began reading The New Yorker’s “The white darkness: A solitary journey across Antarctica,” which seemed fitting for many of the white out days we’ve had so far, despite being about the other polar region.

At the start of our Arctic expedition, a quote from that reading stood out to me, which was actually taken from Shackleton’s The heart of the Antarctic, and it is as follows:

Men [and women] go out into the void spaces of the world for various reasons. Some are actuated simply by a love of adventure, some have the keen thirst for scientific knowledge, and others again are drawn away from the trodden paths by the ‘lure of little voices,’ the mysterious fascination of the unknown.

I’d say that quote probably resonates with everyone on this expedition, scientists and crew alike.

In addition to taking solitary breaks from work, I’ve also enjoyed the company of the people on board, who I’ve shared many delicious meals with so far, as well as coffees, teas and hot cocoas, and an occasional drink at the bar (once our work is done, of course!).

We’re making ripples into the void spaces of the world, taken on Aug 4 at 1:50 (GMT) in the afternoon.

My lab space is in good shape after a week of troubleshooting, taken Aug 7 at 1:53 (GMT) in the afternoon, while analyzing melted sections of a sea ice core for alkalinity and dissolved CO2.

Hopefully by the next time I write you, we will have reached the Pole. Whether we make it there or not, it’s nice and cool up here at 86.75°N :)