North Pole celebrations for the SAS Polar expedition on icebreaker Oden summer 2021

Last Monday, 16 August 2021, John Prytherch and Sonja Murto from MISU reached the North Pole on the icebreaker Oden, halfway through the SAS Arctic expedition. After a month of hard work they enjoyed a BBQ and did the northermost ever Lindy Hop dance performance on the ice, courtesy of MISUs own dance choreographer Sonja Murto.

Ice breaker Oden and people working on the ice. Photo: Sonja Murto
Work on the ice, organizing gear (left) and taking water samples from an open lead (right). Photo left: Lisa Winberg von Friesen (Univ of Copenhagen); Photo right: Sonja Murto.

The Synoptic Arctic Survey - SAS - is this year’s expedition to the Central Arctic on the Swedish Icebreaker Oden, from August to September 2021. On board there is a team of around 35 international scientists and 40 crew that together make the expedition possible. The aim is to gain a better understanding of processes involved in the Arctic ecosystem and climate and to gain a better understanding of the present state of the system. This also provides opportunity for scientists from different disciplines to come together and study the Central Arctic Ocean - a region with sea ice, melt ponds and leads from where few observations have been made previously.

Ice breaker Oden and person resting on the ice. Photo: Sonja Murto
Well-earned rest on the ice. Photo: John Prytherch.

SAS started with an 8-day hotel quarantine in Malmö starting on 16 July and after being cleared from the virus we arrived on Oden on Saturday 24 July. The transit across the northern North Atlantic took another few days and we arrived at the ice edge on 1 August, officially starting the expedition on the 2 August. As we work our way into the ice, we stop to take observations and water samples in the water column with a so-called CTD/Rosette, and there are helicopter flights out on the ice. Sometimes we stop for shorter or longer, up to 24-hour long, ice stations with intensive sampling. So far, we have had four longer ice stations (8, 16, 19 and 23 August) and we will reach our fifth ice station on 26 August.

Most of the scientists on board are chemists or biologists. But John Prytherch and I, under the lead of Michael Tjernström, are part of the meteorology team from MISU under the ACAS project (Arctic climate across scales). After setting up all the instruments on Oden, our main tasks are to maintain the different instruments (weather station, remote sensing and surface flux instruments) spread out over the ship and to launch radiosondes attached to weather balloons every 6 hours in order to retrieve vertical profiles of the atmosphere. From these measurements many other parameters can be calculated, giving valuable information about the current state of the atmosphere in the Arctic. A novelty of our work is that the output files from the soundings will be immediately transmitted for improving the forecasts, for both SMHI, but also utilised by other numerical weather prediction institutes. We have also been out on the ice nine times by now, four times with the helicopter, for gas flux measurements of methane and CO2 between the atmosphere and the ice, melt ponds or leads using gas chambers and taking water samples.

Two scientist posing for picture and launch from boat deck of balloon. Photo: Sonja Murto
John Prytherch and Sonja Murto dressed up for North Pole festivities (left) and North Pole balloon launch (right). Photo left: Adam Ulfsbo (University of Gothenburg); Photo right: Sonja Murto.

Last Monday evening, on the 16th, after ending our second ice station at 89N55W we transited to the North pole. The weather for the last couple of weeks has been pretty foggy and cloudy, but exactly this evening the sun came out and the weather was absolutely beautiful! We were all finished with our work and were ready for a celebration ON THE NORTH POLE. Standing on the bridge, we were all witnessing how the latitude on the GPS was showing 90N! Then some of us went out to enjoy the sunshine on the 7th deck, where also our sounding and weather stations are located (see photo of me and John). The evening was absolutely beautiful; we had live saxophone music, took a group photo on the ice, had lindy hop dance performances to live music all on the North Pole, followed by a BBQ and (alcohol-free) beer on Oden. The dance performance was choreographed and taught by me! This was one of my dreams when I was asked to take part in this expedition. My expectations were exceeded: we were 14 happy dance couples dancing lindy hop accompanied by live music (saxophone and guitar) and the rest of the expedition watched and enjoyed the show!

People dancing lindy-hop on the ice. Photo: Hans-Jörgen Hansen
North Pole lindy-hop performance. Photo: Hans-Jörgen Hansen

The photos describe the mood and activities of the day we reached the North pole: starting with the ice station and a four-hour long work on the ice and ending with a sunshine and dance performance on the ice in front of Oden. Finally, the 00 UTC weather balloon launch was a group launch, where everyone could write a North Pole greeting to be sent up to the atmosphere by the balloon.


The sun through fog low clouds, over ice. Photo: Sonju Murto
The sun through fog low clouds, a common view in the Arctic. Photo: Sonju Murto

Every day is full of new adventures, experiences and surprises! Right now we are about halfway through our expedition: 29 days of 57 days have passed and 28 days are still left for exploring the Arctic and reaching our goals.

/Sonja Murto, PhD Student at MISU, 2021-08-24