Lance a lock

Lance departs

It sounds like a punchline for skeptics: Climate change scientists are hoping to move forward by getting stuck.

But the researchers are serious enough they’re parking the Lance research vessel in solid sea ice for six months for one of the most ambitious voyages ever undertaken by the Norwegian Polar Institute. The ship departed from Longyearbyen on Saturday, setting a course for 84 degrees 30 minutes north latitude and 25 degrees 0 minutes east longitude, where 20 scientists from ten countries hope to begin the first of two three-month periods in frozen ice.

“The entire system of the polar winter ice will be monitored, from cradle to grave,” wrote Harald Steen, the expedition’s leader, in the (NPI’s blog about the project). “The goal is to obtain data so that future models of climate change in the Arctic give as precise answers as possible.”

The Arctic ice sheet has shrunk to historic minimums in recent years and seasonal first-year ice is increasingly present compared to multi-year ice, he noted.

“First-year ice is thinner, more brittle, and flatter than multi-year ice,” he wrote. “It also drifts faster and exhibits different dynamics. Most of our knowledge about the effect of polar ice on the climate, ecosystems and the weather is based on multi-year ice data, which isn’t ideal for predicting the future of the Arctic Ocean.”

The Lance met up Tuesday with the Norwegian Coast Guard’s Svalbard icebreaker at 81 degrees 27 minutes north latitude. The icebreaker is clearing a path for the research ship until it reaches the designated freezing point.

“The Svalbard sliced through the one-and-a-half meter ice as if it was made of gingerbread, with us pacing after at a respectable seven knots,” Steen wrote. “If we can maintain our current speed, we should arrive at our target location … in approximately two days.”

“Preparations are made for establishing the instruments and running the operation. Everywhere on board, people are discussing, planning, drawing and sharing experiences.”

Researchers expect to spend the first three months drifting southward with the ice until it thaws, at which point the Lance will sail further north to a second freezing point and a new team of researchers will take over.