Distant peaks of Greenland, the beauty of ice, and a strong current

There really is only one possible topic for today’s blog; the spectacular views of ice and Greenland that we have been treated to through the day. When I woke we were on station in very calm conditions and surrounded by fog. We are at north-eastern part of our CTD section across the Labrador Sea and today we were due to stop for stations along an ever-shallowing line up onto the West Greenland shelf. We all knew that we were due to reach the edge of the pack ice today, so there was some excitement in the air.

We weren’t disappointed. The fog cleared and the sun came out as the pieces of ice passing the ship increased in number and size. We really couldn’t have asked for better weather for admiring the view – the wind dropped to almost nothing and the air was crystal clear. Out on deck the air was cold but the sunshine warmed us gently. Work continues of course, so no-one could spend the whole day outside, but by popping out during our breaks or for work on deck, we have all managed to have our spirits lifted by the scenery today.

We are some way from land still, with another six stations to do before we turn around and head back out to deeper waters, but the air was so clear that for a while we had a tantalising view of the distant icy mountains of southern Greenland. Between us and the land lies a lot of pack ice; broken and melting chunks of ice with their extraordinary range of white and turquoise colours. Some are dirty, presumably from having scraped along the bottom of the sea at some point. They are all sizes from almost translucent tiny pieces just at the surface, to large solid lumps with melt ponds and pits on the surface. When the ship makes contact with the largest ones we feel a jolt and some bumps before the ice is pushed to the side. The ship moves slowly through the ice of course, and the bridge officers skillfully steer a safe path through the obstacles. The ice is beautiful but it also creates a serious challenge to the officers, especially when it is combined with fog as it is again this evening.

As well as being fantastically beautiful, this is a particularly interesting area for oceanographers. The current here is strong and while we are on station, barely moving position, ice endlessly streams past us as the surface water flows towards the northwest at 2 knots. This is the West Greenland Current and it brings two contrasting kinds of water into the Labrador Sea. The first is relatively warm and salty and has its origins in the subtropics and the Gulf Stream, though it has travelled many miles around the subpolar gyre before we encounter it here. The second is cold (-1.5°C) and fresher water that has journeyed all the way from the Arctic along the east coast of Greenland, being added to by melting sea ice and glacier melt water along the way. In a few weeks’ time, our OSNAP partners will be laying moorings right here, so we can measure continually for four years the volume of water and the amount of heat carried by these vast ocean rivers.

Penny Holliday

Images: Ice, distant mountains of Greenland, and sampling for surface surfactants with a pretty good view from the office today.


One thought on “Distant peaks of Greenland, the beauty of ice, and a strong current

  1. Stunning photos Penny, glad all going well and the conditions are being relatively kind to you. 5 weeks today and our girls leave Primary School behind, how can that be?! Enjoying your blogs, take care, x

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