Day 9: Wednesday 29 June 2020
As expected (and also known to be typical in the North Atlantic), the bad weather hit us over the last two days. Although perhaps ‘bad’ is not a good word as rocking hard in big waves is some sort of a thrilling experience that some of us really enjoyed. Others had to struggle with serious sea sickness and breathed a sigh of relief when the sea calmed down again.
Working on the main deck was becoming more and more impossible, and when the wire of the MUC was becoming tricky to handle, chief scientist and captain decided to cancel all in situ operations (box corer, CTD, plankton net, EBS, MUC). The only activity that is usually feasible in such conditions is mapping the seafloor and that is what we tried to do, heading north against the wind and waves to stabilise our course. However, at around 2 a.m., the ship motion became so severe that even mapping was not possible. The bridge ordered to stop the survey and do ‘weathering’ instead: Trying to remain in place, keep the roll and pitch movement low and wait until the storm is over. Luckily, this happened to be right on the polar circle! So we got the opportunity to spend one night on the border to where the sun never sets in summer and never rises in winter time. Amazing! Although, very honestly, I couldn’t have told we’re on the polar circle- it didn’t look different, neither the water, nor the seafloor. Nevertheless, it is exciting to be up north at 66° 33’ N with daylight all around the clock!
When the wave height decreased in the next morning, we continued our daily business and started doing a CTD profile. One interesting fact about our study area in the Norwegian Basin is that two major water current systems join up here: the North Atlantic current carrying warm (well, 6°C) salty Gulf Stream water to the Barents Sea at depths around 50-100m, and the Norwegian Current, which transports colder (4°C) and fresher waters – mainly from the North and Baltic Seas – southwards. Although these differences in temperature and salinity may not seem big (both 6 and 4°C being very cold) they have significant effects on the water current system. Even those small variations result in density gradients which are, along with wind, one of the main drivers for keeping oceanic water masses flowing. This is essential for the transport and distribution of nutrients and hence the basis for all marine life. Furthermore, without functioning ocean currents, there would hardly be any existence possible as they act as our planet’s ‘air conditioning’. Thus, big waves are not only beautiful to look at – without them, we wouldn’t be here on this earth!