It's Saturday afternoon and final preparations are underway. Survey and project manager Harald Steen says there will be a five- to six-hour delay before the RV Lance casts off and sets its course. At 84 degrees and 25 minutes latitude north, scientists from ten nations are scheduled to spend half a year acquiring new and more accurate information about climate effects and ice. This is one of the Norwegian Polar Institute's largest projects in the Arctic and there is considerable prestige in participating in a cruise that has been in the planning for nearly five years.
"Oh yeah. We definitely have a backdrop," Steen says, referring to the Fram expedition about 120 years ago. "We have somebody to take after."
Cradle to grave
About 120 people are participating. The budget is 50 million kroner, but additional resources are being contributed by other countries. During the next half year, the entire ice system in the Arctic will be studied.
During the first three months, the ship will be frozen into the ice and follow its drift. The ice will probably give out before Easter, at which point the process will be repeated for the next three months in the ice.
"The ice becoming younger and younger," Steen says. "During recent years, about 50 percent of the summer ice has disappeared. One of the goals now is to follow the ice 'from cradle to grave,' meaning from its onset and peak to melting."
"The models from the sea are based on multiyear ice. The annual ice and multiyear ice have different characteristics, and the models we have used therefore probably are not the correct parameters."
FOLLOW THE EXPEDITION
Along with Capt. Olav Iversen, he plans the route the ship will follow along the west coast of Spitsbergen and up into the ice. Joining them will be the KV Svalbard to pave the way through the ice. The Norwegian Coast Guard vessel will also set out measuring buoys at a distance of 20 kilometers around the research vessel. In addition, the crew from Lance will be putting out buoys in a radius of five kilometers.
"The boat is built to go in the ice and we have in advance adapted it to lie in ice," Iversen says, referring to several challenges that had to be resolved before the ship was ready.
One is low temperatures, but there are also emissions, cooling the engines if the intakes become filled with brash ice and procedures in case of emergencies. The boat can be evacuated within a few minutes even if people are in their underwear. At the evacuation point are grab-bags with clothing and equipment for five days for each participant.
Okay with cold and dark
Herein lies the ice, cold and dark, without internet and television. Perhaps it is possible to listen to medium wave radio and use satellite phones privately only for special occasions such as birthdays. Iversen isn't ruling out the possibility that will be difficult for some.
"You are very detached from your family and the rest of the world, and that can be a mental strain for some, but it does not happen often," he says. "We have had some cases where people have been frightened or gotten a strong case of homesickness, but those have gone well."
Anesthetist Alf Arne Pettersen has not been on such an expedition and only in December it became clear that he would be participating as medic aboard the ship.
"It is difficult to imagine how it is," he says.
But not all people get such an opportunity?
"No, these are the century boys," Pettersen says. "And they're even paid. There are many of my friends home in Tromsø who are is envious."
At a dining table, he is in the company of oceanographer Paul Dodd, biologist Jogo Wallenschus, diver Ottar Skog and electrical engineer Bengt Rotmo. The latter two are also field assistants and whose duties include pulling sleds with the probes to be placed around the Lance.
"It is important to get out the buoys as quickly as possible when we arrive," Rotmo says, adding he feels confident life in the life will go well.
Nor is Dodd afraid the days will be long.
"There is always something to do on board the ship," says Dodd, who plans to alternate between work and rest every six hours. "You work a lot and have to sleep when you can. I laugh a little when people ask whether we should have skis or a frisbee. Presumably there won't be lot of time to exercise."
"It is a privilege," Wallenschus says.
Norway has plenty of proud polar history to refer to and on the Fram's return from Tromsø to Christiania the model for the galley was established by Adolf Gustav Lindstrom, who was brought aboard by Fridtjof Nansen. Lindstrom was later the permanent cook on expeditions led by Otto Sverdrup and Roald Amundsen, both to bring good cheer and the key to good health and well-being with tasty and nutritious food.
"It is in any case important that people feel they are getting good catering," says Tor-Einar Kristoffersen, a steward aboard the Lance. Helping him are Gunn-Ida Jensen and Kerstin Paninski. They provide hot food for all meals and the menu is authentic fare including, among other thing, whale meat of different varieties and even self-hung boknafisk.
"We are like a big family and trying to make it enjoyable for everyone," Jensen says.
On board there are 20 scientists and a crew of ten. There will be a change of shifts after six weeks in the ice.
One meter thinner
In addition to low summer ice, the ice in the Arctic Ocean is an average of one meter thinner than 30 years ago. It is also clear that first-year ice does not reflect heat from the sun as well as thicker ice and the surface is becoming warmer. Researchers have only limited knowledge about the effects of this warming.
The safety margin can be small, and the cruise has its own health and safety manager aboard. Steinar Aksnes from Longyearbyen has long prepared for the voyage.
"When the last end goes, one can relax a little," says Aksnes, who participated in a test freeze-in last year that provided useful knowledge. Most of this year's participants were also on the trial cruise.
"We have gotten improved HSE procedures and built up course syllabuses from what we experienced last year," Aksnes says. "Researchers have been attending the courses. There are talented people at all levels. As a team I think we'll do this correctly."