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August 30, 2006

I skipped dinner last night to try to catch up on some sleep — bummer as it was pizza night. However, when you are fed four times a day — afternoon tea is usually more than just a light snack — you can afford to miss a meal now and then.

I woke up several times during the night, but did not get up until 05:00 when I realized that the ship had stopped at the second ice station (81° 57.449' N, 140° 28.899' E). From my window, I could see a few flags and two people already on the ice. I jumped up, threw on my usual four layers of clothes (it was -5.5 °C this morning), knocked on Art's door and we were on our way. Instead of being lowered to the ice in a basket, we used the gangplank, which was a much easier method of getting on and off the ship.

When Art and I got on the ice, we joined the rest of the expedition members who were loading gear onto plastic sleds called pulkas. Pulkas are used to pull gear to the research sites. A lot of planning goes into assembling the equipment needed at each ice station because no one wants to run back to the ship for missing gear.

Everywhere I looked multicolored, overstuffed human forms were setting up stations, taking pictures and collecting data. You learn to recognize people on the ice, not by facial features or the other usual recognizable traits, but by the colors and combinations of their outerwear and head gear. Many of the scientists wear bright orange insulated float suits. Elsewhere you see everything from skiwear to hunting clothes to a mix and match of thermal gear.

I typically wear a layer of thermal pants, a pair of fleece pants and a pair of rain pants. On top I wear a thermal shirt, a fleece pullover, a fleece jacket and an all-weather outer jacket that repels wind and water. Some sort of head gear is essential — a toboggan and fleece pullover for me — as are gloves or mittens. While I take pictures I wear gloves and then pull on mittens over the gloves when I’m done. My fingers and cheeks get cold after photographing for an hour or more, but, other than that, my gear has worked well. Even my feet have stayed surprisingly warm with just one pair of wool socks and some incredible waterproof, insulated work boots that were recommended by the expedition.

drilling through the iceThe ice thickness at Station 2 was about 1.1 m. The sound of ice drills — think lawnmower engine — filled the air as scientists excavated several holes at different locations. Drilling can be arduous work, especially in locations where the ice is thick. A single drill shaft is usually not long enough to break through the ice to the ocean beneath, so the drilling team must add shaft extensions until the bottom of the ice is reached. Sometimes a hole with a large diameter is needed, in which case the team must drill several holes close together and then break out the connecting pieces. I have often seen someone plunge their bare hands into the water to remove ice chunks. I tested the water myself and can't imagine working for hours with wet hands.

Art and Mike in front of the icebreaker's bowThe work at this second station went smoothly and we were able to return to the ship fairly quickly. As we passed the bow, Art and I (and almost everyone else) couldn’t resist stopping for a photo op. It was strange to walk up and touch the bow of the Kapitan Dranitsyn, knowing that the hull was in the water and that we were walking above the deep ocean.


As soon as all the gear and personnel were onboard, the ship got underway, breaking ice toward a new ice station, which we should reach in 8 to 10 hours.

—Mike Dunn


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Kapitan Dranitsyn