A Cold War

AUG 5, 06.13 UTC – NANUQ2020 has successfully completed its first 3 days of activity in Greenland and should be moving today towards another research site. As observed locally by the crew and as charted by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, ice formation in the area where the boat currently is, indicate a trend to higher ice density. Conditions, which had been between “very open drift ice” or “open drift ice” in the past 72 hours, have changed to the status of “close drift ice” and there is some degree of uncertainty about the trend of this phenomenon. Although research operations were conducted so far with no significant inconvenience, coastal navigation proved quite challenging and, particularly yesterday, the boat got repeatedly stuck in thick pack ice, requiring long stops. According to a series of messages sent yesterday via Iridium, Prof. Peter Gallinelli is considering to re-plan the sequence of activities and head towards alternative sites for data acquisition, among the quite many available.

Map https://cryo.met.no/ edited by Polarquest.

headline picture: Archive image by Polarquest (2018), image by Michael Struik.

An Ordinary day in Arctic Business…

AUG 4, 20.30 UTC – Polarquest crewmember Kevin Monneron has sent a dispatch this evening to report about the first days of activity of NANUQ2020 in Greenland. The dispatch was in French and it’s hereby translated into English: “Our crew stopped at Nansen Fjord. Imagine azure-green water dotted with saturated blue icebergs, surrounded by towering high dark and black mountains. This decor punctuated by the dull sound of icebergs breaking under the erosion of the waves makes you look like an intruder in the middle of immensity. Our passage was productive, I was able to take my first scientific dive to take some measurements in this water where the visibility does not exceed 1m and the temperature at 7m is -0.5 ° C … magical and terrifying. Our teams on the ground divided up the work amid general enthusiasm. On the program, Mapping of vegetation by drone, photogrammetry of flora and methane survey in a water point. The day ends with the measurements of the DST probe in the Fjord. We spend the night here, celebrating this productive day with a good meal. In the early hours of the morning we send Tamara, a climber and mountaineer to the top of the 20m mast to install Go-Pros in time lapse [for photogrammetric purposes]. While our entire crew has their eyes riveted on the top of the mast, Ophélie, our photographer, pays attention to a white shape in the water, swimming towards the back of the boat. Ophélie: ‘It took me at least two good seconds to realize it was a bear! This rather curious polar bear was less than 5m from the boat, before turning back towards the coast once spotted. With a slow and confident step he emerged from the water and stood for a moment in his territory under our amazed gazes … We must be careful’. It is now time to leave, we go north and leave this intact place which will leave with us unforgettable memories.”



And now Greenland

AUG 1 – 23.30 UTC. NANUQ has successfully reached Nansen fjord in Greenland, after the 2 day rough  journey from Iceland. Skipper Gallinelli had sent an Iridium message early in the afternoon: “Now in sight of of Blosseville Coast at a distance of 50 miles. Calm sea and steady winds from SW, cruising at 8 knots speed. Couldn’t be better. We are recovering from the stormy night and catching up on food. Looking forward to dropping our anchor in an estimated 8h time. Nevertheless, keeping in mind that especially in the Arctic nothing is 100% for sure.” As the boat got closer to Greenland’s coast, she found progressively denser ice on her way,  and had to slow her speed down.  Navigation continued safely and at 22.02 UTC NANUQ reached coordinates 68°5’N, 29°59’W. At that time the Skipper sent another update: “Just entering Nansen fjord after pushing our way through 20 miles of pack ice. Fortunately with sufficient open water to make our way through. The steep cliffs of the barren coastline are impressive, very wild place! We will search for a safe mooring for a rest in the still uncharted fjord after 380 mile crossing from Iceland.” With the arrival in Greenland, another phase in the expedition activity begins, and the crew will set up the planned series of activities that will be documented in the next days.

UPDATE (AUG 2): Early this morning, Peter Gallinelli sent via e.mail through the Iridium satellite connection a low-res image taken onboard NANUQ during arrival in Greenland. It gives a feeling of the cold and cloudy approach to the wild and beautiful island.

NANUQ’s arrival to Greenland on August 1st, 2020.


Frontpage arcticle image: archive photo NANUQ in Greenland (2015)

A Challenge Ahead

AUG 1 – 4.42 UTC. As she approaches Greenland, NANUQ is about to cross an area of open water with occasional floating ice and areas of “very open drift ice” and “open drift ice”. Ice density is reported acceptable for navigation where the boat is heading for, but situation may change fast and require quick adjustments by the crew. Ice conditions are published and updated daily by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute (NMI) at: <https://cryo.met.no/sites/cryo.met.no/files/latest/denmark_strait_latest.png> . Thanks to her rugged and widely redundant design, NANUQ can safely sail and manoeuvre at low speed in “very open drift ice” (marked in green on the NMI map) and “open drift ice” (yellow). Thicker conditions or even a complete block in ice would not pose an immediate threat to the boat – that was designed for, and has successfully stood, months of complete blocking during her initial trial voyages-, but that would hamper the planned development of the expedition. Therefore, areas of “close drift ice” (orange) and “very close drift ice” (red) will be avoided.  Based on the latest ice bulletin (below), it is possible to observe that in the last 24 hours, NANUQ has cruised on a westerly course, apparently with the intention of keeping closer to the open water areas (blue), before approaching the southern margin of the Blosseville Coast. Now very far from usual data connection lines, the crew can only communicate via Iridium (satellite) channel, and messages will be relayed as they are received.

Image by Thierry Selz
Image by Thierry Selz

Stop-over in Grimsey

NANUQ has stopped in Grimsey in the early afternoon today for a brief call. She will be departing, this time for Greenland, after a few hours. Grimsey is a small  island (in fact, the northermost element of Iceland), with a population of less than 100 residents, located about 40 km north of the closest shore of mainland. The Arctic Circle crosses the island, cutting it more or less in two halves. It features a green landscape and high cliffs. The boat’s crew was allowed to disembark and take a brief visit to the area.

Letting Pictures Tell a Story

Beyond methodology, data and technical work, expeditions are made of stories and places. Waiting for all elements to come together in the overall scene, NANUQ2020 has already pictures to share, each one being part of a story to tell.  Scientific work from the expedition will be presented in specialized journals and public events. Nevertheless, a socially shared, widespread awareness of the need for a responsible approach towards the environment can also be supported by one’s ability to look and get a grasp of what’s at stake. Sometimes, much of what we understand comes from what we feel. These first days of NANUQ2020 have already provided scenes and moments worth telling, and we’ll let a few pictures do the job.

First DST Probe Test

JUL 29, 21.06 UTC- Skipper’s message: “At 66°14’N, 14°15’W Jonathan Selz made the first successful test of the DST probe he developed for the project. Based on a modular infrastructure using Yoctopuce interfaces and a Raspberry Pi the probe is a central part of data acquisition related to sea water temperature and salinity.”

Crewmember Kevin Monneron reported a description of the instrument and its purpose in a later message

“Today is the first test of the DST probe aboard Nanuq: The story begins in 2019 when Peter and Jonathan decided to design a miniaturized and modularized version of a hydrographic probe. A real challenge begins by sizing a system capable of measuring salinity, pressure and temperature while remaining secure at 100 m depth ! It is now done with this first functional prototype, which will allow us to measure vertical profiles and trailing profiles between Iceland and Greenland.
This information will allow us to know more about thermocline and halocline, essential values to study the melting of the ice as well as to discover the submarine thermal sources, pioneer systems giving information on the evolution of the ecosystem due to climate warming . Finally it will contribute to a better knowledge of the current on the east coast of Greenland (large overflow of Arctic glacier cap)”.

Heading to Grimsey

12.54 UTC – NANUQ is heading towards Grimsey island, 150 nautical miles from Seyðisfjörður. Wind and sea are calm at the moment, the sky is overcast, visibility is very good. Due to the lack of wind, the boat is cruising on engine at 6.5 knots. While the expedition is periodically sending automated position updates and other information via Iridium satellite connection, the boat is still relatively close to land; at this time it appears to be still within reach of Iceland’s cell-phone network and the crew could send the following image via Telegram. Crewmembers Claudio Limacher and Tamara Strasser are on watch; she is at the helm, he is in position to keep an eye on the cockpit instrument panel. Both are visually scanning the horizon ahead. Co-skipper Dr. Thierry Selz is in the background. All persons onboard, when operating outside the cabin, are required to be attached to a safety line connecting them to a structural element of the boat; this is a basic measure to prevent anyone from falling overboard, a most critical situation in such freezing waters. Also mandatory is the life-jacket, designed to automatically inflate and keep the person afloat, in the proper head-up attitude, in case of accidental fall.

Getting Ready for a Scientific Adventure

13.00 UTC – S/Y NANUQ is at a pier in Seyðisfjörður and the crew is getting ready to begin leg 20, which will develop, among other experiences, the main scientific core of the expedition. The two Polarquest team members, Kevin Monneron and Gaspard Durieux are getting onboard at this time, while the rest of the crew sets up for the new departure. NANUQ should leave the harbor tomorrow morning, with a first planned destination in Grimsey, a small island north of Iceland and the Arctic Circle. Ice conditions in Greenland, around the Blosseville Coast, are being monitored by Prof. Gallinelli in these hours. According to the latest bulletins, the density of floating ice and icebergs in several research areas appears to be unfavourable, but the operations plan will be updated daily in order to optimize the work.

22.10 UTC – Skipper’s dispatch: “Long day making NANUQ ready for the core of the expedition: maintenance on engine, batteries, rigging, refueling, supplies and getting everyone comfortably installed onboard. We will now have dinner prepared by Gaspard and completed by wonderful Icelandic cod offered by local fishermen. It couldn’t be better before casting-off towards Greenland’s icy coasts at a 2 days sailing distance NE”

First Leg Complete

S/Y NANUQ has completed her 19th voyage arriving in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland around 22.00 UTC (midnight local).  She had departed Norway on July 24th and completed her journey to Iceland in 3.5 days cruise, mostly covered with the sole propulsion of the wind. The last phase of the navigation was under overcast sky, rain and rough sea, but no significant delay was caused to the expedition. Icelandic officers were waiting at the pier to meet the boat upon arrival and conduct customs checks and Covid19 tests on the arriving crew, as per local regulations. The boat personnel could finally enjoy some well deserved warm showers and rest. While waiting for NANUQ to arrive, PolarQuest team members Kevin Monneron and Gaspard Durieux have been warming up to board the expedition. Yesterday afternoon, Monneron made a test dive into the Silfra fissure to verify his Arctic equipment.