Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sailing Around the Arctic Ocean

Explorer Børge Ousland is leading an attempt to sail around the Arctic Ocean this summer. His crew, on the Northern Passage, have crossed path a couple of times with another expedition, on the Peter I, attempting the same thing. Both expeditions are likely to succeed, as ice continues to melt this week at the latitudes where they are sailing. Ousland’s blog has covered the progress of the Northern Passage in detail, with photos and videos.

Probably the most difficult part of the journey for the Northern Passage was traversing the Russian coast in July and August, well before it was clear of ice. This included several days of navigating through ice that appeared solid on the satellite picture, but that contained substantial gaps when seen in the photos taken at the surface. The trimaran left Alaska yesterday, heading into the Northwest Passage. The challenge there will be watching for ice in the diminishing daylight.

The photographs and observations along the way are of scientific interest, as surface measurements of the Arctic Ocean are still few and far between. The crew has measured ocean water temperatures around 8°C along the way. That’s almost warm enough for a swim, apparently, if you’re from Norway. It also helps to explain why sea ice is melting so rapidly in the southern Arctic. The water will continue to melt ice from below well into the fall even as falling air temperatures begin to form new ice at the surface.