Etah (78 North)

August 15, 2015

It’s so beautiful up here. It really feels like we sailed to the Arctic. Fore instance we don’t get rain we get snow. Last week we were snowed on a half dozen times, although it never sticks for long. You’re probably thinking, “Man that sounds cold” but it’s not. We have seen no fog, blue skies almost every day and when the wind dies it can get up to 55-60 degrees. It doesn’t even get close to getting dark up here, the sun just goes round and round, never getting high in the sky and never getting low. We lose complete track of so called night and day and time loses all relevance. The only reason we know what day it is, is because we are constantly logging for our research.
The reason we sailed this far north is to collect data for NASA’s OMG (Oceans Melting Greenland) program. NASA scientists believe there is a warmer saltier water column that is coming up from the Atlantic and eating the glaciers from underneath. This warmer saltier water column can be found around 800-2,000 feet down. What we are doing is deploying a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) probe off the back of Ault searching for this warmer water. We will go into a fjord, deploy the CTD at the glacier, then half way down the fjord, then at the mouth of the fjord and so on. Sometimes we head offshore a ways and deploy the CTD down to 1,750 feet, we have to use a waterman’s pot puller (which I have bolted to the back of our boat) to get the CTD back up again. We will be conducting research for NASA’s OMG program for about a month before we switch gears to marine plastics research.

Conducting this research with only two people is a huge amount of work, and it’s not uncommon for us to work for 24 hours straight. Having constant sunlight helps as you don’t get tired like you normally would. On the flip side, we get to go into some incredibly beautiful fjords. When we were at the end of Robertson fjord where Verhoeff glacier terminates Nikki told me “this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen”. Huge dramatic cliffs with multi -colored rocks, mosses, lichen and birds everywhere. Some of these glaciers, like Morris Jessup (my favorite glacier name) is packed full of ice. There was only one lead through the jumble of ice in and out. Even once you’re through the lead you often zig zag your way between ice bergs that are separated by little more than the width of our vessel. We had a little berg the size of a cow roll and somehow get underneath of us, but we smashed it with our steel bow and kept rolling.
It’s important to keep in mind that we are only entering these ice packed fjords in flat calm conditions. Although there is tons of ice everywhere with no wind and waves it’s not that dangerous. In the larger fjords when the wind does pick up it gets funneled by the mountainous cliffs and the wind can really come screaming down the length of the fjord. We had to spend 24 hours hiding behind a little out cropping in Robertson fjord waiting for the wind to die so we could get back to work. The nice thing was that on this out cropping was the little village of Siorapaluk.
According to the Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation Siorapaluk is the world’s most northern indigenous community with a population of 70. I’d be surprised if there is even that many people there. This gave Nikki and I a good chance to take a walk and look around. As we were walking my heart sank a little as I watched a small cruise ship (still 300-400 feet long) come in and drop anchor next to Ault. There was a flurry of activity as they launched several black ribs into the water each filled with eager eco tourists. They came in waves and were all wearing matching yellow jackets that gave them more the impression of an army than of individuals. Eventually there were more eco tourists than there were villagers, many armed with cameras taking pictures of the Inuit like they were monkeys in a zoo. All the people we talked to who worked for this company were good hearted and very friendly and who am I to say what business can or can’t operate their cruise ships in the far corners of our planet? It was just very strange to be standing on the hillside next to Nicole overlooking this beautiful remote fjord watching what can only be described as the eco tourist version of the landings on Normandy.
Etah is just incredible. Etah was also used by many of the Arctic explorers, Perry for one used Etah to repair his boat which was sinking out from underneath him. This place almost doesn’t fit in up here. It’s very green and lush with fresh water glacial streams and abundant wildlife. Birds are nesting on the sides of the mountainous cliffs by the millions, or at least it looks that way. The birds are so thick in the sky that they look more like a swarm of insects. The birds bring in other predators like the Arctic fox. You can see ten Arctic foxes in one day, I had one pop out twenty feet away when we were walking around, but it disappeared before I could get to the camera. All the greenery brings in Musk Ox which are often grazing in the distance. Musk Ox brings in Polar Bears so when you walk around you’re armed to the teeth.
As much as I’d like to stay here, like climbing a mountain you don’t spend much time at the summit. That said, the ice in Smith Sound looks like it may have shifted east, if so we may have to wait a day or two for it to shift back west as it could be blocking us in. It’s too hard to tell from where we are anchored, we will find out soon enough as we are going to try to leave in six hours.
Etah will be our furthest North. The Humboldt glacier is dumping off so much ice that you can’t get much further north. We have done all the research we can do up here for now so we might as well turn back south for greener pastures (new research areas). I added a satellite picture showing our potion in relation to the impenetrable ice. This picture is a couple days old and the ice in Smith Sound changes day to day, but it gives you a good idea of how far north we have made it.

Fortitudine Vincinimous

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