Master’s and PhD students from the Department of Geosciences at UiT The Arctic University of Norway participated on a cruise to the north and east of Svalbard onboard R/V Helmer Hanssen. The cruise took place during the first two weeks of September. The ice conditions allowed us also to study parts of the Arctic Ocean, and the turning point for the cruise was at an impressive 82°16’N where it is almost 4000m deep!

Text by Prof. Jan Sverre Laberg

The cruise was arranged by the Research School in Arctic Marine Geology and Geophysics (AMGG) at the Department of Geosciences, UiT, this year as a collaboration between the Research Centre for Arctic Petroleum Exploration (ARCEx) and the Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate (SFF CAGE). In addition, participants from Akvaplan-niva AS joined the cruise.

There were several purposes for this trip: 1) introduce the students to how data acquisition in the Arctic is planned and carried out using research vessels, 2) provide students with an introduction to the description and interpretation of geological, biological and oceanographic material as it was collected, 3) collect material that will form the basis for new master’s and PhD projects at the department, and 4) contribute to other ongoing projects in this area, such as “Arven etter Nansen”. UiT’s research vessel R/V Helmer Hanssen is a very well-suited platform for this type of educational cruise in the Arctic; well equipped and with a solid and experienced crew.

The students were divided into groups and worked in shifts following the vessel’s shift schedule with 6 hours work and 6 hours off throughout both day and night. The weather was very good throughout the period so we did not get any unplanned interruptions along the way. The cruise started with the collection of geophysical data (multi-beam echo sounder, seafloor penetrating acoustic equipment and seismics) to provide a regional understanding of the evolution of the continental margin. Based on these data, the location of the sample stations were determined and we sampled sediments, sea water and plankton. We sampled a total of 28 stations where the water depth ranged from about 100 to almost 4000 m.

The collected material will be used to get a better understanding of historic variations in sea temperature, salinity and flow velocity and how life in the ocean has been affected by such changes. Another main focus is the propagation of the continental ice sheet during the last ice age as well as earlier ice ages, and how these ice ages have shaped the landscape and the sea floor. In addition, we want to try to date the oldest sediments from ice ages in this area – when did it start and why?

The interaction between the ocean and the large continental ice sheet that covered the entire Barents Sea, Svalbard and Scandinavia during the last ice age is also of interest. During a stop at Kvitøya, we had a chance to discuss this. Large parts of Kvitøya, located furthermost north and east of Norway, is covered by an ice cap – hence the island’s name – only a small strip of land is visible on the west and east sides of the island. We were on the west side. Here we could see how the shape of the ice cap changes from a several 10s-of-meter-high wall of ice to a gradually sloping front depending on whether the icecap reaches the sea or stops on land. This is important because the ice cap’s (and continental ice sheets) loss of mass through the formation of icebergs occurs mainly by calving where the icecap reaches the sea and is thus also affected by changes in sea temperature.

The largest climatic changes can now be observed in the Arctic (and Antarctica) – it is therefore important to educate a new generation of students who can improve our understanding of what has happened in these areas in the past, what is happening at present to better predict future developments, and how we can best manage these areas. At UiT The Arctic University of Norway we have a great responsibility, and the necessary tools and knowledge to do it!

Some of the cruise participants from UiT The Arctic University of Norway on Kvitøya. From left: Kristine Reppen Samuelsen, Anna Sofie Kalstad, Amando Lasabuda, Naima El Bani Altuna and Pavel Serov. Photo: Bjørn Runar Olsen
R/V Helmer Hanssen at Kvitøya. Photo: Manuel Moser
On the left, the steep edge where the icecap calves and forms icebergs. Note the cracks behind the front. To the right, the ice stops on land, and we see a narrow strip of land. Photo: Manuel Moser