NASA AMASE 2008: Preparation to go aboard ship (August 1 to 4)

Status Report From: AMASE 2008
Posted: Thursday, August 7, 2008


August 7, 2008 / Written by: Jason Feldman

Almost all the AMASE team with their boxes of instruments and gear and tools and such assembled in Longyearbyen in a big conference room at the Radisson and unpacked equipment and started assembling the instruments and running tests. We all worked very hard in Longyearbyen - making sure everything was in place and taking care of last minute technical and logistical crises trying to get everything up and running and reedy for the field. There was much interest in and admiration of (with oohing and aahing and handling) the new-to-AMASE instruments and the new and improved versions of last year's instruments, including the induced fluorescence Bio-Evidence-Detector from UofA, the ruggedized small suitcase sized matching orange CheMin's from Ames, the WISDOM ground penetrating radar on its own human propelled Rover mockup from Norway's department of defense Research Institute (Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt), the dual wavelength Raman-in-a-box from JPL Mark got stopped with, but managed to talk his way through, at every security checkpoint between Los Angeles and Svalbard, the Spanish Raman from Universidad de Valladolid, and the little battery powered FTIR and "pre-production unit" of the exoscan (the closest thing there is to a Tricorder) from University of Leeds, UK. All the "ice-girls" disappeared into the UNIS lab to prepare all their coring equipment and chemical supplies for the field and were only seen occasionally at odd hours -they fortuitously found a highly skilled jack-of-all-trades at the snowmobile repair shop to deal with a tapped hole issue in the nick of time. We all are already working like a team and having fun too..Steele and Paul are much missed by all this year.

Three days before the ship, Research Vessel Lance, arrived Longyearbyen a heavy fog and mist settled in the Longyearbyen part of the island, including the airport, and brought all air traffic to a complete halt. The hotel lobby, as well as every other square inch of horizontal space, was full of stranded people lying around underfoot with clothes and luggage piled all over the place. We had four missing AMASE team members, stuck in Oslo or Tromsa airports by this same weather, as well as Michaela's luggage with all her cold weather gear - also two critical boxes of SAM equipment had gone missing somewhere en route from USA to Svalbard.

Those of us relatively new to expeditions in the Arctic were sent to safety training followed by rifle practice the day of the solar eclipse. The best shot by far was Mats, with the WISDOM team, who after he got a little practice in put four bullets into the target within a 1 .5 cm thinking I'll stay close to him if we encounter a polar bear. The sky was perfectly clear for the eclipse - observed by those of us shooting from the range - the light became gradually more eerie and muted to a silver grey..just beautiful and not like any other light I've ever we saw the eclipse to about 93%. Also practiced with the flare gun and a marvelous contrivance which is a cardboard tube you pull apart into two pieces. One piece has what looks like a big match head and the back of the other piece has a sandpaper area to strike it. You strike the match and throw it and 25 grams of TNT go off a few seconds later - a good boom to scare polar bears, though I can think of some excellent misuses of these devices back home. In addition to the AMASE team members there were a couple of high school girls doing science internships in Longyearbyen also in the training, one of whom asked, after seeing this device and having it explained asked: "which piece do you throw?" Our Norwegian instructor managed to say: "I would only suggest you throw the piece with the TNT!"

Saw a brown and white Arctic fox run across the road and up the hill and a good number of reindeer around about town. We all did our shopping for souvenirs for those everyone home as well as the best hiking/expedition pants in the world - Fjall Raven's, chocolate, wine, Aquavit and other essentials for the Arctic. Longyearbyen is a strange, wonderful, and unique place - a frontier town in today's modern world. There are bits and pieces of various projects just lying about here and there - making a juxtaposition of the wild with the industrial.a rusting old tractor with a backdrop of pristine ice clad hills and rocks.

I was in Svalbard once before in Winter (late October) when it is always dark with just a dim light from a sun still below the Horizon for a few hours in the middle of the day, with ice and snow everywhere and always bitter cold. This Svalbard of Summer was initially quite disconcerting to me: all this bright light everywhere from a sun that never sets and brown dirt and green grasses and mosses and even flowers! The flowers all over Longyearbyen are wool grass (Eriophorum Scheuchzeri) and if I was to invent a flower for this place it would be these very tough and seemingly indestructible little white tufts of what looks and feels like polar bear fur on top

Our ship arrived Sunday evening missing some crew (who were also stranded by the weather). Morten was there to greet all the oldtimers and newcomers alike with his booming laugh and infectious smile - a bear of a man and someone I know will soon be a lifelong friend. Our captain this year is Petter, previously commanding Submarines - he is kind and friendly with an air of supreme capability and competence...we are in good hands. We worked past midnight and again starting Monday morning getting everything on board - my job was van driver and stevedore to get everything to where it was needed, get it all staged, and on board ship. I went into overdrive trying to track down and put in motion the missing SAM boxes.what could be done has been done. A bit of worrying by all as the cook this year is new and an unknown, but I as I walked by the galley where he was cooking I head him playing Italian Arias as he cooked, which can only be a good sign and augers well. As Monday afternoon progressed the fog finally started to lift and we saw blue sky at last - followed soon by the happy sight of SAS planes arriving. Our three missing crew members arrived first, followed soon by Nicole, Antonio, Svein-Erik, and Kjell O.

All happily aboard, exhausted but exalted to be starting, with gear stowed. We had our first dinner aboard which was excellent, can report our cook is great. We put to sea around 8 pm and headed towards Bockfjorden.

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