Science on Thin Ice

Narration: Nathan Kurtz


Kurtz: You know, there’s this big unknown. You’re headed out into this alien landscape that’s just completely hostile to you and you know if you didn’t a nice ship and extremely warm clothes, you probably wouldn’t be able to survive.

[music] MOSAiC as a whole, it’s a yearlong drifting expedition. So it involves people from twenty different nations, about 600 scientists. It’s a huge, massive effort meant to study the Arctic as a system. Not just the ice, but things like the atmosphere, the ocean, biogeochemistry. All kinds of things in a way that allows us to look at what’s happening throughout the course of the year.

[ship horn and orchestra music] So we left Tromsø on September 20th, took us ten days or so between leaving port, sailing out, picking up some instrumentation and then starting to sail into the ice pack and starting to search for the floe. It was really difficult to find the floe because we needed ice that thick enough to support all our equipment, some of it’s very heavy, and to do this safely. And actually one of the big surprises to me and a lot of people on board was just how thin the ice was. You’d get out on the ice but it’s dangerous It’s an alien landscape, it’s cold, there’s bears. The polar bear situation was really interesting and, yeah, kind of terrifying. When we were out on the ice and we were setting things up, taking measurements, the bears did come back. Two times when I was there. And there they came to our camp and they were doing things like messing with the equipment and going through our site. So there it was different because they’re more on the turf that we had set up. You know, this is our turf now and now they’re coming in. I could see them in places that I had been.

[polar bears grunting, music] So we were very isolated on the Polarstern and we had very limited connectivity. We had a email account we could send 50 kilobytes a message. It was a big change for me and a lot of people. A lot of people said, you know after a week or so I didn’t miss it anymore. And I was one of those people. I really appreciated being a bit more isolated for a while and experiencing life in a different way. Doing field work like this brought me right there to the ice. When I do my research I use data like this from the data that’s taken up close on the ice. Sometimes that’s the only way to get information on the ice. Things like how dense is the ice, or how dense is the snow, you can’t do this remotely. But we can use this to do calibration and validation of ICESat-2 over the course of the year. So this is valuable for improving the retrieval techniques we use for ICESat-2. For me, to be on the ground and get that different look at the ice on the surface, it just helps me as a scientist come up with new ideas and to inspire me to use the data that I have, and then think about this in a totally new way and a different way.