Rendezvous for icebreaker Oden at the Arctic Sea

When there is a will, there is a way, as the saying goes, was what researchers from Stockholm University who participate in the Arctic expedition ARTofMELT 2023 recently came to realize right at the start of the expedition on Monday May 8th.

Butanol package. Photo: Stella Papadopoulou/Stockholm University
Butanol package. Photo: Stella Papadopoulou/Stockholm University

Butanol is a flammable compound that is used by atmospheric scientists to help make air particles large enough so that their instruments can detect them. Not having packed enough butanol for the 6-week long Artic expedition ARTofMELT ( would be limiting factor to the air particle campaign.

This scenario seemed likely only a few days before the start of the expedition when the butanol brought to the ship was deemed inadequate. By that point it was too late to source it in Longyearbyen and it wasn’t possible for participants to carry butanol bottles in checked in luggage either.

So the scientists had to get creative. Paul Zieger, Associate Professor at the Department of Environmental Science, Stockholm University and Co-Chief scientist on ARTofMELT 2023 came up with the idea to contact his colleagues Radovan Krejci and PhD student Dominic Heslin-Rees who, at that time, were on a field campaign at the research station in Ny-Ålesund on Spitsbergen island on Svalbard, located approximately 110 km from Longyearbyen.

Spare butanol in Ny-Ålesund

Krejci confirmed that there was butanol to spare but Ny-Ålesund, due to its remote location, can only be accessed by boat or airplane (or snowmobile). Zieger found out that there was a scheduled flight from Ny-Ålesund to Longyearbyen that day which would arrive before Oden departed so he hurriedly got the airline on the phone. However, to everyone’s disappointment, the airline refused to take the butanol because of its volatility. Just when hopes of sourcing the important chemical in time began to dwindle, Krejci came up with another solution – a vessel docked at Ny-Ålesund which was heading back to Longyearbyen that night. Radovan approached the captain of that ship who agreed to ferry six litres of butanol to the icebreaker and, at the same time, Zieger and the crew on Oden got busy making a plan. However, there was a catch: the rendezvous would take place during transit as Oden would have departed Longyearbyen by then.

Rendezvous in the entrance of Isfjorden

Using radio communication, the crew of both ships scheduled the meeting to take place in the entrance of Isfjorden at around 1am UTC or 3am CET. When that time came, a small rescue boat carrying the commercial vessel’s crew and the butanol bottles wrapped up as a parcel approached the Oden and the crew on shift lifted the butanol onto the lower deck of the icebreaker with a rope. The operation took just over 10 minutes. Some scientists and crew eagerly watched the operation from the bridge, located on Oden’s sixth deck. The crew then placed the parcel on the table in the common area for scientists to find in the morning at breakfast.

When Paul Zieger found the parcel in the morning, he joyously announced to his team that the butanol bottles had arrived and pointed to the direction of the parcel. The relief on the scientists’ faces was palpable.

“These ship-to-ship operations are not without risks and we are extremely grateful to the crew of both ships who, in such a short time, coordinated the rendezvous and ensured the delivery of an important component of the work. Such last-minute endeavor is a good omen for the overall success of our expedition,” says Paul Zieger.

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