Sunset in Greenland

Friday 2015-09-11 evening

Well today was our first day in Greenland, and it was fantastic! After almost 72 hours sailing and many bouts of some serious seasickness, we were all anxious to get off the ship. Diving, snorkeling, and zodiac cruising provided everyone with a much-needed change of scenery, and this new location certainly did not disappoint. Huge icebergs, picturesque mountains, and lush gardens of marine macroalgae made up the scenery around us, and despite hosting the coldest water temperatures we've encountered, we couldn't get enough.

The extremely cold water was a bit unexpected by the divers. At the surface, the water temp was about 3C (36F) and after they descended through a thermocline at a depth of about 15m (45ft), the temp suddenly dropped below freezing to -1C (30F). This quick change is quite a shock to our bodies and can be uncomfortable for a minute or two, but it's well worth the effort. On the ascent, there were Lion's Mane jellyfish to entertain us in the shallows, and the golden rays of a low afternoon sun shone through them to compliment their color and form. We almost forgot we were swimming in water that if it were fresh would have been frozen solid.

And then there was the sunset. The colors the sky gave us tonight were absolutely spectacular. Pink, peach, and purple clouds streaked across the backdrop of the sky with snow-accented mountain peaks and glowing icebergs in the foreground. It seemed as if this sunset was trying to make up for the last few days of grey and fog, and it succeeded with flying colors. This was only our first evening in Greenland, and we're already counting the hours until the next one! This was one of those shared experiences that brought us all together and that we'll talk about fondly for years to come.

Scoresbysund: 70°30’11”N, 24°30’00”W

Photo credit: Gwen K. Noda

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About Our Artists

Sunday 2015-09-06 evening

Our three primary Elysium artists finally got a location worthy of their talents to create their Arctic art. While our divers were exploring a wall around Fugleoya, our artists Halla, Toby, and Wyland spent a few hours atop a small rock island directly in front of an actively calving glacier recreating the scene in their respective mediums and perspectives. The resulting pieces are absolutely beautiful so far and truly reflect the essence of this unique polar region. The little island the artists were situated on was absolutely covered in a lovely variety of plants. The moss in particular stood out because it covered the rocks so thickly that it resembled a lush, green carpet that contrasted starkly with the extreme white of the ice and black of the rock island. Just like a sponge, it would compress when under pressure, and with each step, our feet would sink down at least six inches into the living ground. The rocks of the island were also encrusted with lichens, mushrooms, and nonvascular plants that transformed a nonliving surface into a landscape of thriving botanical biodiversity.

The late afternoon activities were no less exciting. There were harbor seals for the snorkelers, walruses for the land team, and a breathtaking landscape that enhanced every experience and animal encounter. About 20 walruses were hauled out on Smeerenburg and they didn't seem to be bothered at all by their enthusiastic human company. Everyone got some great shots filled with tusks and whiskers and it was another unforgettable landing.

To close out the night, we watched "Voyage of the Nautilus," a film documenting the life story of the great Arctic explorer and pilot Sir Hubert Wilkins. The success story of this incredibly ambitious and self-made man was inspirational and was the perfect way to end another great day.

Photo credit: Alex Rose

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all three

Smeerenburg, photo credit: Gwen K. Noda

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In-Reach Update

Wednesday 2015-09-09

In-Reach question response

"My students from Belgium are wondering how life is on board. Can you acclimate easily to the cold weather? What is the most beautiful thing you have seen so far?"

Well, it's certainly lively! There are over 80 people on board including the Elysium team and ship crew so there is always something going on. Between diving, snorkeling, zodiac cruises, hiking, plankton sampling, photo and video editing, lectures, and meals, there's little time left in the day to do anything but sleep a bit. Most of us have one or two roommates so there isn't tons of space, especially with all the dive and camera equipment, but we manage. The long crossings like the one we're doing right now from Svalbard to Greenland can also be difficult because of the potential for seasickness. Also, it is important to conserve water when living on a boat as there is a limited amount that can be carried and made; turning off the water while brushing your teeth and taking short showers are both helpful. These are both things we should do in our homes too because water conservation should always be taken into consideration. Overall, being on board the Polar Pioneer has been a great experience so far. We're all getting to know each other very well and many new connections and friendships have been formed over the last two weeks.

As for acclimating to the cold temperature, most of us brought a lot of cold weather gear so we're fairly comfortable. Between our Santi drysuits and Waterproof expedition jackets, we're mostly keeping dry and warm. The few days we spent on the pack ice were definitely colder than it is now, but the scenery was so lovely that we hardly even noticed. It's impossible to say what has been the most beautiful thing we've seen because so much of the Arctic environment is just stunning. The wildlife—polar bears, walruses, foxes, sea birds—is unique and beautiful in its own right, but the landscapes are equally as gorgeous as are the dramatic clouds and rich underwater ecosystems. There is beauty to be found everywhere in our polar north and we must do everything in our power to protect this critical part of our planet for future generations.

From the Bridge

Wednesday 2105-09-09 evening

For much of this trip, we have been lucky enough to be invited to visit the bridge and crew when the ship is underway. Situated on the 6th deck, the 9 windows across the front and 3 on each side present one with a breathtaking view of what lies ahead. Many people took advantage of this vantage point when we were looking for polar bears in the pack ice.

Just after 1800hrs today, I was staring out from the bridge into the fog, when three large, black dorsal fins broke the surface just to the starboard of the bow. I said (or perhaps, yelled) "Whale! Whale! Orca!" The few people on the bridge were on the port side and they rushed to the starboard in time to see the three dorsal fins surface one more time and then disappear into the fog.

Right now, though, at 2200hrs in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the bridge is quiet and I am the only visitor. It is fairly dark out now (as dark as the night has been for us), but I can still see the birds flying past the bridge and down over the bow of the ship without any need for deck lights. I can see the methodical rise and fall of the ship's bow, a bit of ocean, and not far beyond that, the thick fog bank that we entered in mid-afternoon. The thick fog seems to surround us and, if not for the ships instruments, it would be hard to convince anyone that we were actually going anywhere.

We are in the open ocean of the Atlantic and there are two things that help me know that. We certainly can't see any land to help us out (even if there were land to see, it is a relatively dark and foggy night!), but we have GPS onboard (more than one) and the plankton in the collection we just did indicate we have indeed found North Atlantic water and have left the Arctic water that we have been exploring for the last 11 days. The GPS says we are at 74°02.680' N, 6°42.573' W – we crossed from east longitude to west longitude today and have set our clocks back an hour to adjust to Greenland time. The plankton community that was in tonight's collection included Calanus finmarchicus – a copepod that is characteristic of the North Atlantic – and there was a lack of Calanus glacialis – a copepod with red antennae that is characteristic of the Arctic. These two species of copepods reliably stick to their preferred temperature of water, making them very good indicators of the type of water we are in.

If you want a general idea of where in the North Atlantic we have traveled today, here are some GPS coordinates:
Time, Latitude, Longitude, Note
8:38am, 75°40.806' N, 00°46.933' E
10:39am, 75°27.686' N, 00°22.271' W
12:22pm, 75°14.428' N, 01°22.503' W
6:03pm, 74°38.493' N, 04°05.712' W
6:10pm, orcas!
6:37pm, 74°34.185' N, 04°25.111' W
7:22pm, 74°28.529' N, 04°50.624' W
11:17pm, 74°02.680' N, 06°42.573' W
(Notes: These coordinates were taken when we were still on Longyearbyen, Svalbard time zone.)

From the bridge earlier in the day when we still had some sun, photo credit: Gwen K. Noda

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