14 September, 2001
A Day Abroad
Today was a wonderful day aboard the Polarstern. Yesterday scientist Paul Schmieder, a student from the University of Tulsa, and I were chosen to spend some time on the German icebreaker. We had a short 5-minute flight to reach the ship from the Healy, and upon our arrival a group of scientists were waiting to welcome us. We each met our roommates and were taken to our very comfortable and cozy rooms.
The Polarstern and Healy are on different times - the Polarstern's time is 5 hours ahead of the Healy's. This meant that although it was 2:00 pm when we left the Healy, it was after dinner when we arrived aboard our neighbor's ship 5 minutes later. Talk about jet-lag! We were given a grand tour and spent the remainder of the evening in the ship's comfortable lounge snacking and socializing.
After a good night's sleep, we spent the morning learning about the variety of Polarstern's science programs. There were many scientists that spent time with us and patiently explained how their programs work.
The first operation that we observed was the TV Grab. The "TV" is a camera with 2 lights that are mounted on a metal jaw-like apparatus. It allows the users to see the ocean floor and "grab" rocks that come into view. We watched the use of this equipment and saw animals swim by the camera on its way down and animals crawling on the ocean floor. Unfortunately they were not in clear focus, and so we could not identify their types. When the instrument hit bottom, it blasted up a muddy cloud that told the scientists controlling it that the sea floor was covered with sediment instead of the rocks they desired. The ship slowly moved and pulled it along the floor for over an hour, but no rocks were sighted. They ended up grabbing mud and hauling it to the surface.
Speaking of mud, we learned from a sedimentologist about sediment cores that are being taken from the Arctic Ocean floor by using an instrument called a "box core". The sediment is collected in columns and studied. As you go down in the column, the sediment becomes older, and microfossils trapped in the layers give you information such as relative age of the sediment and past climates of the Arctic region. This is a very interesting job if you like to play in the mud!
We also learned how scientists aboard the Polarstern are mapping the crust of the Earth. The crust under the Arctic Ocean is mapped in a "seismic" study. This is where air under high pressure is released to create sound waves. These waves travel to the seafloor and penetrate into the crust. The waves reflect back from the crust and are received by the ship where the data is used to make maps that show crustal structure.
There were many scientists who took time to explain concepts to us today and we had wonderful hospitality from our German friends on the Polarstern. Tomorrow we may stay or go. Our fate is in the hands of the ever-unpredictable Arctic weather.
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