Nearing Svalbard

Sunday 2015-09-06 morning

During the night, we left the pack ice behind and are once again near land in the northwest part of Svalbard. We have a much warmer air temperature here of 4 degrees Celcius! We have come to Fugeloya where divers will have the chance to dive a wall and the snorkelers have the option to snorkel there as well. The dry teams will have a zodiac cruise and maybe make a landing.

This afternoon, wet teams will have the opportunity to dive again with the harbor seals at Virgohamna and dry teams will check out the beach at Smeerenburg where the walruses haul out. We saw a few in the shallow water there last time and we are hoping to see many of them hauled out on the beach this time.

As I write this, I can hear (and feel) that the ship's anchor being lowered. It's time for breakfast and then to get warmly dressed to go for our excursions!
And here are just a couple of GPS points for reference since we were still out in the middle of the ocean yesterday. The GPS points are in decimal degrees, so if you want them in degrees, minutes, and seconds, you can do a web search for a "calculator" that will convert them.

Time, Latitude, Longitude, Note
1:08pm, 81°28.044' N, 16°41.819' E
5:31pm, 81°24.791' N, 16°13.604' E, we were well on our way back to land at this point
(Notes: We are still on Longyearbyen, Svalbard time zone.)

Snorkeling Through Ice Flows

Saturday 2015-09-05 evening

After a wonderful afternoon of snorkeling around and walking on shifting ice flows, we continued looking for polar bears before beginning our sail back down to Longyearbyen in the early evening. We weren't as lucky today as we were yesterday with the bear encounter, but we did make some stunning images of an Arctic sky that was as ephemeral and unpredictable as nearly everything here appears to be. In our polar north, beauty seems to manifest itself in severe ways.

The evening also brought us a captivating and informative talk by none other than our lead scientist, Her Deepness, Dr. Sylvia Earle.  Sylvia discussed the critical importance of underwater exploration in our understanding of the planet and impressed upon us the need for submersibles that can make the mysteries of the ocean's depths accessible to all, not just those working in the field of deep ocean exploration and engineering. Her call to action was poignant and compelling, as are nearly all her words, and she followed these sentiments up with a screening of her newest film, Mission Blue. This entertaining and informative look into the life of Dr. Earle and her many adventures was enjoyed by the entire crew and all Elysium team members.

After another delicious dinner, Cabell Davis conducted his fourth plankton trawl of the expedition. The goal is to sample at least ten different locations along our journey to establish the composition of the planktonic community as it changes throughout the Arctic. According to Dr. Davis, "The sample was almost all Calanus glacialis with minor incidences of gelatinous species. Practically the whole sample was red. This is a very healthy plankton community in these waters." The Elysium team is always fascinated by the diverse variety of life that can be found in just a few ounces of Arctic seawater.

photo credit: Christine Bernasconi

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Silhouette of Team Foxtrot on an ice floe, photo credit: Amanda Wilkin

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Photo credit: Virginia Bria

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Photo credit: Margaux Maes

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Photo credit: Eric Bettens

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Waiting for the Bears

Saturday 2015-09-05 afternoon

The guides here are one of the best sources of information about the Arctic world we are exploring. They say they haven't seen a polar bear cub all season except in Greenland. There used to be 2 cubs to every mother bear. This apparently is becoming rarer and rarer to see on the ice flows. They tell us that ice floes that we have seen are made up of single-year ice not multi-year ice, which means the ice is not going back and building - up it is... melting. These facts sombre us up as we cruise through the pack ice, climbing out on an ice floe with bear tracks crossing from one flow to the other. One eye out for bears, another for holes or thin spots we do not want to fall through. It is a day for photographing melting icicles and blue seas and black birds. No polar bears today, maybe no polar bears tomorrow. The future is definitely uncertain for not only the polar bears, but many other species.

Polar bear photo credit: Jenny Johannsen

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He essentially walked right up to the ship

Friday 2015-09-04 evening

We had an absolutely incredible polar bear experience this evening. It was honestly beyond what any one of us could have expected or even hoped for in an Arctic animal encounter.

After a mostly grey day, the sun broke through around 6:30pm. Not long after that, we got an intercom call from the bridge notifying everyone that a polar bear had been spotted in the distance. We’re not sure if he smelled us, the delicious dinner cooking on board, or a combination of both, but a young male approached the ship in a matter of minutes. He essentially walked right up to the ship and investigated us from a surprisingly close distance for about an hour before he decided to leave and continue looking for better food options. We got to see him jump across the pack ice a few times and he even slipped and splashed into the water a bit.  After falling in the water, he dried himself off by rolling around in the snow on the pack ice for a few minutes giving the photographers and videographers quite a show.

This polar bear experience was the perfect way to finish off a busy, cold, and eventful day, and he was just what we needed. The other thing we needed was the sun. Without this soft, warm, evening light, the images would have been cool and blue, but the low rays of a late day sun cast a soft glow on the bear’s fur illuminating every detail and making the ice surrounding him come alive. The water was so still that when he would peer over the pack ice his image would be reflected perfectly in the water. Everything about this unforgettable hour at 81.5 degrees North was perfect, and we can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Photo credit: Christian Vizl

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Photo credit: Amanda Wilkin

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