PS115/2 Weekly Report No. 2 | 10.09. - 16.09.2018

We are ready to start – About Super-Puma, polar bear, kastenlot and OBS

[18. September 2018] 

Monday (10 Sep 18). Shortly after midnight, (the first weekly report with positive news about the start of our research in a few hours has just been sent out) bad news for us: a case of medical emergency, the expedition’s program has to be stopped, we have to steam with full speed back to Longyearbyen – a long way! At 19:45, however, good news from the captain: tomorrow evening we will have a rendezvous with a long-range rescue helicopter NE of Svalbard at 81°N/41°E where a rescue team will take-over our patient.

Tuesday (11 Sep 18). On one hand we continue our daily work. 07:00 Meeting on the bridge (Captain, Chiefmate, Chief engineer, Chief ELO, Doc and Chief scientist); 08:15 Meeting in the meteorology office where our “Weather Max” (Max Miller, meteorologist from the Deutsche Wetterdienst/DWD) gives us the latest information about the weather conditions in our present working area, the Arctic Ocean, as well as our home cities/countries; 08:30 Morning meeting of the Chief scientist with latest information about present research activities. On the other hand several crew members are involved in preparing the helicopter transport of our patient scheduled for 22:00 in the evening. Whenever needed support is also coming from the scientists.

At 22:39, twilight times, loud unusual noise above us. The long-range rescue helicopter (also known as “Super Puma”) is arriving to take-over our patient. For preventive medical reasons captain and doc have decided that a second crew member will also join this helicopter transport. The whole action of takeover of the two persons just lasted 12 minutes (!). Exactly at 22:51 the helicopter starts the trip back towards Longyearbyen. Our best wishes are with the two patients. Good and safe trip home and quick recovery! Deep respect and many thanks to the rescue team for this excellent and professional job!

Wednesday and Thursday (12 and 13 Sep 18). No real big events. We are still steaming through the Russian EEZ – no permission to do any research. Thus, we mainly continue testing instruments, introducing the “tyros” into the different types of geological methods, techniques and instruments that are used on deck and in the labs, etc. Furthermore, a series of further talks are given in the third ArcTrain seminar. As we are still steaming towards the east, we set the clock another hour forward (being now five hours ahead of UTC time).

Friday (14 Sep 18). An important day as we should leave the Russian EEZ around noon, the beginning of our research activities is coming closer and closer. At 10:00, chief pilot Harald de Jager and pilot Lukas Piotrowski start a first testing flight, a training for Lukas to land on ice floes (Fig. 2). Further flights with scientific missions – of course outside the Russian EEZ – are planned for the afternoon.

At 12:27 ship’s time we make it!! We are leaving the Russian EEZ, we can start with our research! Instruments and registration units that are of major importance for our geoscientific program – i.e., gravimeter, magnetometer, Hydrosweep, and Parasound – are switched on (Some details about these instruments will be given by our experts during one of the coming weekly reports).

At 13:18, directly after lunch time, Gerit Birnbaum (AWI sea-ice specialist and leader of one of the sea ice projects onboard) and her two team members Niels Fuchs (AWI) and Marcel König (Uni Kiel) are leaving the ship via helicopter, starting the first sea ice observation flight. By using their own camera that has been installed in one of our helicopters just a day before the start of our expedition, they map the distribution and size of meltwater ponds of a larger area in the neighborhood of ”Polarstern”. At 14:50, the helicopter is back on the ship. Unfortunately, the second afternoon flight has to be cancelled as the visibility conditions are getting worse.

Around 18:00, the geologists get their first station. A “Giant Box Corer” (“Großkastengreifer” – GKG) is used to sample the undisturbed near-surface sediments. At 21:00, the GKG is on deck. A perfect run - the large box (with a cross section of 50cm x 50cm) is almost completely filled with sediments that is now available for sampling by the scientists onboard. Certainly enough that all people get the material they need for their studies. At the same time when the GKG people are “playing with the mud”, our “super corer”, the Kastenlot, a large-sized 12m long box with a cross section of 30cm x 30cm and equipped with a 3.5 tons weight on top, is going down to the sea floor. At 22:41, the kastenlot is reaching the seafloor. Another hour later, the core is on deck, almost 8 m of penetration, the „Zipfelmütze“ preserved under the core catcher (Fig. 3) – an optimum run!

The Kastenlot core is on deck – however, the work of the deck’s people is not finished yet. The two giant boxes still have to be separated from the 3.5 tons weight and transported into the lab – a not easy and heavy work that needs strong help from the deck’s crew. This work is done close to midnight – enough for today with all the kastenlot work. The next step, that means the opening of the kastenlot boxes, we will leave for tomorrow. Now, we are just steaming towards the east, towards the “OBS area”.

Saturday (15 Sep 18). In the morning, first bad news from our ”Weather Max” to the sea ice people: Weather conditions are too bad for doing any helicopter flight today. However, we are already thinking about alternatives during the coming “OBS” activities to make the sea ice people happy again – let’s see!

What is behind the “OBS“ activities, what does it mean? OBS stands for ”Ocean Bottom Seismometer“ (Fig. 4). Such instruments can be deployed at the seafloor to monitor automatically the occurrence of micro-earthquakes. Our four OBS systems we have onboard, are deployed at the northern flank of the Gakkel Deep in a water depth of about 4000 m, using the crane on starboard side. After unfastening the connection between OBS and the crane, the OBS (equipped with a pinger that allows to monitor the trip to the seafloor) is sinking downwards. John Scholz (AWI-geophysicist and lead PI for the OBS work here onboard) and Ship’s ELO Winfried Markert are following the voyage of the OBS through the water column and its landing at the seafloor on a screen. For all four OBS systems, everything runs perfectly! They will now stay at the seafloor for 12 months, monitoring the earthquake activities in the Gakkel Ridge area. In autumn 2019, they hopefully have completed their mission successfully and can be recovered again. Let’s cross our fingers!!

During the OBS activities we are also able to accomplish some of the wishes of the sea ice people. A sea ice group led by Gunnar Spreen (Uni Bremen), is using the Mummy Chair to get on the ice. Four persons, two for the work on the ice and two for the security (i.e., polar bear watch and handling the safety rope connecting people outside with the Mummy Chair) are under the way (Fig. 5). Their mission is to deploy a drift buoy and to measure sea ice thicknesses. Both actions are carried out successfully. The drift buoy sitting on the ice floe will now start its journey through the entire Arctic Ocean towards Fram Strait, the exit to the North Atlantic.

During the next OBS station, a similar sea ice action was planned as well, however, it remains a plan. A big hungry polar bear shows up (Fig. 6), comes close to the ship looking for a late afternoon snack or a dinner meal. Thus, our own mission becomes a “Mission Impossible”, and we continue to the final OBS station for today. There, everything seems to be ok. Gerit and Heike Zimmermann (geochemist from the AWI Potsdam) are on the ice (of course with two further people responsible for the safety of the group). They can start with their activities, can do some ice thickness measurements. When they continue with their ice coring, the main part of their mission, “he” shows up again (or is it his brother?). In any case, it’s a polar bear and our sea ice mission has to stop immediately, within a few seconds all people sit in the Mummy Chair for a safe ride back to the ship. With these final activities a very successful and interesting day comes to an end.

Sunday (16 Sep 18). Early Sunday morning. The second geological station is on the today’s program. We are still working in the Gakkel Deep area, 5000 m of water below us. Thus, running the sampling gears takes some time. At 02:00 the GKG goes to water, the gravity corer (“Schwerelot” – SL) follows three hours later (of course after the GKG is on deck!). Again, both runs are very successful.

After having finishd this station, the geology says “goodbye“ for work on deck during the coming three days and gives the lead to the geophysicists (the cruise lead, of course, remains in the hand of a geologist). In about an hour, the geophysicists will start deploying their airguns and streamer, the beginning of a long west-east seismic profile. What’s behind this project, why they are doing this? These questions will be answered in the next weekly report.


That’s it for today.

We are in a good mood and send our best wishes to all our families and friends at home.

Ruediger Stein

(Sep 16, 2018)





Rüdiger Stein

Scientific Coordination

Rainer Knust
Rainer Knust


Sanne Bochert
Sanne Bochert