November 2006, scientific observations carry on

Published on 30.11.2006 - Tara Arctic

Polars Bears

Polars Bears

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On November 16, the logbook indicates it is Tara's 72nd day of drift. Let us remind you that the ship was swallowed by the pack ice on September 4, at point 79°53.1 N/143°17.2 E; and that now, mid-November, the ship is at 82°37'7633'' N/139°58'8246'' E.

With winter pointing its nose, outside temperatures have dropped; it is around -20°C and -25°C. "These are unusual temperatures for Europeans", writes Denys on November 3, "and even though we will acclimatize ourselves progressively, we still feel the shivers each time we go outside. It has become impossible to hold a piece of metal, as for example a door-handle, without running the risk of having our hand stay glued to it because of the frost, breathing through our mouths has become painful, making breathing through a scarf absolutely necessary, and the body's extremities which are not covered up (nose, ears) risk being frostbitten."

During this time, scientific observations carry on. Some of these require the men to dig wholes in the pack ice. A whole is dug at the back of the schooner in order to take measurements of the sea water's salinity, concentration and temperature: some of the main activities of this expedition. Two other wholes are dug at about a hundred metres to port. One of them allows a permanent static probe to be dropped; the other is an acoustic sounding line positioned 30 metres below the pack ice. The data from these probes are gathered once a week and, of course, soundly brought back on board.

Various tools are used in order to make these wholes: first of all, a drill is used, sort of like a large motorized gimlet that makes wholes, then a thermal chain saw is used, and then, finally, an ice pick. The hardest part is to dig the whole the first time around and to maintain its opening, because the ice around it quickly builds up again even with the protection plates we have placed around the edges. When temperatures fall below -20°C, it is not unusual to see that a whole has filled up overnight!

Another daily chore (which we have already brought up in our October update) is to supply fresh water. This fresh water is divided into two types: drinking water and domestic water –for dishes, toilet and laundry. The first one, drinking water, is obtained from immaculate snow that is gathered from the pack ice. The men carry it in a plastic bag and store it in the kitchen in a 50 litre basin, in which it slowly melts. This method guarantees perfectly pure unsalted water. The second one, domestic water, is obtained from ice thath has been very carefully chosen by Viktor Karasev, a 65 year old Russian whom is the expedition's radio operator. In the press release dated November 28, 2006, he describes the process: "I look for a compression ridge which is high enough and formed by thick plates, enabling me to get old ice (2 years old) containing very little salt. Furthermore, just to make sure, I taste a piece so as to be certain of its gustatory appeal, even though it is not destined for a dietary purpose."

Then there is the cutting process through which one must obtain ice blocks of 5 to 10 kg that the men place on a sledge in order to quickly bring them back on board. This sledge of about 50 kg is hauled onto the deck. The men then bring the ice blocks down to one of the ship's back holds where a heated basin accelerates the melting process. This basin can hold up to 200 litres (this is slightly over the daily consumption of the crew); thanks to a pump, the melted ice is then channelled over to the shower booths.

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