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Arctic Expedition onboard the icebreaker "Kapitan Dranitsyn"

This blog charts news from a teacher from Cirencester who is participating in an Arctic Expedition this summer to work with scientists and gain experience of climate change research.

Liam Nolan was recently appointed as a Biology Lecturer at Cirencester College. He is travelling on board the Russian Icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn along with other teachers from Europe and the US and leading scientists involved in research aimed at discovering what the impact of global change is in the Arctic Ocean.

Life On Board the Kapitan Dranitsyn

Monday 11th September

Life On Board the Kapitan Dranitsyn Monday 11th September

Activities on the boat occur in bursts when required by the scientific schedule. We are nearing the end of a period of down time because we have been heading west towards the next mooring site, and are now north of Franz Josef Land, having passed our highest latitude of 83°N. It seems a shame to be so close to the islands without getting the opportunity to explore, but as always (and, although I say it begrudgingly, rightly so) we have to stick to the plan of action. I have heard from Sasha, the ships radio officer and Victoria (the translator), who have been on the ship when it has been operating as a tourist boat, that Franz Josef Land is an amazing place.

However, all is not lost as Sasha has volunteered to give us a slideshow of his time on Franz Josef tonight after dinner. He previously showed us his Antarctic slides, which were stunning; he has accompanied photographers such as Franz Lanting in Antarctica. We have been treated to many presentations from well travelled passengers on board, and if no-one is lined up to show us their slides we often put on a film. The choice of movie is always hotly contested, but when it is finally decided on we are able to settle down to cinema style viewing in the lecture room, occasionally even with popcorn.

At other times of day, or if you dont fancy the film, there are several other places that people can be found whiling away their time. The sauna is extremely popular in the late afternoon, especially with the Russians, who insist on having it close to an unbearable temperature (I have never been good in heat). Three cycles of 5 minute sauna / 5 minute swim (in the small but deep salt water pool) / 10 minute relax is enough to render even the most stressed-out scientist incapable of further action or worry for at least the near future. There is also a table tennis table and a gym equipped with basic equipment, which I appreciate on those occasions when I start to feel like a walrus eating my fourth meal of the day.

Meal times are fixed and we start the day with breakfast at 8am. We generally do not go more than 4 hours without having the opportunity to eat, so lunch is at noon, tea at 4pm and dinner at 8pm. You can see why the gym is needed. The food is generally very good, but the tongue (which seems to keep cropping up in various guises) is not popular among the Europeans and Americans. My stash of goodies that I brought on board just in case is virtually untouched. However, the most notable culinary experience to date was the barbeque on the helicopter deck on Saturday afternoon. It was snowing but not too cold as we tucked into our kebabs, crab and sausages, and afterwards we celebrated with a snowball fight and dancing to eighties style Russian music. We considered what the established wildlife would make of us as we continued on our surreal journey.

While eating has not been a problem, there are several of us who find sleeping a completely different ball game. A combination of strange patterns of daylight, the need to work in the middle of the night, the excitement of being in such an incredible location, the juddering of the boat, the arrival and departure of a roommate at any time of night or day, and the constant assault on your senses, can really play havoc with any sleeping patterns you might wish to cling to. Amongst other strategies I have tried going to bed early (which normally results in me getting up again 2 hours later), going to bed late, getting up early, getting up late, not drinking tea, and not looking outside before bed etc. Despite my best efforts, my conclusion is that I am destined not to sleep on the cruise. My only consolation is that there seem to be others in the same boat (no pun intended) and there is no time of night or day that you can walk around the boat and not meet another sleepless soul wandering the decks or playing chess in the lounge.

Even after I had managed to get a few hours kip this morning I was rudely awakened by Sasha informing us that there was a walrus on the ice near the boat. The walrus sat apparently unconcerned as we inched slowly past it; it appeared to be big even for a walrus and only flapped further onto the floe away from the edge after everyone had obtained their photos from the bow. Some sights are worth being woken for, besides I may have missed breakfast without the call! I am also very pleased to report another polar bear sighting; this time it was an adult with two cubs which ran alongside the boat for around 10 minutes on Saturday morning. It is a shame to be disturbing them in such an invasive manner, but perhaps I can justify this by the need to find out what is happening to the Arctic in a changing climate.

Getting colder

Friday 8th September

After leaving Tara we headed west towards the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago. As we approached the islands the sea ice became much more dense, and the icebreaker once again had to live up to its name. The highlight of this section of the cruise was the sighting of many seals, which we believe to be the small Ringed Seals. They tend to pop up in open water spaces ahead of us, possibly checking out what sort of weird thing we are; once they have seen how big we are they dive for cover and we dont see them again. The only seal we saw hauled out on a floe was a Bearded Seal, which is much bigger and maybe because of this more confident, as it barely batted an eyelid when we crunched through the ice only 20m away. We wondered if the presence of seals would bring their predators, polar bears, but although someone saw pawprints close to the boat there is only one report of a very distant sighting.

We were also excited to see icebergs for the first time. There are some huge bergs calving off the island glaciers and we have been treated to some breathtaking sights as we negotiate a track past them. They tend to be tabular (so one of the ice scientists tells us), which means they have a flat top but can be very wide and long. As usual the bulk that we see above the water gives us some indication of the huge amount of ice there is beneath, and this thought reminded me of the massive icebergs that have been calving from the Antarctic ice shelves in recent years. Such events are often quoted as more evidence of accelerated global warming.

To top off our visual feast we have also had some clear blue skies and beautiful sunsets and sunrises (which, due to the constant movement of the ship through time zones and latitude, occur at strange and often unexpected times of the day; sometimes I need to be reminded whether the pink sky is signaling the end of the day or the start of the next one). The pink and orange hues that emanate from the sun reflect off the sea-ice and bergs to create fantastic effects, and everyone gets very busy with their cameras. We have even seen some spectacular phenomena that occur only in polar environments. One is a sun pillar which appears as a column of light above and/or below the sun itself, and is caused by the reflection of sunlight from the flat surface of ice crystals. Another is a sun dog which consists of two bands of light, one on each side of the sun. In the formation of a sun dog light is refracted through ice crystals and as a result the bands of light are split into colours of the spectrum similar to a rainbow.

It has also been colder than we have experienced so far, with temperatures dropping to -18°C. As I was heading onto the deck this morning my Russian roommate and fellow teacher Nikolai advised me to wrap up warm and to wear sunglasses. The glasses served two purposes, as in the cold and humid atmosphere crystals of ice were forming in the air and blowing into our eyes in the biting wind. Apparently there is still some debate among the scientific community about exactly how these crystals form, and they have uncharacteristically given it the almost mystical sounding name of diamond dust. It left a very pretty layer of sparkling ice on our coats and on the deck.

Amongst our sightseeing the business of science continues, but we have had another setback with the loss of another mooring. After locating the buoy at about 180m depth the Kapitan Dranitsyn spent a couple of hours clearing the area of sea ice so that when released the mooring would not get trapped under a floe. When we had a big clear patch of water the release was triggered from the anchor but the buoy didnt surface. It is not always known exactly what causes this to happen; on this occasion it is possible that a passing iceberg has damaged the mooring which is in relatively shallow water. Whatever the reason, it is very costly in terms of equipment, data and morale of those scientists involved. Fortunately this has happened only twice and most other operations have gone very smoothly.

Tara

Monday 4th September

Our activities in the last couple of days have been focused around Tara, which after all the difficulties and uncertainty made it with a few hours to spare. The story of Tara is quite remarkable. She was built in France by Jean-Louis Etienne in 1989 and initially named 'Antarctica'. From 1995 Sir Peter Blake used the vessel under the name of 'Seamaster' for his environmental protection program. In 2003 the vessel was acquired by the business tycoon and sailor Etienne Bourgois, who has made it available as a major part of DAMOCLES. He named the boat 'Tara'.

Tara was specifically designed for travel in pack ice at the Poles, although this is the first time her unusual design will be put to the test in this environment. Made of aluminium and 36m long, the boat has a rounded hull so that as the water freezes around her she will be pushed upwards to avoid being crushed. She has two masts, which were the features that we first noticed when she was spotted in the wake of the Kapitan Dranitsyn as we neared our rendezvous, two 350 horsepower engines, two generators, and is equipped with solar panels and wind turbines.

Tara arrived at the rendezvous on Sunday morning, and nestled alongside of a large ice floe. She will stay anchored there and as winter approaches and the pack ice forms she will become frozen in. However, the Arctic ice is constantly on the move, and it is planned that Tara will remain locked in the ice for two years before she will be released after a drift of approximately 1800 kilometers close to the north pole. Over the first winter there will be a crew of 8, who will maintain the vessel as a scientific station, collecting data from the various pieces of equipment that have been installed on the adjacent floe.

After we had selected a suitable floe for the overwintering event, we began installing the usual series of data logging equipment for an ice station, and taking measurements from the sea ice. In addition to these installations and measurements there was a large amount of gear which had to be loaded onto Tara from the Kapitan Dranitsyn, including a small tractor/bulldozer. We emptied a large amount of kerosene fuel into fuel bladders on the ice, for use by helicopters which will be required for re-supply. However, the next morning we found that the bladders had sunk into the ice which had melted slightly. It took the tractor and over ten people to heave the bladders out of their depressions in the pack ice, which measured from below 1m to nearly 3m thickness. Nevertheless, most of the work was finished by 2am on Monday morning and everyone on the ice had enjoyed a very satisfactory day's work.

The Kapitan Dranitsyn was scheduled to leave by 4pm on Monday, so we were able to relax a little in the afternoon and have some time to ourselves on the ice. This was the first 'leisure time' we had enjoyed off the boat and was much appreciated; after we had taken the compulsory expedition photos the whole group was rewarded with mulled wine. Due to an incredibly fortunate coincidence we were also treated to a beautiful sunset at around 2.30pm, and the 'sea ice novices' made the most of the opportunity to take photos and generally get up to mischief amongst the ridges and melt water ponds that make great ice skating rinks. Later in the day when we were back on our boat we had an equally impressive sunrise and beautifully clear skies at around 11pm.

Two of our passengers from the Kapitan Dranitsyn were left with Tara, including the well respected scientist and coordinator of DAMOCLES Jean-Claude Gascard, who appeared to be much more relaxed and even to be enjoying the experience after a close call with the timing of Tara. We were also sorry to leave behind the jovial 'Erko' from Estonia, who had provided us much entertainment with his querky sense of humour and equally querky guitar playing and singing. Bonds are forged and long lasting friendships formed on expeditions such as this, where people have much in common and share their thoughts in a tight knit and fun community.

Ice stations 2 and 3

Friday 1st September

Ice stations 2 and 3 went more smoothly than the first. The sea ice was much more stable for both stations and we were all happy to be fully involved in the scientific work. We get a fascinating insight into life on a research boat during these activities. Although meal times are fixed rigidly, the scientific activities have to take place whenever the boat reaches its prescribed location, regardless of what time it is. We reached ice station 2 at 2am on Wednesday morning, so we had no choice but to get onto the ice and set up the equipment and those of us who had opted to get some sleep looked distinctly bleary eyed. After about 6 hours outside we were able to come back in and have some breakfast; even though the weather had been relatively mild we were certainly ready for a break. Following this busy night some of the more lucky members of the expedition were able to get some sleep, but there were scientists who had to spend more time dealing with their samples and preparing for the next station.

We arrived at ice station 3 later the same day so we disembarked again and began setting up the systems of buoys and recording equipment. By this time some of the scientists were seriously in need of some uninterrupted sleep. Martin Doble, an Ice Scientist from Cambridge had been on the go for all three ice camps and had processed dozens of ice cores taken from the ice to measure thickness and salinity. He was able to get only 6 hours sleep during the 3 ice stations. I worked more with Bruce Eider from the US, and am firmly of the opinion that he is impervious to the cold and lack of sleep that he endures during the intensive field activities. After being on the ice for extended periods of time these guys were amazingly cheerful when we saw them for tea afterwards. They love their work and appreciate the need for data when they have limited opportunities and it's a privilege to work with them.

Another aspect of the DAMOCLES project is the Tara initiative. Tara is a French boat which is destined to be frozen into the Arctic sea ice over the winter. It will maintain an 'overwintering' team of researchers who will gather data as they float embedded in the ice towards Greenland from the Laptev Sea.

Incredibly, after a huge investment of time and money, it seemed until very recently as though the Tara initiative would have to be abandoned. The boat was being held at the port of Tiksi in Russia, and could not be released due to immigration and customs difficulties. The Kapitan Dranitsyn is due to rendezvous with Tara in the Laptev Sea to drop off supplies, and if Tara can 't make the rendezvous it is not be possible for the project to continue. This would be a massive blow for the entire project. The leader of this programme, the unflappable and distinguished Jean-Claude Gascard, began to look increasingly worried as the days passed with no news. At the final hour, Tara was given permission to leave Tiksi, is now safely en route and we hope to make the rendezvous successfully. Jean Claude was clearly relieved when he told us the news and he received a round of applause for his success.

In the meantime we rearranged our schedule to give Tara the best chance to get here on time, and came out of the ice pack in order to retrieve another mooring. Unfortunately for me this meant that we entered open water just as the wind was getting up, and the rolling boat meant inevitable sea-sickness. I made sure I got an aisle seat while we watched a film in the lecture room, and was glad I did so as the boat lurched from side to side. In these poor conditions it is not possible to work off the side of the boat, so we couldn 't retrieve the mooring and it was back into the pack for us for some shelter (although this is frustrating for the scientists I was secretly very pleased). The seas have subsided now and this afternoon we were able to head back out continue with the scientific work having lost a few hours of ship time which we hope will not prove to be too costly.

Our first 'ice station'

Tuesday 29th August

After breaking through thickening ice we have now reached our first 'ice station'. Up to this point all the science work has been about the atmosphere and ocean, but now the ice is thick enough that we can decamp from the ship and take measurements from the sea ice itself. After finding a suitable spot at about 11pm last night the scientists first went onto the ice and marked out safe areas, and then some of the teachers were able to disembark and set foot for the first time on the Arctic Ocean at around 2am. It was a little strange; on the one hand it was like standing on ice anywhere, but the knowledge that you are separated from thousands of metres of frigid sea water by 2-3m of ice, on a frozen icescape which stretches to the horizon near the north pole makes the mind boggle.

The expedition coordinators were not completely comfortable with the stability of the ice at this first ice station, so they have limited the number of people who can be off the boat at one time. After I had had my turn on the ice and then caught up on some sleep I woke to discover that there was a group of people still on the ice trying to recover some equipment that was lodged underneath the pack. The problem was eventually solved by basically hauling the equipment back in by hand, tug-of-war style, and everyone was finally lifted by the crane back on board in the 'cage'. The operation took much longer than was anticipated, but such delays are to be expected and dealing with them adds to the challenge of working in such a harsh environment. The mooring that we were chasing in my last entry proved particularly troublesome in nasty conditions and the whole operation took the best part of 24 hours, during which time some key people would have had little or no respite from the freezing conditions. Data is the number one priority.

Most of the measurements at the ice camp are trying to determine the thickness of the ice, as this is difficult to ascertain from satellite images. While we know that the area of ice in the Arctic is decreasing rapidly, we do not have as much detailed information about thickness. It is also important to know about the content of the ice, such as its salinity and density, as these help us to work out how quickly it may melt. Some of this work involves drilling a core in the ice and analysing the sections at different depths, while another instrument (an 'EM31') sends electronic pulses through the ice to determine its thickness.

Not all the data collected requires fancy gadgets. While talking with a Russian scientist Vasiliy, I found out that he measures the ice thickness as the ship breaks through the ice. When I pushed for further information about how this is done he said they use a 'stick'. I assumed that by this he meant that this equipment would emit some sort of pulse in much the same way as the EM31 mentioned above, and I asked if this was the case. However, it turns out that it really is just a stick with a scale painted on that is hung over the side of the ship into the ice as a gauge of depth. Sometimes the easiest way is the best.

We have now left the first ice station and are breaking ice once more northwards towards the second station. It is anticipated that we will arrive around midnight tonight, so I may be glad for my lie in this morning. If we find more stable sea ice we hope that we will be able to spend longer on the ice and become more involved in the operations, so we could be in for a long night.

Into the Laptev sea

Sunday 27th August

We have made it into the Laptev sea, through varying amounts of sea ice but generally with a clear path. This is where we will do most of the scientific work for the NABOS and DAMOCLES projects. The aim of these programmes is to find out in more detail what is going on in the Arctic with regard to global warming, and to try and develop more accurate predictions for future climate change.

There is no doubt that the world is getting warmer, and this is being shown dramatically in the Arctic with a warming of the Arctic Ocean and reduction in the surface area of sea ice. Models are predicting the complete loss of summer sea ice (not winter sea ice) in a time period of as little as 20 years. On top of this, there is not one model that does not point towards dramatic temperature rises in the Arctic Ocean. The data we have seen has been remarkable in the trends that can be seen. Our purpose is to collect as much data as possible in order to make more sense of the complicated systems that contribute to this change.

Operations began early yesterday morning when a mooring from last year was located and we attempted to return it to the boat. It was submerged for the year and had been collecting data about temperature, currents, salinity, and sediments. These instruments and the flotation, anchor etc are very valuable, both in terms of money and large amounts of data that they store. After the mooring was located below the surface the signal was sent to release it from the anchor, which will remain on the sea floor. Unfortunately the flotation did not surface, which means that it may have collapsed; the upshot of which was that we had no choice but to abandon all the equipment and data. Clearly this is a big blow for the scientists, but we have been told that it is not all that unusual.

Following this disappointment the scientists proceeded to collect transect data. This involves lowering a set of instruments to collect data and water samples from various depths at each of many points along a line. Information gathered in this way gives a detailed picture of how the ocean is structured from top to bottom at various points, as there are many differences between layers of the water at different depths.

As I write we are currently attempting to catch the second mooring. It was located in a region of fairly dense sea ice, so the ship had to spend an hour breaking and clearing the ice above the mooring so that when it was released it would not get stuck under a floe. When it was released everyone was very relieved to see the large yellow float surface. However, securing the mooring on the boat has proved to be a much more difficult operation; the mooring snagged on a floe and we have found it very difficult to manoever our huge vessel into a location where we can catch the float with a grappling hook in a strong wind. Having watched these intricate movements for over an hour I have decided to call it a day at midnight for the sake of my toes and eyes, as the wind and snow make life uncomfortable on deck. I hope to hear soon that the chase ended happily.

We have worked out that the sun sets at around 9pm and is rising at around 11pm, although we are not getting many visual clues as it is cloudy most of the time. No wonder we were confused for a while!

Polar bears outside

Thursday 24th August

We have very high tech GPS for plotting our course, but one outlet for our enthusiasm was to make a cut-out boat which we move along our route map manually. So we are frequently reminded that the Kapitan Dranitsyn is still making excellent progress. After smooth seas since we left Norway it came as a bit of a rude surprise when we started to roll a little earlier today, and lunch was not quite as popular as it had been. However it didn't last long and when we saw our first sea ice the excitement distracted anyone who felt a little queasy.

The amount of ice in the sea around us gradually increased until we were ploughing through slabs that were up to 2m thick and over a year old. The ice is currently surrounding the boat and has slowed us down considerably; we average around 6 knots instead of the 16 knots that we speed along at in open water, but now the ship is coming into it's own. If we meet a large floe the bow rides on top of it until the ice is either pushed to one side or breaks into smaller pieces, often causing the boat to judder from the impact. This is fascinating to watch and the 'sea-ice novices' spent quite a while peering down from the bow, enjoying the experience until the biting wind forced us inside. This is all very routine for the scientists who preferred to continue their work with a glance through the window from the warmth.

Once again I am thrilled to have seen some great wildlife. A very lively and keen-eyed Canadian teacher called Tim spotted a walrus and was lucky enough to have his sighting verified straight away, otherwise he may have suffered the ridiculing that I was subject to when no-one else saw the Minke whales. The walruses (walrus / walrii?) had to move sharply to get out of our way, and one of our photographers was able to shoot a few photos before we had passed by.

Wow, I had to interrupt this entry as a few minutes ago the Russian translators' voice made an announcement:

"Ship expedition party. Ze polar bear can be seen from the starboard of ze ship."

When I got outside (even the scientists were coaxed out this time, and they came in a hurry), the bear was moseying around about 100m from our boat. It was clearly concerned about our presence as we continued pushing slowly through its home, and spent a few minutes sniffing the air and glancing in our direction. We stopped for a good look and the bear moved to the front of the boat where it ran for a few minutes negotiating floes and ridges, and giving us the chance to follow it and get a huge number of polar-bear-bottom pictures. Todd, a teacher from Nome (Alaska), summed up our excitement with his comment: 'It doesn't get much better than this', while watching the bear from the bow. Seeing this magnificent animal in comfort in such a hostile environment really put us in our place.

The sea ice appears to have been blown into the western edge of the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago where is has formed a block. Once we have pushed through the Vilkitsliy Straight between these islands and mainland Russia we should be in clear water again and will continue in the Laptev Sea to our first mooring and the commencement of the scientific work. In the meantime our time is crammed with lectures from the scientists and instructors, and we feel as though we should be oceanographers by the time we start the field research. However, we are frequently reminded about the serious side of the expedition with data that illustrates all too clearly that warming is occurring in the Arctic Sea, and that profound global impacts will follow as a consequence.

One day in

Tuesday 22nd August

Hi everyone! We are now over a day into our voyage and I am glad to report that I have still not been sea-sick, although one member of our party has suffered that misery (I thought I would be the first). The sea is beautifully calm and we are currently being followed by sea birds of various descriptions. Perhaps I should not get over confident as we have a long way to go yet.

Loading

So far everything has gone according to plan on the Kapitan Dranitsyn. It took a number of hours to load all the equipment in the heat of a sunny late-summer day in Kirkenes after the vessel had arrived from Murmansk with the Russian crew. Most of us could only spectate as the cranes lifted the scientific gear onto the ship and we were able to get last minute supplies using our precious Norwegian kroner.

When we finally left Kirkenes the boat moved so smoothly that our departure could easily have been missed if a passenger on the boat had been were relaxing in their cabin. Since then we have had formal introductions and undergone the necessary safety training and tour of the ship. The high point of the safety session was a practice drill, during which we had to don a life jacket and climb into the lifeboats. With so many people in the plastic tub it was pretty claustrophobic, and we are hoping that it was the last time we will have to be in there. Nevertheless, we did discuss briefly who we would have to eat first in the event of an 'extended tub experience'. The drill was organised with military precision and we have every confidence in the friendly and highly efficient Russian staff of the boat.

However, my high point of the day so far is the sightings of what we think are Minke whale. For most of the day I have been accused of suffering from delusions after having seen whales on two occasions when no-one else saw them. It was only after I spotted them for the third time that there were other witnesses and to my great relief I have been vindicated. They appear at first to be dolphins, with small dorsal fins and a dark dorsal 'back', and they seem to be in small pods. But they dive rather than swim near the surface, and an oceanographer has told me that they are Minke, so I'm not going to argue! They surface briefly before vanishing again without us seeing their tail. I never expected to see whales so early in the expedition, if at all, and I am absolutely thrilled to have done so.

The birds that are with us are fulmars, kittiwakes and petrels, with a couple that have yet to be fully identified. They are a challenge for the photographers on board, but they are relishing the opportunity and tell us that the velvety surface of the sea provides good conditions for photography. I don't think they have a shot of the whales yet, but we hope to see more so they won't lose sleep just yet. Please email if you would like more detail on the species we have seen, or if you have any questions or information to offer; we are making identifications from a single bird guide book, and while there is a lot of expertise on the ship, we are not completely sure about some of the birds.

It is now 11pm and not really dark enough even to be called 'dusk'; there is still a tinge of pink on the horizon between the grey clouds. Our days are getting longer and I think we only have a few hours darkness (although I can't be sure); it is past the height of summer but this is countered by our gradual progress northwards. Due to a prevailing southerly wind in the Laptev Sea there should not be a problem with sea ice before we arrive at our research area, so we are optimistic of unhindered progress.

As long as this great weather continues ..

Welcome!

21st August 2006

Liam Nolan

Welcome! Hopefully the fact that you've opened this page means that you, like me, are interested in the Arctic and the Antarctic. It's very hard to put a finger on what it is that some people find compelling about the poles, but one thing is certain; they have a fascination that few other places on our planet can match. Images of frozen polar landscapes and animals surviving at the edge of life capture our imagination like nowhere else, and many of the interactions that people have had and continue to have with the poles are truly remarkable.

Liam & Michael skiing

I have been fortunate and privileged enough in the past to visit Antarctica as a teacher and as part of a scientific research team. The trips I made there are certainly among the most memorable times of my life. However, I have become increasingly aware of the importance that the poles play in keeping our planet on an 'even keel'. While I relish the opportunity to visit the Arctic as part of this expedition, the experience is not all positive, as it is focussing on some of the human induced changes that are occurring in the region.

Environmental change is having a profound impact on polar environments. Global warming is already affecting the formation of annual sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, which has huge implications for both the natural world and how humans interact with it. We are witnessing changes in climate, ocean currents and sea level to name a few, and these changes are beginning to impinge on our everyday lives.

Liam & Michael

Clearly it is important to know what is going on, and to try and predict what will happen in the future, and there are scientists who are trying to do just that. It is also important for the next generation of decision makers to understand what the scientists discover. As a teacher this is how I feel I can contribute to the path towards limiting the damage that has been done, and to preventing further damage. The young people of today will inherit environmental issues caused by previous generations of careless exploitation. They can learn from our mistakes as long as they know what the problems are and how they can be solved.

The purpose of these pages, and of the expedition that I am participating in, is to share in the wonder of the polar environment, and to enable us to assess changes that occur due to our impact on these special places. I hope to provide frequent updates as to our whereabouts and activities, and to develop teaching materials on my return to the UK. I hope that you find this information interesting and I would be very happy to hear your thoughts, ideas and questions.

In the meantime I look forward to my own adventure with plenty of warm clothes, sun-cream and sea-sickness remedies!

Photos from an earlier cruise

18th August 2006

Here are some photos from an earlier cruise.

Hopefully they should whet your appetite!

Photo from an earlier cruise Photo from an earlier cruise Photo from an earlier cruise Photo from an earlier cruise Photo from an earlier cruise Photo from an earlier cruise Photo from an earlier cruise

NABOS 2006 cruise map

17th August 2006

Here is a map of the cruise:

NABOS 2006 cruise map

Press release: teacher participates in Arctic Expedition onboard the icebreaker "Kapitan Dranitsyn"

August 2006

Collecting springtails, Dry Valleys, McMurdo Sound, Antarctica
Image as described adjacent

A teacher from Cirencester will participate in an Arctic Expedition this summer to work with scientists and gain experience of climate change research.

Liam Nolan was recently appointed as a Biology Lecturer at Cirencester College after teaching in New Zealand and working in Antarctica as a teacher and as part of a research team. He will travel on board the Russian Icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn along with other teachers from Europe and the US and leading scientists involved in research aimed at discovering what the impact of global change is in the Arctic Ocean. In conjunction with the Scott Research Polar Institute (SPRI) in Cambridge, Liam hopes to use the experience to introduce aspects of science and global change into the classroom whilst on the ship and when he returns to the UK.

The Arctic appears to be warming faster than the rest of the world, and changes in the sea ice cover of this region will have profound effects on many parts of the globe. Scientists are attempting to better understand the systems of the Arctic in order to predict the impacts of global warming on the environment and on human activities, such as fishing and shipping. The international team includes researchers from disciplines such as oceanography, meteorology, biology, chemistry, and arctic paleoclimate.

Scott Base (NZ), Ross Island, McMurdo Sound, Antarctica [Liam is second on the left]
Image as described adjacent

The Icebreaker is chartered by The International Arctic Research Center (IARC) at the University of Alaska and the expedition has links with DAMOCLES (Developing Arctic Modeling and Observing Capabilities for Long-term Environmental Studies) and NABOS (Nansen Amundsen Basins Observation System). It will sail from Kirkenes in Norway on August 20th, heading east along the northern coast of Russia past the Island Archipelagos of Novaya Zemlya and Severnaya Zemlya and into the Laptev Sea. Here it will head north and west again, reaching a maximum of approximately 83°N before returning to Kirkenes on September 16th.

The project hopes to be a major contribution to the International Polar Year (IPY), which runs from 2007-2009. A major aspect of the IPY is education and outreach to the community, and a key question that is being addressed for the public is 'why are the polar regions and polar research important to all people on earth?' It will be a highly significant international scientific effort and it is hoped that a new generation of young scientists will be inspired to continue crucial research in both the Arctic and the Antarctic.