2010 Expedition to Jan Mayen

Researcher Emilie Beaudon with her gear packed up waiting for shipping.

Researcher Emilie Beaudon from the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, has just left to the arctic volcanic island of Jan Mayen to collect samples for her studies. Her research focuses on reconstructing the climate over the last three centuries in the Barents region, specially the spatial climate and circulation differences in Svalbard archipelago.

Read the Jan Mayen 2010 expedition blog at the address arctic2010.wordpress.com

The posts below are reports from our researchers to the Antarctic during 2006-2007.


End of the Antarctic Expedition – Return to Aboa (9.2.2007)

We have finally finished our work. We completed 2.6 km of sampling and measured the velocities of about 20 stakes precisely. We found that ice velocities were about as expected from our previous years data and in-line with our mathematical models. That means that the ice flows at between a few cm and 30 cm year along our flow line and in the direction of the ice fall at the bottom of the valley – which is also lowing into the valley, but more slowly. The two flows meet at the start of our profile line, and that’s where the oldest ice in the valley is.

Our samples were transported to the Aboa freezer by the Swedarp tracked vehicle traverse. It took them 2 days to travel the 200 km distance, as despite being very comfortable, they are very slowww – crawling at less than 10 km/hour when pulling 2 sledges uphill, but they can pull more than 10 tons of cargo. While the Swedes were with us at Svea, they gave us some potatoes, half a cabbage and some apples, and they were so sweet, it really was marvelous to taste real food again.

The Swedish TR4s at Svea; the peak to the left is Gerhardsennutenwith with the luxurious living module is on the sledge below it. They had plenty of space for our gear waiting in the foreground,  including our insulated ice core boxes (white boxes at left). The mountain and low sun shadow most of the valley for long periods in late January. Photo: John Moore/FINNARP

We traveled to Aboa a week or so after the Swedes left, with light sledges and over really nice flat and smooth surfaces. We had new 4-stroke Yamaha Viking scooters with us (having swapped scooters at Christmas for ones straight off the re-supply ship). These scooters are very powerfull (120 bhp), but not very stable (having quite high centres of gravity) so take a bit of getting used to. Anyway the combination of excellent surfaces and pretty good weather meant that we could pull our sledges at speeds up to 60 kph, which is really amazing compared with the speeds that we could manage when we first went to Svea 3 months earlier over heavy sastrugi.

We need to wait for Kristiina to analyze the chemistry in the laboratory in Rovaniemi, and for our Dutch colleagues to analyze the water isotopes before we can say much about the paleoclimate record. Kristiina will be working on the data for her PhD and it will take several months to analyze all the samples we have taken, even running the ion chromatograph 24 hours a day.

We arrived back at Aboa in time to watch the other scientists leave. They had finished their experiments that had been running since the ship came  at Christmas time. It was with rather mixed feelings that we helped them load the Basler aircraft and head for home. At least I was enjoying being on base and doing some of the non-science logistics activity of looking after a base and preparing it for the 9 month winter before the next expedition arrives. Though of course after 3 months, I think we were all enviously imagining the group spending a few days enjoying Cape Town’s hot climate.

After the group left, we were only 5 of us remaining. Since then we have been storing the 8 snow scooters and our many sledges in the garage (and closing it up so that hopefully a bit less snow is packed inside over the winter than we found when we opened it up this season). We taken down the antennas and our flag route markers and strapped down or put away all the things that we are sure the wind can not blow away _ that means practically anything smaller than a house. There is still perhaps a week to go before our plane picks us up, so we have had not had to work too hard on the base activities. We have had some free time; I made a chess board from old packing cases and rubber, and others have found new and varied ways of playing cards. This kind of work and leisure is the closest most scientists get to over-wintering these days.

Back on base

Fresh sheets, clean, scour skin anew
Water – from a tap, and not on the floor
Cabbage green, sharp, sweet cooked, best raw
Sun filtered gentle through windows screened
Food cupboards filled, seven chocolate bars a day
Cotton clothes soothe nylon sweats past
Machine washed clean with spring-pine freshness
Evenings wallowing in hot sauna baths, cold beer on hand.

Can this be Antarctica?
A world away from a tent, from hint of hardship,
But it’s only a day, or is it really a century since
Death marches from that awful place,
Forty years since dogs and half year long trips?
People still die, of stupidity or ignorance
But the wind is less keen, the weather is warmer, we are softer
And it is better for all that.


20.1. Past climate recorded in the ice

We are collecting ice samples from a place where the ice is thousands of years old. These places are rare and difficult to use. Usually a deep ice core is drilled to reach ancient layers of ice, but that is very expensive and large field teams of 20 or more in large field camps take years to penetrate 3 km of ice. In contrast we are just 3 people who have recovered 2.5 km of “horizontal” ice core. The methods we use are quite novel in glaciology, but pretty familiar to people with building skills as mostly we have used circular saws, routers, electric planes, power drills and concrete grinding machines. 

First Aslak and John did a complete profile of the electrical properties of the ice _ this allowed us to get a rough idea of the age of the ice from its acidity variations. Then we made a plan to sample the ice for chemical analysis in Finland, and water isotope analysis (in the
Netherlands). These will tell us how warm and cold the seasons were, about the biological productivity of the ocean, the strength of the winds, where the dust came from, and in fact tell us some basic mechanisms of climate behaviour. We think that the oldest ice is about 15000 years old and we know that the age of ice 300 m further up the ice is 10500 years. This spans the end of the last ice age and this was, until the last 100 years, the largest and fastest change in climate that we know about.



Velocity map of the Scharffenbergbotnen valley and the line of our profile. 

So understanding what was changing in the ocean and atmospheric currents can tell us a lot of what could happen in the near future. Therefore we have sampled this part of the ice at 20 cm resolution for chemistry, meaning that we have collected and individually bagged about 1500 samples of ice. However we also need to know what happened later in time, and so we have not just sampled this very old ice, but the other 2 km of ice as well. We are very limited by how much ice we can transport home, so we have measured 1 m in every 100 m at very high resolution so we can see how thick the annual layers are, and the rest we sample very coarsely to get an idea how the 100 year average climate varied until the present. We have done about 70% of all the sampling we plan.



13.1. The Storm

Winds here can be pretty strong. We have lost a few things already due to occasional very strong gusts – one knee pad blown off while being worn, Aslak’s scooter helmet from his scooter (though we found that 500 m away in the moraine). Of course we were prepared for windy conditions, and our equipment is designed for it, but sometimes the weather can be surprising, especially in the mountain area where we are working.

Just before New Year we went back to Aboa and picked up Kristiina, the third member of our group. Just after we got back to Svea the weather got pretty windy, and for 2 days we were kept inside as a lot of snow blew past the hut. On January 4 the wind was a bit less and we but went out to check our equipment that we keep with 2 tents 5 km down the valley. 


Before. The equipment camp with the pyramid tent and Hilleberg tent and various boxes. Photo: John Moore/FINNARP

We found that the Swedarp Hilleberg tent was badly damaged with several poles broken. The pyramid tent was gone – but was visible near a moraine 1 km up wind. Boxes left around tent valence were all there and intact, though pretty well messed around, except for one metal box. Lots of food items were scattered around camp site. Also the large sledge we left there appeared to have been rolled over twice being moved about 10 m down wind despite being staked to the snow with anchors and parked backed onto a huge rock.

Along the trail to the remains of the pyramid tent we found many cans of food, empty and full, tools, etc. Further down wind (more than 2 km from the camp site), two broken wooden boxes were found (a sample bottles box and a food box). The circular saw (still functional) and zarges box (very battered and empty) were also found.


After.  What we found after the storm – note the missing pyramid tent, and the boxes scattered around that were around the tent and the broken Hilleberg tent. Photo: John Moore/FINNARP

 The worst damage was to things inside tent (where the bottle box was kept as it was very light – lost my down jacket, several mats, and probably some tools and odds and ends we were working on in the tent). It appears that the tent was picked up by the wind and things fell out of floor or door en-route across the ice. The Hilleberg tent appears fine except for broken poles, but of course that makes it useless as a tent now. The pyramid tent is of a design unaltered for most of the 20th Century and was supposed to be able to survive almost hurricane-force winds. But we were using a novel design with a few “improvements”. A good rule in Antarctica is that if it works then don’t fix it.

Luckily none of our essential equipment was lost, and since the storm we have had our more customary weather and been able to catch up on our working schedule.

Kristiina aka Dr. Evil’s #1 henchman. Photo: John Moore/FINNARP

18.12 The lost key

On friday we were driving along two visibly darker bands on the blue ice. These bands are interesting for us as they indicate that all the snow within the band is a certain age. As we were driving along John stopped and said something. With the engine running I could not hear what he said, so I turned off the snowmobile and removed my helmet. John pointed out how the two bands were much closer together than they were at our starting point, implying a relatively high surface age gradient. John turned on his engine and continued along the band. I wanted to do the same – but discovered that the ignition key was missing.

Slowly I saw John and his snowmobile disappear in the distance. The key had probably caught on to my gloves and been pulled out as I turned off the snowmobile. I frantically started searching the immediate surroundings. After a short time John discovered that I was not following and drove back to investigate why. I explained and we both started searching. We searched the hard packed snow patch, the snowmobile, my gloves and pockets. We then turned the snowmobile on both of its sides to look under it. No key.

Having searched all likely places, we started looking in less likely places. Perhaps it had fallen into pants, my boots or my socks? I started to undress. I removed my gloves, jacket, kneepads, trousers… At the same time a bone-chilling Antarctic breeze had picked up. I looked in my long underwear. Took off my boots and looked in my socks. Checked my hat and helmet an extra time and found no key. In the end we covered up the snowmobile and left it parked there on the blue ice.

Once back at Svea John instituted a full body-cavity search, making use of the convenient supply of rubber gloves in the cupboards. Finally John accepted the fact that I had decided to swallow the thing and having no X-ray equipment handy, I reluctantly accepted the key was the victim of the perfect crime, or had found its way to a convenient worm-hole and hence to a planet where it could pursue a uniquely key-oid way of life.

Our only recourse was to contact the good people at Aboa and Wasa to get some advice. The mechanics there (Stefan & Tapio) found a method that enabled us to bypass ignition switch, so that you can start the engine using the pull-starter. We tried it today and it worked perfectly. After pull-starting the engine many times today, I can highly recommend it. I feel I have achieved a much more intimate relationship with my scooter than before when I merely used the ignition switch.  


15.12. Packing the gear

In the month before going to Antarctica with FINNARP in 2003, I composed a short piece of electronic music called Packing the Gear ( a link to mp3-file). It was during that season that we (Anna Sinisalo, Kristiina Virkkunen, and my self) collected the 100 m long horizontal ice core SBB01H from the Scharffenbergbotnen valley.

Together with the data we collect this year we hope to be able to get a good climatic record of how the deglaciation interacted with the Southern Ocean. This year I also plan to collect some Antarctic sounds that will inspire me to write more music when I get back home to Rovaniemi, Finland. More of my music can be found on http://www.mikseri.net/phunck.


The Metrel in the hut after being opened up and dried out. Photo: John Moore/FINNARP


14.12. When its time to go home

Usually the equipment we bring to Antarctica is pretty rugged – or at least you hope it is. A lot of time is spent checking manufacturer’s specifications, and doing tests in the cold room. However it’s pretty well always been my experience that all the toys break after a while in Antarctica, once they have all broken then its time to pack up and leave.

So what have we broken so far, after less than 50% of our time. The first thing to go was the hair dryer. Not a big loss you may suppose, considering our documented hygiene habits. But the hair dryer was actually not for us, it was to warm the equipment and melt any ice locking moving parts. Well, one part of our hair dryer was frozen the day I used – it was the fan, the heater element was very much working, so after about 10 seconds
of use, I had a burning piece of plastic in my hand rather than a supply of hot air.


The grinding machine – leaking oil and with broken handle. Photo: John Moore/FINNARP

We have been using a concrete grinding machine with steel brushes (actually about 1000 8 cm long nails in 6 circular plates) to smooth the ice surface prior to measuring its properties. We had attached an extra handle to keep the grinder under control on the smooth surface of the ice. This has been a real handful for me and Aslak to control (a bit like grabbing a bull by the nose and by the tail). Later that same day the grinder finally decided that ice smoothing was not really its thing. The extra handle sheared off the engine casing and oil started pouring out of the engine. Not very pretty, but the machine had done all the essential work we needed, so it could be retired gracefully, and we could manage with manual ice axe chopping of the ice for the 200 m more we had left.

Over the following few days we could see a lot equipment starting to feel  the effects of the treatment we have been giving them for the last 4 weeks, lots of things need delicate coaxing over the last few meters of work they will have to do, they can sense that the finish line is approaching. Even the duct tape is looking pretty shaky.

The high voltage source we use for the electronator has also been suffering a bit. It spends most days about 30% covered in snow, which if the sun shine is strong enough, melts on the box casing. Water and high voltages don’t go well together, but we are dealing with Antarctic ice, which is purer than distilled water for batteries, so it was reasonably OK for a few weeks. 


Typical profiling with the electronator – the Metrel is under my left
hand (and a lot of snow and water). Photo: Aslak Grinsted/FINNARP

Well now the meter has packed in, and instead of giving 1000V, it gave only 40V. Not good enough, we really should complain to Metrel that their meter needs to be waterproof! Anyway it got us all but 20 m of the 1.25 km long profile we were measuring, so not so bad.


But the million year project is rock
Seconds or hours or days strumming on cables,
Huts moaning low, sensually unsatiated
Years plowing ice ripples blue,
Waves frozen only in living eyes
Madding millennia harvesting snow
A lifetime playing the fool with feathers, or hats
But rock is main work, carving geology takes time
When all that you are is air, but more than just wind
The life and death force,
Arbiter of the living human clay,
Shaper of worlds.





KINNVIKA EXPEDITION by Emilie, Venkata, Michael and Sakari

ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION by John Moore and Aslak Grinsted