The first thing you notice is the silence. Once the helicopter has disappeared over the horizon, the only sounds are the faint cracking of ice, and water as it finds its way between the floes. Whichever way you look, you can only see ice, which blends into the sky in the distance.
A few hours ago, a small group of us left the Polarstern by helicopter and were set down on an ice floe to collect samples. Before every helicopter flight, we first have to check the weather; what’s it like now, and what will it be like over the next few hours? Where are the nearest large ice floes that we can fly to? Does the planned departure time fit in with the work on deck? Once that has been checked, the helicopter is loaded: for every excursion, along with the instruments needed for taking samples, we also pack personal items like a tent, sleeping bag, camping stove and other utensils that might be necessary if we have to stay on the ice longer than planned.
Once we have arrived on the ice and unpacked our things, each of us sets about his or her task straight away. Alberto, who is on bear watch today, slings his rifle over his shoulder and keeps a constant lookout for polar bears. Melanie starts taking snow samples, while Daniel and Deonie collect ice cores from the floe. The samples will later be investigated for microplastic in the lab. Since the first waypoint on this year’s expedition to Fram Strait, we have been more or less surrounded by ice. This has made route planning and operating some of the equipment a challenge, and Deonie and Melanie are pleased to have the chance to collect samples at various locations. However, ice samples are only a part of the research conducted on microplastic and marine litter. As well as the excursions onto the ice, on board further samples are taken and observations made: while the OFOBS camera system films the ocean floor, the footage is examined for sunken litter. We search for microplastic in sediment samples, and a measuring device attached to the top of the ship allows us to determine the level of microplastic in the air. The ice and snow samples are a good addition and help give us an impression of the amount and distribution of litter and microplastic in the Arctic.
When all the samples have been collected on the ice floe and the snow flasks have been filled, we contact the pilot on the Polarstern. Shortly afterwards we see the helicopter approaching and we get into position; all our baggage is gathered together and secured for the landing. Just few minutes later the Polarstern comes into sight below and we prepare for landing. After spending time on the ice floe, where cracks can appear at any time and every step has to be taken carefully, it’s reassuring to have the hull of an icebreaker beneath our feet once again.