Polar Bears and Research Equipment in the Arctic Ocean: You’re Going to Need a Thicker Cable

By Jay T. Cullen and Kristin Orians

Three polar bears

Three polar bears “investigate” our water sampling system cable in the middle of the Beaufort Sea. Photo by Kristin Orians (UBC)

The picture you are looking at was taken today by my colleague Dr. Kristin Orians of the University of British Columbia on the icebreaker CCGS Amundsen which is currently working in the Beaufort Sea. The photo was taken near 75 N 150 W in the middle of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean which is shown on the map below:

After arriving on station and beginning work the crew noticed three polar bears in the water together which swam around to the ship when our water sampling system was nearly 3500 meters below the surface. The ship was located far from sea ice and land. Indeed, Arctic sea ice extent was the fourth lowest on record this year and there has been speculation that this imposes stress on polar bears which rely on the ice to hunt. They tested out our cable (which is made of a synthetic fiber similar to kevlar that is used in bulletproof vests) with their teeth. Shouting and arm waving failed to scare them off and there were some tense moments as damage to the cable seemed inevitable. In the end it looks like the cable survived intact. We retrieved the equipment as quickly and safely as possible so the ship could move off and give the bears their space. Of all the worries a trace metal chemist has when going to sea the loss of equipment due to polar bear attack may have been near the bottom of our list. No longer I suppose. Interesting times in the Arctic Ocean.

The equipment being deployed can been seen in the following YouTube videos being prepared for use and during its trip into the Arctic Ocean.

Background on the Canadian Arctic GEOTRACES Expedition

This summer me and members of my research group have been aboard the CCGS Amundsen working with a group of scientists involved with the International GEOTRACES and ArcticNet programs to better understand how climate change in the Arctic is affecting important physical, biological and chemical processes and conditions in the marine environment.

The main scientific objectives of this program are as follows:

  1. develop novel water & circulation tracers to monitor future circulation changes in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA), an important flow path where the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic Ocean waters are connected
  2. assess the effect of ocean acidification on metal speciation, bioavailability and toxicity to marine organisms
  3. document the effect of trace chemical elements on plant and animal growth & greenhouse gas emissions
  4. develop better models to predict changes in ocean circulation & productivity in the CAA, their consequences in the N. Atlantic, and globally

A blog maintained by the expedition can be found here.

This entry was posted in News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s