Sounds of the planet

Acoustic remote sensing and its uses in underwater environments

23 July 2014 - Hump day

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📥  From the field

A few days ago, it was already “hump day”. This is a custom taken from long surveys on ships, where people use the analogy of the camel hump to mark the days “up”, toward the middle of the survey, or the hump, and the days “down”, where each day takes us closer to the end, but also to the return to normal life, to family and loved ones, to the favourite pub down the road or to the comforts of home and the choice of our own food or our own entertainments.

In the past, I have been on rather long surveys, for two months or more, and “hump day” is often marked by a more or less official (and more or less unbridled) celebration. Here, this is more of a muted affair. First, because our team of three is the only one for which this is “hump day”: the others are here for longer, or shorter, or started at different times. Second, because we luckily get on well together, and the Polish Polar Station is much more homely than a deep-sea vessel. I love going on ships, and the excitement of scientific discovery as we survey new grounds is hard to surpass. But one must admit that, after a while, we are still all bundled together for several weeks in very confined spaces, with hard work and very limited entertainment. And it’s impossible to “step outside” to be alone, or oneself, for a change.

Front entrance to the Polish Polar Station. The arrows point to features of interest: Biegun (North Pole = 1,452 km) = , Arctowski (South Pole) = 16,252 km, Longyearbyen (the nearest settlement) = 136 km. The mast is decorated with a knitted Polish flag: guerilla knitting taken to extreme latitudes.

Front entrance to the Polish Polar Station. The arrows point to features of interest: Biegun (North Pole = 1,452 km) = , Arctowski (South Pole) = 16,252 km, Longyearbyen (the nearest settlement) = 136 km. The mast is decorated with a knitted Polish flag: guerilla knitting taken to extreme latitudes.

The Polish station has access to the outside world: I can Skype with my family on a regular basis, receive and send emails and we also have access to satellite TV. Granted, the network speed is very slow: I sometimes see letters appearing on the screen 5-15 seconds after typing them, and Skype conversations often have to be audio-only because of the limited bandwidth. The satellite connection is sometimes down when the weather turns bad, or when the connection at the other end fails to recognise internet addresses (“bath.ac.uk: host cannot be resolved”). But this is still better than no connection, and being cut off from the rest of the world for months on end. We can follow the heat wave in Europe (and feel very happy for our own “heat wave”, with temperatures as high as 5 degrees), and other international affairs.

And, contrary to ships, the fact we do not work on shifts means we have more freedom to get a break every now and then. The Station has a well-stocked bookshelf. Most of it is in Polish, obviously, but there are other books given by visitors over the years, in other languages. A book by Julian Dowdeswell (a famous polar explorer and scientist, now based in Bristol) is on the same shelf as “The Guide to Mammals and Birds from Svalbard”, from the Norwegian Polar Institute, not to be confused with “The Guide to Flora and Fauna from Svalbard”, translated from Polish and giving the best directions for collecting and storing specimens, from plankton to parasites to larger sample. The TV is often switched on in the communal area, allowing us to see Harry Potter (in Polish), Iranian children’s programmes (one of the scientists here is learning Farsi in his spare time), or any satellite channel we please. Obviously, with the pace of work I haven’t had much time to watch it much (a few minutes at most). But, like the Opera in Sydney, knowing it’s there if you want to access it always makes us feel better.

Another factor that makes life better, even if working hard and being away from home for long, is the food. Here, we are lucky to have two chefs (Piotr and Daria), helped by a few scientists on roster duty each day. The food is varied, appetising, and includes both traditional Polish fare (from beetroot juice to beetroot soup to varied types of sausages) and different offerings (Chinese food two days ago, pancakes this morning, and even homemade pâté two weeks ago). The meals are set on the communal table, sitting 20 people at a time (there are often two sittings, when everybody is here) and leftovers are available in the fridge, for evening dinners (at no fixed time, although we all tend to meet around the coffee machine around 8-9 pm) and anytime cravings.

 

 

22 July 2014 – Pulled under by a mini-tsunami

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📥  From the field

7 am: The weather has cleared up and we can start field work again. According to Internet, we are in the sunshine. According to my own eyes, the clouds are still very low and all grey from one end of the horizon to the next. This morning, the beach was littered with small and big icebergs. Their clinking noise could be heard even from the base, 200 m away. After piling all the equipment in the boat,  we are going back to Hans glacier, first to set up the stereo cameras on the hill overlooking it, second to get more underwater measurements. After the rain of the last days, the glacier has melted a bit more, and there is a lot of ice, including blue ice, everywhere around (blue ice is more compressed ice, coming from the base of the glacier).

9 am: Just as we approach the beach, a loud bang can be heard, and we turn back in time to see parts of the glacier falling off. We have seen that before, and it is always spectacular. As blocks of ice fall into the water, they create long waves, which do not seem that bad from our place. We use the first ones to help haul the boat onto the beach. And then the big one comes in … It looms large very quickly, bringing a 5-tonne iceberg too close for comfort … And then the gravel below my feet is pulled down, and I feel sucked into the water deeper than I expected … Luckily, the Arctic immersion suit is once again very useful …

I should have known: mini-tsunamis are a common risk near glaciers, and like other tsunamis, their height increases as they reach shallower water. Here in this fjord, the seabed is very steep, so the waves increase only very close to the shore. In other places in the Arctic, they can crash big icebergs onto structures or small harbours (when the places are settled).

Not very fetching, but it does the job: the Arctic immersion suit is ideal for very cold water.

Not very fetching, but it does the job: the Arctic immersion suit is ideal for very cold water.

10 am: The stereo cameras were easy to set up, with practice, and we will gather pictures every 5 seconds for the several hours to come. During this time, we’ll be drifting with the freshwater outflow from the glacier, measuring the noise underwater and finding ourselves in the middle of a very large and noisy ice flow.

Ice, ice everywhere ... and we are in the thick of it, drifting for several hours in cold wind ...

Ice, ice everywhere ... and we are in the thick of it, drifting for several hours in cold wind ...

Icebergs, icebergs everywhere … We have to push the pointiest ones away from the rubber tubes of our boat. Icebergs make clunking noises as they move below the aluminium hull, or big thumps when colliding with us (more or less gently).

11am : we get close to a very nice iceberg, made of blue ice and roughly 15 m large. Sea gulls use it as a vantage point, and it has already started to melt in a variety of interesting shapes. The seabirds turn around us with interest, before flying back to their resting place. We take the paddles out to move away (without too much noise: this would be bad for the measurements), and a few minutes later, this iceberg capsizes several times … Lucky escape …

A big blue iceberg: it will capsize violently (and noisily) ten minutes later. The watching seagull at the top will be unfazed, and use the occasion to dive for more fish.

A big blue iceberg: it will capsize violently (and noisily) ten minutes later. The watching seagull at the top will be unfazed, and use the occasion to dive for more fish.

1 pm: The rest of the measurements get by without excitement, as we get colder and colder despite our warm clothing. The walk up the hill to recover the cameras is a good way to warm up (I am on polar-bear watch and carry the rifle and emergency radio, fortunately not too heavy).

3 pm: Back to the shore. Someone is waiting for us to point at a relatively less dense group of icebergs. With Grant, we jump down in the water for the last few metres, moving the icebergs by hand away from the boat so that we can beach it safely. We are back in time for a good lunch, and can relax later to the sound of Mozart on an old vynil from the station’s collection, in the communal room. Then it will be back to work, downloading the data, checking the dozens of emails that accumulated at work back in our respective institutions, and preparing for tomorrow’s deployment. The network is slow again (kilobytes/second) and most connections do not work well … Typing letters. I see them on the screen 5-10 seconds later …

Midnight:: The autonomous recorder is now ready for tomorrow, and we cleaned our hands from the lubricant used to waterproof all the joints and connections. Time for more work: the rain outside looks suspiciously like sleet but I am not going to investigate. It’s warm and cosy inside.

 

 

20 July 2014 – The wild side of Arctic life

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📥  From the field

Conditions in the Arctic vary rapidly, and local ecosystems are very simple (no rodents or hares, for example, in this part of Svalbard) (no worms, no slugs, but a few insects). There are many other animals around, though, and they are mostly unaware that humans can cause a threat. In the case of polar bears, this is justified … (and before anyone asks, no, I have not seen a bear yet: just a pawprint on the beach once, and that’s as far as I am keen to go …)

The bay we are on is called Isbjjørnhamna, after the ice-breaker “Isbjørn” used in early 20th century expeditions. It also means the bay of the polar bears, and Jarek tells me that this is often used in winter by bears migrating from eastern to western Svalbard. The area was used by Norwegian hunters until the 1950s (when the station was built). Polar bear hunting is banned since 1973 in Svalbard, and only self-defence is allowed. Some bears are said to cross the ice-covered seas in winter to move all the way to Greenland … Impressive!

The Polish Polar Station has two big Arctic dogs, used to extreme weather and sometimes seen lazily soaking up the mist on the cold tundra, in the same way that dogs back home would soak up the sun on the lawn. They are used to warn of bears, although I was told one was eaten by a polar bear a few years ago … There are also plenty of geese, roaming around with a few fluffy chicks and being very protective. The first night, I heard a commotion outside before going to bed, and saw an Arctic fox running away with something small in its mouth, being pursued for a few metres by some angry geese. With seabirds, this is apparently their primary food source during the summer, and the local guidebook assures me they have plenty of food in this season.

Other animals roaming happily around us are reindeers: three of them can be seen happily munching on anything that grows, from lichen to moss to a few clumps of grass or even flowers. They are not disturbed by humans walking around, and they come and go at leisure around the bay.

One of the reindeers roaming around the station. Left and in the mist: Wilczekodden Peninsula, with its cross and open-air altar, erected in 1982.

One of the reindeers roaming around the station. Left and in the mist: Wilczekodden Peninsula, with its cross and open-air altar, erected in 1982 by the station's personnel

Seabirds come in all sorts, from black guillemots to eiders (I saw one flying across our boat this morning, or at least I think it was one), and little auks, nice small black-and-white birds with a short beak. Several of the scientists working at the station study them: the birds have one chick per brood, and one brood per year. Both parents take equal care of raising their young, often with the father staying in the nest after hatching whilst the mother moves around.  The scientists study prolactin, the hormone regulating bonding behaviour, and stress hormones. They could tell me everything about these birds’ migration patterns too: they travel to the deep sea far away, where they gorge on plankton …

Arctic geese in the mist – The weather turned to cold rain in the space of a few hours …

Arctic geese in the mist – The weather turned to cold rain in the space of a few hours …

 

 

18 July 2014 – Zip-Lock and Duck Tape

📥  Uncategorized

 

Science at sea is always full of improvisations. This is even more true here, in Svalbard, where the nearest shop is several hundreds of kilometres and several days of sailing away. So we have to make do with what we have brought with us, or what is already at the station. The Directional Acoustic Buoy (DAB) that Grant built is using two hydrophones to track sounds underwater and see where they come from. We have decided to use three hydrophones, and my trusty B&K-8103 is seeing the sea for the first time (it is usually safely in the acoustics lab at Bath).  To add it, we used a yellow coat-hanger (note to myself: remember to put it back in the cupboard before leaving the station). And plenty of Duck Tape. We checked the calibrations, and it all works fine, even if it is not the most elegant.

Tried and tested in the 2013 Arctic field season, the Directional Acoustic Buoy built by Grant is now upgraded with a third hydrophone (my small B&K-8103, next to the yellow coat-hanger)

Tried and tested in the 2013 Arctic field season, the Directional Acoustic Buoy built by Grant  (pictured) is now upgraded with a third hydrophone (my small B&K-8103, next to the yellow coat-hanger)

Duck Tape is in great favour with marine scientists: I have used it, and seen it used, in most other field trips before, from deep-sea expeditions near hydrothermal vents to the previous Arctic trip. We also use it in the lab.

Zip-Lock bags are another great favourite: they keep dry everything going remotely near the water, or just staying in the open for a while. Our stereo cameras are wrapped with such bags, and all top-side connections for our computers and equipment going on the boat are in Zip-Locks too.

But there are other ways to reuse old material … We need an anchor to weigh our autonomous recorder when the weather improves, and the best way will be to use old tracks from the amphibious vehicle. A bit rusted, but the right dimensions, and definitely the right weight. Small problem: the pins are totally rusted, and need to be sawn out … The things we have to do as experimental scientists …

Creating an anchor

Jarek finds a good use for old tracks from the amphibious vehicle, and prepares them to create a new anchor.

 

16 July 2014 - More about the experiments

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📥  From the field

Last time, I talked at length about the science, and why we are here. But it's not all work in the field. Arctic weather changes fast, and even the best forecasts (using data from the weather station 100 m away) are not as accurate as local scientists. By looking at the wind and the sea, they can predict much more accurately when it is worth going out, when we should think about going back home in a hurry, or when we can carry on ... Sometimes, in a bright blue sky, Jarek will say: "OK, in 30 minutes, we should start back". And once we have cut short the experiment, and started going home, we already see fast winds and increasing waves moving in ... That's field experience worth listening to.

When the weather is not as good, or just when we have plenty of iceberg samples to study in detail, we do experiments using two setups. Mine is simple, with a small tank and a high-precision hydrophone to record the noise from an iceberg as it melts, from start to finish. We keep our samples in the station's deep freezer, at -23 degrees (Celsius). The cook nicely put the frozen fish to one side, and we have the other half for all sorts of icebergs, cleanly packed and well separated.

Grant Deane, our American colleague (but originally from New Zealand), has designed and built a separate rig to take high-speed photographs of small samples of ice as they melt, and to record the very short bursts of noise they make each time a bubble escapes, or something else noisy happens.  To hold the tiny samples, Jarek Tegowski built a special holder, which adapts to the melting as the samples become smaller and smaller and smaller.

Combined visual/acoustic studies

Grant Deane (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), calibrating the visual/acoustic high-speed rig he built.

 

14 July 2014 – Starting the science

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📥  From the field

The last two days have been very busy, starting with the first experiments and really testing our equipment for good.

Ice flow

Small and large icebergs flowing out from Hans glacier

Being in the field is always very nice, although life back home carries on as usual. The deadline for submitting papers to an international conference was today, and I finalised a paper with colleagues from Aberdeen and Liverpool on acoustic monitoring of impacts from marine renewable energies. Through several deployments in the challenging waters of Orkney, we tested devices and control areas at the European Marine Energy Centre and used different types of sonar to detect and track marine life, including seabirds (also seen on radar and confirmed by very experienced visual observers).

But what are we going to do here? Yes, we are going to listen to underwater noise from ice, and from glaciers. But why? And who cares? What are the reasons for this work, and how will it be applied later?

Noise underwater spans a large range of frequencies. The lower ones (a few tens of Hertz) can propagate for hundreds or even thousands of kilometres. They correspond to earthquakes or similar natural processes. The higher ones (up to several hundreds of kiloHertz) correspond to animal vocalisations (e.g dolphins) and man-made sonars. In the middle, there are all sorts of sources of noise: natural ones, like the weather (rain falling on the sea surface, waves crashing in the wind) or animal life (whales, fish, even shrimps), and artificial ones like sonars, industrial activities (seismic surveys, offshore building) or divers using acoustic modems. How much noise is there in the ocean already? How much can we make before becoming “noisy neighbours”?

We have answers to some of these questions, with emerging international standards and work done by different technical committees (e.g. the British Standards Institution in the UK: I am there as member of the Centre for Space, Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, University of Bath). But we do not know that much about what is happening in polar regions, because of their remoteness, and because of the very difficult conditions in which the measurements have to be made. Going to Svalbard in 2007, we showed how environmental processes and weather could be unravelled from noise from icebergs. People knew icebergs were very noisy, but not at frequencies as high as the ones we listened to (well into the ultrasound). So we decided to investigate this a bit more. We created artificial icebergs in the lab (that was fun), using different techniques. But nothing beats the real stuff: so more data was collected in the Arctic in 2009, in a fjord with lots of ice and in a fjord with no ice at all. Both sets of recordings were done in very flat seas, so we would have expected to have very little noise. In fact, the recording in the place full of ice was as noisy as if the sea state was 4 Beaufort (rather rough). So we knew the ice was really noisy, and we did some more measurements with the real stuff: tank experiments with small ice blocks carried back from Svalbard in 2012, field measurements in summer 2013 and this summer.

Bubbles in icebergs

Seen from up close, glacier ice contains a lot of small bubbles. When exposed to the air, they create loud noises that we can detect underwater.

Understanding the sources of noise, and putting numbers on how loud ice can be, at what frequencies, will help many other people. If glacier environments are very loud already, this might help assess how certain types of human activities will impact the environment. With the noise coming from the ice, we can measure how many small ice blocks there are (they are usually small enough to be very hard to detect with ship radar when sailing in icy waters, but large enough to create damage to the ships). With the noise coming from the glaciers, we can detect when they are melting (even if no one is nearby), how they are melting, and how much fresh water they contribute to the salty oceans (too much fresh water will kill zooplankton, near the base of the local food chain).

This is why we will listen to these different types of noise, using acoustics underwater, assessing where the noise comes from, and how we can explain specific processes (e.g. the noise created by air bubbles trapped in the ice), but also how the noise from glaciers is working.

 

11/12 July 2014 – The Polish Polar Station

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📥  From the field

We arrived late last night … or was it already the morning? At this latitude (77°00.0’N), the full polar day lasts from 24 April to 18 August, and we cannot see any difference between night and day. This means it is very easy to work as much as we want, or as much as we can. The first day is spent unpacking all the boxes of equipment, settling in the half-workshop we share with an oceanographer from the University of Wroclaw, and settling in the station itself.

Polish Polar Station

Entrance to the Polish Polar Station, Hornsund Fjord. In our honour, our flags have been added to the Polish and Norwegian flags. A very nice attention ...

The Polish Polar Station is named in honour of Stanisław Siedlecki, famous polar explorer and geologist, and one of its founders in 1957. It is inhabited by a permanent crew, spending 13 months on site and overlapping for 1 month with the next year’s team. With the summer complement of scientists, the station can quickly become very crowded. We are around 30 people, although it is difficult to count as some people spend the day in the field, go out for several days or weeks, or come back briefly for a day or two. The geographers are for example leaving in a few days for a hut 15 km away along the fjord, whereas some ornithologists are currently off studying birds in the mountains but will come back in a few days. On Saturday, the official transition between the outgoing and the incoming permanent teams is marked by a nice and well organised ceremony. All speeches are in Polish, of course, but the good humour and sense of welcome easily cross language barriers.

Breakfasts are at 8 am and lunches at 2 pm, both marked by the sounding of a bell which can be heard throughout the station. They are communal affairs, and everybody takes turns to help the cooks with the service (and washing up). Dinners are more informal, with no fixed times, and people come and go as they please. The communal area, next to the mess and the kitchens, is well stocked with books, music and a satellite TV. It is also the focus of other social activities, including guitar-playing and singing, sometimes interrupted by radio calls (the radio is always on: Channel 16 for coastguard and emergencies).

The science starts, at last, and after checking equipment we begin looking at the local icebergs. The closest glacier, Hansbreen or Hans glacier, is two kilometres away as the crow (or the Arctic goose) flies. Results from its melting are visible in the bay as they cross in front of our window: small and big icebergs, ranging in colour from blue to white, sometimes smudged with gravel or even small rocks (from the bottom of the glacier), and with sizes from less than a metre (growler) to larger (bergy bits: that's the official designation). The ones washed up on the closest shores are picked up for later laboratory analyses (we'll start that in earnest tomorrow).

First icebergs

Checking ice blocks washed on shore by the currents. The rifle is compulsory (because of polar bears).

 

 

10 July 2014 – Arriving at the station

📥  From the field

Last day on the ship, if all goes well. R/V Horyzont II is a very nice ship, but we’ll all be glad to arrive at the station and start the scientific work we have prepared for over the last months. The waves and wind of the morning decrease as the morning progresses. Later during the day, we get close to Gnolloden, the “Humming Mountain”.

Gnolloden

Gnolloden - The Humming Mountain

The trustworthy Atlas of Place Names in Svalbard attributes this name to the high number of birds and their constant noise. The small cape, not far from Hornsund, our final destination, is graced with a huge rock, 798 m high and extremely steep. Its cliff side is dotted with bird nests. The bottom beach has of course attracted scientists (ornithologists) studying the different colonies in this remote site … and polar bears, who roam at the bottom of the cliff, waiting for imprudent birds or those learning (and failing) to fly in late spring …

Small icebergs are on the south side of the fjord, ranging in colours from grey/white to nice, icy blue. The rain has come, sometimes thick, sometimes thin,. The hills and the big mountain nearby were covered in clouds when we arrived. A few hours later, the clouds moved up. And now they disappeared, leaving us with a perfectly grey sky and the promise of some sun (somewhere, behind the clouds).

A few hours later, the excitement builds up as we get closer to our final destination, in Hornsund (apparently named this way because 16th century explorers came back with a deer horn on their first time on land). With great help from the crew and other scientists, we transfer all the equipment to a new type of transfer vessel: an amphibian vehicle, looking very similar to the landing craft it might have been in a previous life but pained a bright orange, and used for peaceful purposes by the Hornsund people. And we get ready to transfer, in several small groups, on the usual rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB, or RIB, for short). No immersion suit, for this short transfer and because the sea conditions are extremely nice, but compulsory lifejackets.

Boat transfer

Leaving the Horyzont II

The RIB beaches on the grey/black gravel a few hundred metres from the base, and after jumping out into the surf, we go and help out with the unloading of supplies. Some have been nicely packed on pellets, for example the food, drinks and miscellaneous material used by the station during its normal operation (the nearest shop is in Longyearbyen, and as we just experienced, it is a bit far away).Other stuff is loosely packed: I help carry an impressive quantity of onions and fresh products to the temporary storage area behind the kitchen.

Unloading supplies

Unloading supplies at Hornsund Research Station

The most important cargo is of course made of the different instruments we carried with us, on the ship, and earlier on in coaches (the National Express 3am service from Bath to Heathrow, for me), several flights … and customs … I had never thought before that small cylinders trailing several metres of cables could look suspicious through X-Rays … The security staff was rightly intrigued, and made a great audience when I started explaining what we would do with these hydrophones … Trust a scientist to be unstoppable when explaining his favourite subject ... (but they asked smart scientific questions :-))

 

09 July 2014 - From Petunia to Calypso

📥  From the field

The day started with Petunia, a research station shared by a Polish group and a Czech team.

A very poetic name, but nothing to do with flowers (they are very rare in Svalbard, and usually very small). Petuniabukta, or Petunia Bay is named after the ship S/S Petunia, part of the 1919 Scottish Spitsbergen Expedition. The age of great expeditions of discovery seems far away, belonging more to the times of Magellan or Cook. It is therefore sobering to remember that, less than 100 years ago, we were still discovering parts of our own planet, not that far from the shores of northern Europe. Even now, in the 21st century, when we know all about Venus and Mars and other planets, we are still discovering the deeper parts of our marine neighbourhood, using underwater acoustics and tools like sonar.

The weather changed to grey and windy, with relatively low clouds but lower temperatures. The swell has increased too, no doubt because we moved out from the protection of the long channel west of Longyearbyen. Later, we anchor next to another Polish research base, near Heggoden.

Svalbard research base

Lost in the natural background, this small base houses several researchers for the summer.

The sea is too rough to allow boat transfers, and we wait several hours for the weather to improve. One of the scientists coming with us to Hornsund (a Polish graduate from Durham) tells me the main work in this place is made by geomorphologists and glaciologists, investigating the shapes and evolutions of glaciers and landscape erosion in Arctic climates. The local glacier recently surged forward by 500 m in one year, making it an oddity compared to many of the other glaciers (in Svalbard and around the world) which retreat regularly.

The Heggoden hut is next to a beautiful glacier varying between grey (when the weather gets to the worse) and light blue (when a bit of sun shines through). The mountain nearby, mostly covered with snow, reaches higher than 1,000 meters. It has been crowned with a big cloud most of today, and as I write, I cannot even see it because of a squall.

Resupply boat

For small research bases, supplies and scientists are transferred by small boats like this one. Note the Arctic immersion suits ...

We use the spare time during transit to prepare the measurement strategy once we arrive in Hornsund (estimated time: tomorrow Thursday, 10 pm). There is only so much we can prepare ahead of time, as everything is contingent on the Arctic weather. But we can at least prioritise the different activities, and divide them into “good weather-bad weather-truly awful weather” types. The total absence of internet on the ship ensures we can devote our full attention to these studies, and we write an article about the results from the last year’s measurements.

8 pm: a new type of noise is adding itself to the typical noise inside the ship (engines, air conditioning, waves slapping on the hull). The anchor is being pulled back, and we should soon be moving to the next station to receive fresh food, equipment and fresh scientists. This will be Calypso, named after the HMS Calypso, who surveyed it in 1835.

Svalbard’s history is relatively recent (the first houses in Longyearbyen were built in 1906, as “The Place Names of Svalbard” tells me). Names of geographical features are therefore a potted history of explorers, whalers, hunters, settlers and scientists. The map reveals Ben Nevis (close in height to the actual one), Montsouristopppen (named after the Paris Montsoury Observatory), Barentsøya (after Dutch explorer Willem Barentz, late 16th century), Monacobreen (a glacier named during one of the expeditions organised by Prince Albert I of Monaco), and many Norwegian names too, of course.

 

 

08 July 2014 - First day in the Arctic

📥  From the field

Research takes us all over the world to get new measurements, test new theories, and apply what we know (or what we would want to know) to many types of applications. I am starting this blog with my first days in the Arctic, en route to the Polish Polar Station.

The flight from Oslo arrived in Longyearbyen, Svalbard's international airport, just around midnight. Coaches took all arriving passengers to their destinations, mainly in town, and we spent the night at Mary Ann's Hotel, built from refurbished miners' accommodations from the 1950s. But who is "we"? And what are we planning to do?

This field trip is about the underwater noise created by glaciers and melting icebergs, how it links to underwater sound in general (marine life and human activities) and how it can be used to investigate the effects of climate change.

This trip is sponsored by the Polish National Science Centre, with a research grant to Prof. Jaroslaw (Jarek) Tegowski. Prof. Grant Deane (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA) and myself (for the University of Bath, UK) complete the team. We each bring different experiences, and different instruments, for this summer's field work.

Today is spent sorting out research permits with the Governor of Svalbard (very efficient and down-to-earth administration) and stowing equipment aboard the Polish Research Vessel R/V Horyzont II. She will take us to the Polish Polar Station after resupplying several other research stations on the way (there are no roads, and most of these stations are in very remote places). First stop tonight: Pyramiden, next to the abandoned mining town and the pyramid-shaped mountain giving its name to the place. Glaciers are everywhere, and the white of the snow combines harmoniously with the black or dark blue of the sea.

Next to Pyramiden

Next to Pyramiden - Arctic mining