We're going to the High Arctic, beyond most everything terrestrial, aboard the Norwegian research vessel Lance. We'll be getting underway on 13 September 2013 from the Svalbard Archipelago, among the most spectacular set of islands in the entire Arctic. From the little harbor of Longyearbyen, we'll steer north through the Fram Strait, between Svalbard and the northeast shoulder of Greenland, to our study area at 82° North, only 489 nautical miles from the North Pole. We invite you to join us via our website. It won't be the same as experiencing directly the ethereal thrill of these waters, the mystical light, the birds and bears, the volcanic snow-capped mountains, and the sea ice, but it's the next best thing.
Broadly, our objective is to understand how the polar ocean circulates. We've named its parts as if they were separate, but there is only one World Ocean linked and unified by currents, like gigantic veins and arteries, coursing through its body. Currents in both hemispheres transport warm water from the tropics toward the poles, while cousin currents return cold water back toward the tropics. That the ocean does so is Nature's great gift to life on Earth, because by exchanging heat and cold, ocean currents moderate natural climatic extremes. We know about that broad pattern, the global transport of heat by the ocean (it's called the Meridional Overturning Circulation), and we know that in the long term the ocean captains the climate. What we don't know so well is the behavior of smaller arcs within the global system and how changes in them ricochet within the larger system—of those in the Arctic, we are particularly ignorant. So our specific objective is to measure the quantity of tropical-origin Atlantic water flowing northward through the Fram Strait into the Arctic Ocean in order to better understand its fate.
"We'll bring you aboard for the full experience, not only of the science and its methods, but also the special way of life aboard Lance as she picks her way though the sea ice, where almost no one goes"
This is expensive research; it requires an ice-strengthened ship with an experienced crew and long range, a bevy of technicians, scientists, and a few people to discuss it with the public. "Why bother?" is a legitimate question. In one sense, the answer is simple: That's what scientists do, seek to understand how Nature works by measuring its myriad components. But in the Arctic, where the climate is changing many times faster than in the temperate zones, pressing urgency informs their work. This Atlantic water is warm. How much Atlantic warmth is being transported into the Arctic? Is it increasing over time in volume and/or temperature? Will it accelerate polar icecap melting? But to address any of these crucial questions, first we must measure with esoteric oceanographic instruments the quantity and temperature of the Atlantic inflow. That, then, is the scientific purpose—and urgency—of our September expedition. To evoke with video still photography, with podcasts and text how a world-class, highlatitude oceanographic expedition is conducted will be the purpose of this website.
We'll have access to all areas aboard R/V Lance from the bridge to the engine room, and to all her nautical and scientific operations. At-sea oceanography is a unique combination of demanding seamanship, fine-tolerance science, and heavy industry. We'll bring you aboard for the full experience, not only of the science and its methods, but also the special way of life aboard Lance as she picks her way though the sea ice, where almost no one goes. Speaking for the rest of the outreach team, who have worked together on three other northern expeditions led by Dr. Bob Pickart from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, I'm excited and delighted to return, to meet Lance's crew and officers, and to re-experience the majesty and mystery of the Arctic seas. And what we experience, you will experience, if vicariously, through daily updates to this site.
We welcome you aboard.