Saying goodbye to friends is always hard, especially when we have spent seven of the most grueling weeks of our lives together. After so long away I had begun to think that my sojourn on the ice was endless, however the final week rolled around surprisingly quickly. Our final water sampling day saw some of our worst weather yet with the bike winch becoming covered in snow as quickly as we could shovel it out, and more importantly the skiway had many new snow drifts covering its extent.
One of the many unique aspects of the Catlin Ice Base is that when you are finished with the science you still have to dig yourselves out of the camp and get back to the rest of the world. In the Arctic this means that you not only have to clear the skiway of the latest snow buildup so that the plane can land, but you also have to dig out all the tents from the snowdrifts that have built up around them.
This final push of effort from everyone at the ice base resulted in us being able to keep our April 29th date with a Twin Otter. Due to the last minute storm that deposited more snow on the skiway we were unable to clear enough distance to allow the bigger DC3 to land, so we shuttled all our equipment to a gravel runway on a deserted island next to us using the Twin Otter. After six full loads and two DC3 flights we were all back in Resolute Bay and were rewarded with our first showers for seven weeks.
This is where I said goodbye to many of my new friends, Simon, Carolyn, Fran and Jamie the Catlin Ice Base staff who had looked after us and supported our research while at the base. I sincerely hope that I have the chance to work with everyone again; it was a unique experience for me to meet so many polar adventurers. From Resolute Bay, I and the rest of the scientists set out for home. We took one last trip together all the way to Ottawa where Helen and Ceri were headed for the UK and David and I to Virginia.
The single biggest shock when I arrived home was the amount of growth all around me. When we left for the Arctic in March the trees were mostly leafless and the grass brown. Now, returning from two months where the only colour was white, I find the spring bloom well in progress in Virginia, all the trees are full with bright green leaves and dazzling flowers everywhere I look. Even though we had seen the start of the Arctic spring bloom while at the ice base, it is very different to a terrestrial spring.
Now starts the next phase of my work, the research does not finish with the packing up of the Catlin Ice Base. Many months of analysis on samples that I brought back with me and on the data collected while at the base remain. From a very preliminary analysis while at the base, we know that coloured dissolved organic material was being produced within the sea ice in concert with ice algae. However, that is just the start and I have yet to fully analyze all the data, as well as consider the data of my fellow scientists.
This work never really ends. Sometime within this year I hope to publish my data and conclusions. However, I will continue to work with the data for many years, comparing it to older and newer data and incorporating it into climate models for the Arctic.
The Catlin Arctic Survey has allowed me to collect data that would otherwise remain unknown, it has provided me with a lifetime experience, a greater self-sufficiency and best of all, friends forged from shared experience on the ice.
Photo credits: The Catlin Arctic Survey, Copyright Martin Harley.
Editor's Note: The Catlin Arctic Survey is a unique collaboration among polar explorers and scientists to gather data on the impacts of climate and environmental change in the Arctic.
This 10-week international scientific expedition will travel to the farthest reaches of the Arctic to research the impact of melting ice caps on the world's oceans and weather systems. In recent years, the surface area of Arctic ice has declined to levels that were not expected until 2070. The Catlin Arctic team will seek to understand how climate and environmental changes affect ocean currents, which have a major impact on weather patterns throughout North America. Scientists are predicting that climate-related changes in the way that ocean currents circulate could result in a dramatic increase in the frequency and intensity of storms and cause extensive flooding, coastal erosion and damage to crops, homes and cities across the U.S. and around the world. The scientific team will be based at a unique research station located on sea ice in the Canadian Arctic shelf.
Simultaneously, a team of polar explorers will undertake two separate Arctic missions: the first across the Prince Gustav Adolf Sea, and the second from the North Geographic Pole toward Greenland.
Victoria Hill is research professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.