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Reports from Ryder Glacier 2019

Start August 5 in Thule
Follow Oden's position online here https://oden.geo.su.se/map

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Mud mystery

Most of us spend our lives avoiding mud, but scientists go out of their way to find it. Why? Because the mud contains a detective story of Greenland’s ancient history. How and when was this fjord formed? When did the glaciers arrive, and did they disappear in the past, like they are receding now? Were there always so many icebergs here? Why are some icebergs clean and white, while others are dark and dirty?

Sediment core held by Oden’s bosun Jimmy Hansson. Photo by John Farrell
Sediment core held by Oden’s bosun Jimmy Hansson.

As with any story, there are characters, and this one includes clay, silt, sand, and pebbles that are brought to the fjord by wind, rivers, and ice. They fall to the seafloor and collect in thin layers. Each layer represents a time period, and the layers are like pages in a book, but in reverse. The deepest layers are the oldest, representing the beginning of the story. By carefully collecting long cylinders of mud, called cores, from big metal coring tubes shoved into the seafloor, scientists can “read” the ancient history of the fjord and the surrounding glaciers and even the massive Greenland Ice Sheet.

And as with all good detective stories there are skeletons, which in this case are the remains of small sea creatures that lived in the fjord. Some floated in the water column, others burrowed in the mud. When they die, their skeletal remains are preserved in the mud, waiting for us to wash them out of the mud and find them. Fossil experts study them, and the chemistry of their shells provides additional clues about the ancient environment. Scientists’ favorite activity is putting together all the clues and solving the mystery.

One iceberg filled with dirt and another without. Photo by John Farrell
One iceberg filled with dirt and another without.
Mud, sand, silt, pebbles, and rocks atop a melting iceberg. Photo by John Farrell
Mud, sand, silt, pebbles, and rocks atop a melting iceberg.
Brendan Reilly interpreting the sediments with Gabriel West and Emelie Ståhl. Photo by John Farrell
Brendan Reilly interpreting the sediments with Gabriel West and Emelie Ståhl.

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All the comforts of home

To elicit admiration and empathy from our colleagues, friends and families, we shipboard scientists often exaggerate the trial and tribulations we face in our adventures to explore uncharted waters of the far northern Arctic. We don’t dwell on how easy our expeditions are, compared to the explorers of 100 years ago, who sometimes perished from starvation or cold. So, it’s time for some honesty.

Life aboard Oden is most comfortable. We eat delicious and healthy meals, expertly prepared by cooks who make fresh bread daily, serve us traditional pea soup and pancakes on Thursdays, and provide a coffee machine that makes cappuccino and espresso. For those who miss candy (including salty licorice, which the Swedes love, but the Americans find peculiar), chocolate, ice cream, chips, and other treats, there is a kiosk aboard where these items can be purchased on credit, to be paid at the end of the expedition.

Our beds are cozy, with curtains that close around us, affording privacy and darkness from the constant daylight, as the sun never sets at this time of year, at 82°N. And when it’s time to wash our clothes, there are washing machines, dryers, and even a small room, with heaters, where you can dry your clothes on lines.

And what would an Arctic expedition be without tobacco? As it turns out, even some of our “bad” habits are supported on Ice Breaker Oden. There’s enough snus (for those unaware, it’s a small pinch of tobacco that’s inserted between the lip and gum that provides a nicotine hit) to last for months.

Cappuccino in the galley. Photo by John Farrell
Cappuccino in the galley.
Julek Chawarski shopping for ice cream in the kiosk. Photo by John Farrell
Julek Chawarski shopping for ice cream in the kiosk.
Markus Karasti in the laundry. Photo by John Farrell
Markus Karasti in the laundry.
Snus supply in the freezer. Photo by John Farrell
Snus supply in the freezer.

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