By Richard Jones, Durham University |
Huddled at the waterfront of Tromso, Arctic Norway, I joined a large group of fellow scientists for my first scientific cruise – actually, the first time on any form of boat for longer than a day – so 5 weeks at sea seemed daunting. I was both excited and anxious, but it was comforting to learn quickly that I was not the only one. Soon after gathering, we were all whisked away to the port, where we boarded the Polarstern and joined the ship’s crew.
Our first task was to find our 2-person cabins. They are small, but more than sufficient with en-suite toilet and shower. Exploring the ship’s many decks, I have found a gym, swimming pool, sauna, bar, library, lounge, and of course a dining mess. Food is naturally a big part of life on ships, and we are provided with 3 ample meals each day as well as afternoon coffee and cake. The food has been tasty and filling and is exactly what is needed for a polar cruise. An important lesson for day one, however: don’t sit at the officers’ table!
Hatches to the store are open for just half an hour or so, a few days a week, and provide much excitement. When the time comes, quick footsteps can be heard between decks as everyone rushes to buy treats. You need to buy drinking water, as well as coke and chocolate, which are arguably just as essential for morale as are bonded goods.
The Deutsch Welle and The International are the ship’s daily newspapers, providing a useful way to keep some contact with the rest of the world. They cover news in both German and English languages. As a guest on a German ship, I feel some responsibility to speak German when possible, despite most on board speaking very good English. Perhaps I can improve my very basic German skills by reading the Deutsch Welle.
A science meeting on the first evening highlighted to me how many different projects were on this cruise – groups are looking at ocean physics, glacier physics, marine and sea ice biology, Earth structure, and climate history, amongst others. The daily weather report is a great way to understand current conditions and hear what weather has yet to come. Our first at-sea weather report came with a warning: put away and strap down your possessions and equipment. As predicted, the next day a storm gave us 41-knot winds and 4-5 m high waves. As the waves get bigger, keeping balance becomes harder, and the ship’s corridors resemble the Ministry for Silly Walks in a Monty Python TV comedy show. My first 48-hours on the ship has been far from tranquil, but I am yet to get sea-sick.
Over the next few days we will head north and then west towards Greenland. Science activity will rapidly increase. My main role on this expedition is to collect rock samples from on land, but I will also help to map the ocean floor and collect mud, rocks, and sediments from the ocean floors that others will use to reconstruct past climate histories. This will be new for me, but it is always fun to learn. Can’t wait to get started!