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“The ice used to be hard, now it crumbles into little pieces”

28 August 2015
Reports appear in the media about the sea ice in the Arctic on a daily basis, and in September coverage is expected to reach an all-time low. American researchers are already warning that Arctic sea ice has reached its lowest level since satellite records began in 1979. How is this manifesting itself? We asked Richard Gyllencreutz, who is currently on a research expedition aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden in the Arctic...

If you look out of the window now, what do you see?

Ice everywhere. Ever since we entered the pack ice the concentration has been 10/10, or occasionally 9/10. At the moment there are lots of low (around 1m) ridges of thick ice that we have to push through, with perhaps a few narrow passages of open water in between. The sun has just come out and is shining brightly, which we haven’t seen much in the last week.

We hear alarming reports about the sea ice in the Arctic on a daily basis. American researchers from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) are now saying that the Arctic sea ice has reached its lowest level since satellite records began in 1979, is this something that you are noticing? In what way?

We haven’t noticed anything in terms of the ice cover, but on the other hand we’re far inside the boundaries of the perennial ice, so you don’t notice the difference here. The ice drifts all the time and varies from day to day, so you can’t rely on what you see to say anything about possible changes. This is why we need the satellite measurements. But chief engineer Dahn Joelsson, who has taken part in all of Oden’s voyages to the North Pole, says that he can see a difference in the hardness of the ice. It has never been easier to make progress as it is now, and the ice is clearly more porous than it was previously. The ice used to be hard, and cracked as Oden broke through it. Now it crumbles into little pieces.

Do you notice a difference compared with expeditions in previous years?

Personally, I’ve never been to the Arctic before, only Antarctica. But according to researcher Ludvig Löwemark and others on board (including Chief Engineer Dahn Joelsson, see above), who’ve been on several Arctic expeditions, there appear to be more meltwater puddles on the ice this time around. One personal reflection is that it looks completely impossible to travel to the North Pole on skis at the moment.

Can you tell us something about the research you are conducting on this expedition?

We’re investigating sea and climate developments in the Arctic over the last few hundred thousand years, using sediment cores from the seabed. We will be focusing in particular on past ice cover, based on the remains of ice algae and ice-transported deposits in the sediment.

Can you say anything about the results yet?

No. All the analysis will be done in laboratories when we come ashore. But we have managed to collect over 60 metres of sediment cores with some excellent material from areas that have not previously been investigated, so we have plenty to work with.

Read more about the expedition here. (In Swedish)