That's it. Labs clean, cabins spick and span, bags packed and time to say goodbye to the JCR and crew. Thanks, it's been incredible!
Thursday 21 August, 00:40 ship's time; 11:40 BST
Today has been the last full day of the cruise. We will dock in Longyearbyen at 08:00 tomorrow morning and disembark at midday.
As I type, I have just received the first text message I've had for 4 weeks on my mobile phone. It is only from my provider welcoming me to Norway but is a clear sign that we are nearing civilisation again and the adventure is almost over.
Still smiling - packed and ready to go home
It is hard to describe the mix of feelings we are all experiencing. I myself am torn between the relief that this period of hard work is over, the excitement of going home to my partner, cat, family and friends (not to mention lots of sleep) and the sadness that I will be saying goodbye to one of the most amazing teams of scientists and crew I've ever worked with. There have been lows after countless sleepless nights but there have been far more highs.
The past two days have been absolutely jam-packed with activity, most of it involving cardboard boxes, packing tape and brute strength to get equipment and instruments packed up and manhandled down into the hold for storage. Sounds straight forward until you picture 24 scientists in a relatively small lab space, stumbling around amongst the contents every cupboard and drawer strewn over every conceivable surface, and all hunting for a perfectly-sized box or the illusive roll of tape that was 'right next to them just a minute ago'. Organised chaos would be putting it politely! However, somehow we managed to get everything packed with time to spare to go ashore for an hour or two this afternoon in Ny Alesund.
Ny Alesund was great and not just because we could walk on dry land for hundreds of metres in any direction we chose. The 'town' is a collection of scientific research stations run as a collective by many nations, e.g. Norway, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Sweden. For the northernmost community in the Arctic it actually had very relaxed, village-like feel to it, enhanced by the fact a little steam train (a relic of the town's earlier mining history) was displayed by the dock and the huddle of wooden buildings were all painted in bright colours. We all visited the one and only shop and significantly boosted the local economy with our purchases of postcards and souvenirs. Ny Alesund is set between majestic, snow-capped mountains and blue glaciers. I was struck by the beauty of the tundra and its rich yellow tones. Tiny Arctic foxes, still in their dark summer colours, loped around over the vegetation looking and behaving very like crosses between puppies and rabbits.
Everyone was back on board in time to sail again at 17:00 and the frantic lab activities continued, this time writing manifests of the thousands of samples we are taking home and cleaning the now box-free lab areas. Then at 18:00 a buffet dinner was served in the officer's lounge/bar and the end of cruise festivities began. Speeches were made recognising the extraordinary support the crew has given us all, Martyn read out an amazing poem he'd composed, George (our resident cameraman throughout the cruise) screened the premier of his 'mockumentary' (a spoof Newsnight programme) amid gales of laughter. The party is still in full swing now and the carpets will likely be worn thin by dancing come morning. It has been a high point to end on, but as I said earlier, all in all there haven't been that many lows during what has been an amazingly successful research voyage both scientifically and socially. I wonder, can Ice Chaser II in 2010 live up to all this?
Monday, 18 August
Today the ship has moved more than it has the whole cruise. We left the ice in the early hours of this morning and headed straight into strong wind and a substantial swell. Consequently, a number of people felt really sick all day and ended up taking sea-sickness tablets. Generally, by the end of the cruise everyone should have their 'sea legs' but because we have had such calm seas so far no one has really had chance to acquire them. Even though I wasn't seasick, working in front of a fume hood all day making microscope slides from my bacteria and virus samples hasn't been much fun. Couple the ship's movement with the fiddly job, the roaring air conditioning, the excruciating whirr of the water purifier and James' smelly 'mud pies' (sediment samples being dried out in an oven giving off a cloying, yeasty aroma) and you have a perfect recipe for misery and discomfort. Thankfully, I got through most of my slide backlog so I won't have to spend too much more time making slides tomorrow.
At about 16:00 this afternoon we reached Ny Alesund in Kongsfjorden, the ship stopped swaying and the green tinge began to leave our faces. We came specifically to pick up 2 members of the BBC Newsnight team, Susan Watts and Ming Tsang, but their plane has been delayed due to thick fog and we are BBC-less until tomorrow. Nevertheless, the science continues: Henrik has deployed his benthic landers and there are a lot of marine physics activities planned for tomorrow. Thankfully, the pelagic team gets to heave a huge sigh of relief. We completed our last sampling station this morning and only have the processing of these samples and packing to do. I say only with tongue in cheek as we need two weeks not two days to pack up!
Sunday, 17 August... later
I was wrong, as we bashed our way slowly through very thick ice there were several bear sightings. I saw a very large individual off in the distance, strolling nonchalantly along and un-phased by the ship. Soon after we saw a small bear alone near a melt-pool. It was clearly quite young, may be only recently independent from its mother. It made no move to run away from the ship either but stood instead staring intently into the pool as we passed by. You could never get bored of polar bear sightings but the fact that we have all become a little blasé about them was reflected in the fact that the main excitement was about a walrus spotted in a large pool of water that the ship had opened up. Walruses and seals have proved far more illusive than bears this trip so it was a real treat to see the wrinkled, dark head poking out of the water with two long, white tusks clearly visible.
Sunday, 17 August
We left Rijpfjorden early this morning after a long, hard night in the lab for many people. CTDs were deployed throughout the night to collect water samples at several stations along the fjord and these kept several people busy continuously all night long. Coupled with the 24 hour experiments that were running, I saw plenty of other weary faces in the middle of the night and early in the morning as I sub-sampled my own experiments. The occasional grunt passed for conversation between us all. Other pale faces emerged later in the morning as those that were up late celebrating Pauline's birthday emerged as well. Put together, we make for a rather sombre, subdued crowd today.
We are currently heading back through the ice we battered our way through a few days ago and heading south-west along the top of Svalbard en route to Kongsfjorden. Visibility is still very poor outside so our chances of seeing a lot of wildlife are reduced. However, there is always hope of one last bear sighting before we leave the ice completely.
At this stage our thoughts are turning to finishing off in the labs, packing up all our gear and to what we'll do in Longyearbyen when we disembark. Shopping has been top of a lot of people's lists, together with being able to walk more than 20 metres in one direction!
Saturday, 16 August
We're still in Rijpfjorden, enveloped in thick fog and heavy wet snow. In between science activities there have been snowball fights on the deck and Pauline even built herself a birthday snowman on the bow.
The snow has made it a bit bleak for the benthic team slicing sediment cores on deck and from time to time they've ended up looking like snowmen themselves.
The pelagic team has stayed far cosier inside the labs running around frantically processing water samples and setting up our last major experiments for the cruise.
I am currently running my last 24 hour virus experiments and I would be lying if I said I was sad about it. It is a huge relief for us all to be coming to the end of this ambitious work schedule and sleepless nights.
Thursday, 14 August
We are in Rijpfjorden, a spectacular fjord in north-eastern Svalbard. We spent the night crunching through thick ice to make our way across the top of Svalbard, past a number of islands named for famous Europeans mariners, and into the fjord. Incidentally, the Captain, Graham, told me that Horatio Nelson nearly got eaten by a polar bear on or near Nelson Island.
I can only suspect that the hapless bear came out worse in that encounter. As we broke up the ice I watched the occasional ice fish being turned up from under the floes and picked off by the swirling flocks of fulmars and kittiwakes following the ship. The birds have been our constant companions as we've travelled around, taking full advantage of the food that the ship tosses up for them.
Rijpfjorden is stunningly beautiful. The glacially scoured landscape is surprisingly rich in colour and tone, especially in the beautiful sunshine we've enjoyed all day. Black, browns and ochre dominate, but some of the hills are extremely pink (feldspar may be?) and reminiscent of parts of the Antarctic I have worked in. No vegetation is apparent from the middle of the fjord. It would be stark if it weren't so majestic.
The fjord is relatively unexplored so we have spent today performing swath bathymetry to create a map of the sea bed. The benthic (sea floor) team also took several sediment grabs to find a suitable site for their work. They need soft sediment to work in; if it is too rocky the instruments get broken when they are deployed.
In the meantime, the pelagic (water) team have had a welcome lull in sampling activities and are taking advantage of it to catch up on processing samples from previous stations. It also means we can celebrate Elaine's birthday in style tonight, without the worry of having to stay up all night afterwards. Rijpfjorden will be our last major sampling station and we are braced for the final push before we start heading home.
It has been a tough few days. My body has finally started to rebel against the constant barrage of sleepless nights and frantically busy days. Consequently, the pelagic (water column) work at the last station was a struggle.
I am not the only one; the whole team is beginning to fade and pale faces with bleary eyes are now the norm. Nevertheless, we completed another successful sampling station.
We collected and processed hundreds of litres of sea water from a marginal ice zone (MIZ) (a region that was recently ice-covered but is now only scattered with a few small floes). The aim is to compare the microbial foodweb, and the flow of carbon and nutrients through it, between a fully ice-covered body of water and a newly exposed area. We don't have many results yet because most of our samples cannot be fully processed onboard.
For example, I can't count the bacteria and viruses on every microscope slide I make due to time constraints and the difficulty of working at a microscope on a moving ship. However, early indications are that we are indeed picking up differences.
The wildlife sightings have dwindled a little over the past few days and I am sure the lack of polar bears is doing nothing to help morale. A sighting is as good as a full night's sleep for cheering people up. This was perfectly demonstrated on the 10th August when the pelagic (water) team were inundated with samples and all feeling a little overworked and miserable. The glum, tired faces in the lab were soon turned into beams of delight when one of the crew spotted a polar bear swimming around the ship.
We all tore out on to the deck, blinking in the brilliant sunlight we hadn't even noticed beforehand (windowless labs make the weather irrelevant), to watch a bear performing Olympic-standard synchronised swimming around the bow of the ship, stopping every now and again to tread water and watch us all peering down at it.
We were treated to doggy paddle, side stroke, paws in the air, 'sitting' in the water and ice floe inspection as the bear swam backwards and forwards for a good ten minutes.
It looked for all the world like it was out for a casual Sunday afternoon swim and was as intrigued by us as we by it. To top it off, as the bear finally swam away toward a large area of ice, a minke whale appeared and there was a classic moment where the bear raised itself from the water looking over in surprise at the huge creature that had decided to share its swimming pool! It is a sight I will never forget and certainly one that makes the hard work worthwhile.
Saturday 9 August
Well, we got to see more polar bears - two more just before breakfast!
The first was almost close enough to the ship to touch and it even lay down at the stern for a while to bask in the glorious sunshine. As we watched and photographed we all basked too. Most of the time we've been in the Arctic circle it has been overcast and/or very foggy, so every glimpse of blue sky and sunshine is savoured.
This particular bear had the remnants of a nasty wound on its left shoulder. May be from a fight with another bear or a prey item such as a tusked walrus? It reminded me what a tough life the bears must have up here. Sick and injured animals would not last long in the cold if they weren't able to hunt.
Thankfully, this bear's wound looked clean, dry and healing well and he appeared well fed. The second, healthy looking bear arrived whilst number one was still around but stayed several hundred metres from the ship.
Standing on deck in the sun for an hour or so watching them both was a great way to start the day, especially since the rest of mine was spent in a windowless, noisy lab bent over a fume hood making virus slides for microscopy and labelling hundreds of vials for another suite of 24 hour experiments tomorrow. At this stage in the cruise we are all extremely tired and our enthusiasm for yet more experiments is waning. At the same time, things are becoming more routine and preparation that took 4 hours at the start of the cruise now only takes 2. I almost feel like I have switched into auto-pilot * just as well because anything that required serious thought at this stage would be nigh on impossible.
Friday, 8 August 13:00 ship's time; 12:00 BST
Yesterday was long and tiring after an equally long and tiring night so I hope I'll be forgiven for not blogging. At least today I can report success: two completed 24 hour virus-bacteria incubations and lots of bacterial production results all followed by a good night's sleep.
It is always a huge relief when the incubations come to an end as anything could go wrong throughout, ranging from tiredness-induced human error, to incubators failing and cooking your samples.
I couldn't do a lot about the former short of being very vigilant throughout the night and thinking hard before making each move. The latter was taken care of by incubating the samples in sealed bottles submerged under constantly flowing seawater being pumped directly from under the ship at an icy minus 1.5° C * far more reliable than any electronic incubator I've ever used.
Today I have begun the laborious task of making microscope slides from some of the experiment samples. It takes approximately 45 minutes to make each one so I have a long job ahead of me.
Luckily, I was up early enough preparing for slide making to see yet another polar bear, our 13th sighting so far. This one, a large, healthy individual, walked up to the stern (back) of the ship, crossed from one side to the other mere metres away and then wandered off into the distance.
It was obviously enticed by the smell of breakfast cooking, but soon realised that it wasn't going to be able to get anything out of this big red tin can (the ship) and decided not to hang around. It is a surreal experience seeing creatures I have only ever seen on TV before up close and I still can't get over how beautiful they are. They are yellow in colouration, so easier than you would think to pick out against the snow.
What is also remarkable is how quiet they are: during neither of the two close encounters we've had have I heard them breathe or so much as crunch the snow under their huge paws. How they can weigh hundreds of kilograms and not make a sound astounds me.
We moved off our ice station yesterday evening and have travelled through the night to our current position. However, we are still in the ice in a position that was previously ice-free. We have to wait anxiously to see if Henrik's lander can be recovered. We know it is on the sea floor about 200 metres from the ship and 400 m underneath the waves, but we can't retrieve it until the ice cover diminishes a little.
In the meantime, the benthic (sea floor) scientists are playing with mud samples and the oceanographers are taking lots of measurements. Being in the ice suits me just fine as the longer we are here the more chance of seeing more bears there is.
Monday 4 August, 21:00 ship's time; 20:00 BST
Four polar bears in twenty-four hours!
I can't believe it. I missed the first (apparently on a distant floe) yesterday afternoon. Then just after lunch today we saw two strolling along on the ice in the distance parallel to the ship, as aware of us as we were of them.
A few photos were taken of yellowish dots on the horizon but they weren't close enough to see really clearly. Finally, at about 17:00 this afternoon a polar bear was spotted by a beady-eyed crew member watching from the bridge. We were headed straight toward it and, incidentally, it toward us. Don't worry, no threat of collision because as we neared the bear, the Captain stopped the ship and we had 20 magical minutes of watching it stroll nonchalantly up to us and hang around sniffing the air, sticking out its tongue and yawning, only 20 metres away.
The look of ecstasy on our faces was something to behold - the bear was less enchanted and seemed unsure whether it was worth waiting for an opportune moment to make one of us a tasty snack, or whether there were richer pickings elsewhere. In the end, having thought the better of going away, he sat down, paws splayed out to either side looking for all the world like my cat when caught in the act of washing.
There was a collective ripple of laughter from the spectators. Only after we paparazzi had give the poor creature a hefty dose of Kodak poisoning, did the bear stand up and start to move away, and the ship too was started up and slowly edged on through the ice. Our friend followed for a while but was soon left behind.
The excitement of the encounter has energised everyone, despite the fact several of us have had virtually no sleep for several days. The promise of more bears as we head into pack ice and our ice sampling station will sustain us for many more long hours of work I am sure.
Monday, 4 August, 13:30 ship's time; 12:30 BST
No comms, only iridium linkups so blogs must now be brief. We are in the ice!
Started to pass growlers and small floes yesterday afternoon. It is very beautiful.
I've been up all night, with only a couple of snatched rest periods in between frenetic activities. I feel like I have achieved the impossible: five different experiments running in parallel and being sub-sampled in a carefully coordinated order. I'll be relieved when it is over tonight, until the next station at least.
Sunday, 3 August , 10:40 ship's time; 9:40 BST
It's millpond calm! The hundreds of fulmars clucking to one another as they paddle around the ship, their busy grey feet visible below the surface, just adds to the feeling that we, of all things, are on a duck pond rather than the North Atlantic.
There are also lots of logs originating (apparently) from Siberian rivers and the odd comical puffin flies by.
Pity the calm water isn't reflected in the labs. Today is our major experimental day of this station. I'll be running four experiments in parallel so things are MANIC!
Saturday, 2 August , 13:15 ship's time; 12:15 BST
Humpback whales! The jury is still out on how many but estimates range from 2-4, potentially two of them mother and calf. They surfaced several times just metres from the side of the ship.
I was on the upper deck and could call out their position to those below because I could clearly see the humpback's characteristic white lateral fins rising through the inky water. I have never seen anything so magical!
Friday, 1 August , 23:00 ship's time; 22:00 BST
Just finished work slicing sediment cores on deck and I am cold. We didn't do any pelagic (water column) work today, but there was a lot of benthic (sea floor) directed activity.
I was collecting sediment samples to extract viruses and bacteria from.
This involves carefully slicing the sediment at different depths along the core and then washing the bacteria and viruses out of the sediment using various chemicals and a lot of centrifugation steps, i.e. spinning the sediment and chemicals very fast in a tube so that the heavier sediment particles sink to the bottom, but the lighter bacteria and viruses stay in the liquid above and are thus easy to remove.
We have virtually no comms today so who knows when I will get this sent off to the BBC. We are also completely fog bound. It is very eerie being on a stationary ship (we will stay in this exact position for at least 3 days), surrounded by thick, grey fog, with little communication with the outside world.
The only reminders that there is in fact a world out there are the birds, mainly fulmars, which have been turning up and sitting quietly next to the ship hoping that we will provide them with a free lunch. They must think we are a fishing vessel.
The main excitement for the day was a total solar eclipse we almost witnessed at about 11:30 am. There was a lot of debate as to when the full eclipse was due to happen but because of the fog we didn't actually see it, merely noticed instead that the fog became extremely dark and foreboding for a few minutes.
What I was lucky enough to see was a brief glimpse of the sun as it was partially eclipsed and looking for all the world like a crescent moon.
Thursday, 31 July, 23:00 ship's time; 22:00 BST
I had no idea it was so late! The sky is still blue and the sun shining brightly outside. It was only when I looked at my watch to note the time for this blog that I realized it is 11 pm and I should be going to bed. Thankfully, we have dark blinds in our cabins that block out all of the light and allow us to sleep otherwise our sleep patterns would be totally messed up.
We now have seven more people on board than we had this morning. We disembarked four scientists at Longyearbyen and gained six, plus an extra crew member. The place seems crowded! It is amazing how quickly one gets into a routine and used to certain people, and conversely how easily that is disrupted by just a few new faces. However, within a day or two we will be completely used to the new people too. Joining us are Norwegian, French and British scientists - very international.
We could only look longingly at land when we reached Longyearbyen. The passengers were conveyed by tender across half a mile of water as we stood on deck to say both our goodbyes and our hellos. The town is located at the end of Isfjorden, therefore we spent several hours on deck photographing the spectacular scenery as we sailed up the fjord. Majestic mountains carved by glaciers, with deep gullies etched by melt water.
Initially, we saw only shades of deep brown and black with the occasional patch of white snow. As we got closer inshore, however, other colours emerged: greens from mosses and grasses growing on the slopes, red from leaching minerals, beiges and soft yellows as a result of glacial deposits; subtle but beautiful and a true testament to the power of nature.
Longyearbyen is one of the world's northernmost towns. Only around 2,000 people live there year round, so ostensibly it looks like a large collection of buildings, all very prefabricated in appearance but painted in a multitude of bright colours: red, yellow, blue, green. Predominant were the mine shafts and coal dock since Longyearbyen is a mining town that just happens to cater for wandering scientists and tourists in search of polar bears. We hear there are sports facilities, an airport, a cinema, shops and even a nightclub, so I am sure we'll check them all out when we come back on the 21st August.
We will reach our first Arctic science station tomorrow morning and the work will start in earnest. We are heading to a shelf station, ie an area where the land gently slopes away below the water to a depth of about 400 m, rather than a deep, open ocean area. The seas are already becoming choppier and the ship is moving more than she has for the whole journey so far. It remains to be seen what tomorrow brings both science and weather-wise.
Thursday 31 July 09:00 BST
Last night turned out to be quite a late night. Most people headed to the bar to have farewell drinks for the three 'Proudman lads', John Kerry, Joe Collins and Terry Doyle, and for Mike Lucas who is reluctantly returning to his university South Africa to teach.
Sadly, they will be disembarking tonight in Longyearbyen. Luckily, we have managed to hijack one of the people who were due to leave: Jane Manning, a student from Swansea, is now staying on to help out with the incredible amount of work we have planned.
The bar is a very comfortable area with red faux-velvet plush seats, plenty of floor space if we ever decide to have a dance party and a well stocked bar.
There is an honesty system in place whereby we sign for what we have to drink. Alcoholic and soft drinks are available, as well as crisps and chocolate bars. We are restricted to 21 units of alcohol a week per person.
This morning feels like the calm before the storm. People are taking advantage of having a quiet morning to catch up on laundry and make plans for the next leg.
There will not be any sampling taking place today so the labs aren't buzzing with activity as yet.
However, the rest of the day will involve planning meetings, bottle and bag labelling and lab reorganization for us all in preparation for 10 extra bodies coming onboard and reaching the first of our major science stations early tomorrow morning.
Communications are good at the moment but they are expected to drop out completely in Longyearbyen because of the mountains. Hopefully, we'll get them back from time to time as we head further northwards and into the ice, but we are all bracing ourselves for several weeks without communication with loved ones.
Wednesday 30 July 18:00 BST
I have reached a major milestone in my work. I finished the last of my first suite of bacterial production experiments today and the results are being produced by the scintillation counter at this very moment.
By tomorrow morning it will spit out several sheets of paper covered with thousands of numbers and I will know how much the bacteria have been growing and dividing in the seawater we've steamed our way through on our northward journey.
We've been talking about this first leg of the cruise as being a chance for opportunistic data gathering because our main aims centre on the icy waters north of us.
It was also supposed to be more relaxing than what we have in store, but everyone is already very tired after night shifts, very early starts and continuous work. How much less sleep can we survive on?
Wednesday 30 July 11:30 BST
We've lost communications; no internet, no phones and only the snow-capped mountains as a view to the outside world. We'll get communications back intermittently, but we are so close to Svalbard that apparently the mountains get in the way of the lines of transmission. Ironic to think we'd have better comms if we were further out to sea.
Wednesday 30 July 07:40 BST
05:00 start this morning: painful but productive. We deployed a CTD at about 06:00 and I was able to run an experiment with the water immediately.
It was bitterly cold in the radioisotope container. There is no heating so I was working at the ambient 3 degrees Celsius.
The water is only slightly warmer now (4 degrees Celsius) so the fog has gone.
However, it is grey and overcast which means we only get occasional glimpses of snow-capped Svalbard in the distance. We're at the entrance to Storfjorden and as we travel into the fjord we will hopefully get some spectacular views.
Tuesday 29 July 19:10 BST
Yet another busy day; four meetings to discuss the upcoming work once we actually get to Svalbard and lots of lab work this afternoon processing samples from the last couple of experiments.
We will be deploying a CTD at 6am tomorrow, so I plan to get to bed early tonight in preparation for another 5am start.
It is definitely a case of burning the candle at both ends for a lot of us onboard.
We are currently 74 degrees north and will pass Bear Island around midnight tonight. It'll be too far away to see, but marks an important waypoint on our journey.
We'll be in Storfjorden tomorrow and Longyearbyen on Thursday evening, where 10 colleagues who will join the ship are currently awaiting our arrival.
There have been several more whale sightings off in the distance today and lots of Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) have been following in our wake all day.
Typically they come and check us out when we are on deck, gliding silently by just metres above our heads.
However, when several gather together we can hear them calling to one another.
Listening to another creature makes such a pleasant change from hearing only wave and engine noises.
Tuesday, 29, July, 02:20 ship's time; 01:20 BST
I was just leaving the lab for the day en route to my cabin when I noticed that the fog had lifted and there was the most amazing sunset taking place.
I hesitated between falling immediately into bed and staying up a little longer. In the end I went up to the bridge to watch it.
After all, how often does one get to watch sunsets in the Arctic? We're now in the realm of perpetual daylight so not only did I see the sun set but I saw it rise as well, immediately.
In fact the bottom of the sun barely touched the horizon before it started to rise again.
The colours splashed across the sky were breathtaking: a whole pallet of reds, oranges, yellows and pinks.
Even more breathtaking was the pod a pilot whales that cruised by on the port side (left) of the ship and the sperm whale I watched break the surface on the starboard side (right), blow 3-4 times and then dive offering me a great view of its fluke (tail).
All within 20 minutes! It is really addictive scanning the horizon for whales, especially when the sea is so calm that they are easy to spot. I would have stayed up on the bridge all night had it not for the small matter of having to work again tomorrow, or rather later today.
Monday, 28 July, 22:05 ship's time; 21:05 BST
We're at 73 degrees N and there is fog everywhere!
We can see only a few metres off the side of the ship and we've slowed our speed a little as a result.
It has also got decidedly chilly outside, so much so that I have begun to see my breath as I dash between the main lab and the radio-isotope container. It's a far cry from just two days ago.
The fog is due to the cool air (9 degrees Celsius) meeting the relatively warm (11 degrees Celsius) seawater. I hope it lifts as we move further north and the sea temperatures fall or our chances of seeing already illusive polar bears will be non-existent.
It has been another busy day for everyone onboard because we both tested Henrik's landers and deployed another CTD today.
I spent all afternoon and most of this evening running the last of my three, six hour bacterial production experiments.
These have involved taking samples every 30 minutes from the continuous water supply and adding radioactively-labelled substances, namely the ribonucleoside, thymidine, which is in the DNA of all living organisms, and the amino acid, leucine, and incubating them for 1 hour.
By doing this, I can tell how fast the bacteria in my samples divide and grow, respectively, because as they do so, the bacteria incorporate the radioactive substances I feed them into their cells.
At the end of the experiment I can measure how much they have incorporated using a special instrument called a scintillation counter. I am also on the continuous water sampling roster until 2 am again tonight so I still have four hours to stay awake. Sigh!
On a less serious note, I have spent nearly three years in the Antarctic doing research and I the one question I am always asked is how people go to the toilet down there?
Of course, the simple answer to that is very quickly! Here at the other pole, because we are on a very comfortable ship and each have a cabin with en suite shower room, it is much easier.
The toilets look exactly the same as normal. The only thing to remember is not to flush whilst still sitting down because they are operated using a vacuum system (just like an aeroplane) and, as the signs in our shower rooms warn us, "serious injury may result".
Monday, 28, July 00:10 BST
Yes, I am still up. I am on the half hourly continuous water sampling roster and have to stay awake until 2 am (that is 1am British Summer Time because our clocks went forward by an hour to Norwegian time at midnight last night).
It hasn't been too bad so far as I have been very busy processing the samples from some of the experiments I've run so far. I even have my first concrete results: it seems that the continuous water supply system gives bacteria such a roller coaster of a ride that they increase their production (growth and division rates) significantly.
Not great news for anyone who wants to use the supply as a proxy for what is actually happening in the water column, but an interesting result that will help us interpret the others we get from our underway sampling.
We had our first lab and cabin inspection by the captain this morning so we had to ensure that everything was tidy and secure.
Almost everything on a moving ship has to be tied down so every box, instrument and computer in our work spaces is lashed down with bungee cords and rope, and most work surfaces and tables are covered with non-slip matting so that you can put things down without them immediately rolling away.
Large items, such as the fitness machines in the gym, are bolted to the floor. Thankfully, we all passed inspection.
With the exception of the Arctic Circle crossing, the highlight of the day was the curry dinner complete with pappadams, onion bhaji and chutneys.
Delicious smells wafted around the ship for at least an hour before dinner and there was a stampede for the mess come 18:00. After a busy day of work and an hour in the gym I was ravenous, in fact, come to think of it, I have been ravenous by every mealtime!
Sunday, 27, July 21:30 BST
We've crossed the Arctic Circle (66* 33' N) and have hundreds of photos to prove it!
Almost all of the scientists and some of the crew gathered on the Monkey Island to mark our crossing of an invisible line of latitude in the middle of the ocean.
Everyone was beaming with excitement, especially those for whom it was their first time to the Arctic.
I have been twice before but via air for land-based work - being on a ship sailing north is a completely different adventure and I am loving it so far. Not far across the circle thick fog descended so we may have seen the last of the sunshine for a while....
Saturday, 26, July 20:35 BST
Are you sure we are going to the Arctic? It has been like cruising through the tropics today: flat calm, blue skies and soaring temperatures.
Scientists and crew alike have been taking every opportunity to get out on deck and soak up some sunshine.
The best places to be are either on the Monkey Island at the top of the ship where you have magnificent views or at the bow watching the waves beneath break against the prow of the ship.
We were somewhere parallel to Scotland last time I wrote, in fact we remarked how appropriate it was that, at the same latitude as SAMS in Oban, it began to rain! We are now at 61 degrees north, steaming up the coast of Norway, and we can see snow-capped mountains on the horizon.
We've been past hundreds of immense oil rigs, some with enormous plumes of flame shooting out of their chimneys as excess gas is burnt off.
They are an incredible spectacle and we all relish the brief opportunities to pick up their networks and call home on our mobile phones.
However, the smudge of yellow smog across the horizon originating from the rigs is rather sobering.
Also sobering has been the number of pieces of plastic, in particular plastic bags, that we've seen floating by. In just 10 minutes, I counted at least 10. The sooner supermarkets stop providing plastic bags the better!
On a much nicer note, we've had some great seabirds following the ship (petrels, gulls and gannets), steamed past lots of jellyfish and seen a couple of pods of pilot whales cruising casually by. The squeals of excitement from all of us on deck when they appeared were reminiscent of small children in a playground.
The only other wildlife I've seen has been flies and hoverflies buzzing dazedly around. They have either stowed away from Portland and are escaping the holds etc. to find life on a moving, salty deck not to their liking, or they are coming from nearby land. Whichever scenario is true, it is strange to see them flying or crawling around when we are surrounded by miles and miles of ocean.
Science-wise, it has been another busy day for a lot of us. We performed another early morning CTD cast so I was up at 05:00 again. For me, it was a day of running to and from the radio-isotope lab taking half hourly continuous seawater supply samples and running bacterial production experiments with each.
Alongside my work, samples were being taken every 30 minutes for counting bacteria, phytoplankton and protozoa (single celled organisms). Together our results should provide a novel insight into the spatial distribution of bacteria and their activity along a latitudinal transect.
We plan to continue the 30 minute sampling for 6 whole days, so people are being rostered to work through the night. It'll be my turn tomorrow night. At least I get to stay in bed a little longer tomorrow morning as there will not be another CTD cast for 2-3 days.
Friday, 25, July 17:00 BST
Dolphins! Just after a lifeboat drill, the captain put an announcement over the loud speaker to tell us that there were ¿dolphins, or something¿ surfing the portside bow.
We rushed up and watched four or five of the stunning creatures swim and jump in front of the ship. We were travelling at 12.4 knots and it appeared that they found it effortless to keep up.
I have never seen them so close before and of course I didn't have my camera handy. They hung around for a couple of minutes but disappeared from sight as quickly as they appeared. We think they were white-beaked dolphins but despite being a ship full of marine biologists, none of us know a thing about cetaceans.
The lifeboat drill beforehand was quite fun too. At 16:00 the alarm was sounded and we went to our cabins, collected our survival suits and lifejackets and mustered at our boat station (the bar!).
A roll was called before we were shepherded to the life boats, allocated places and told to strap in. It has been another very sunny, warm day so it was pretty stuffy inside.
We were given a quick briefing by the crew and then allowed to escape back into the fresh air. The lifeboat stayed on the ship the whole time - it would only be launched in an emergency.
Now that we know who has been allocated to each lifeboat we can start sizing up the best candidates to be eaten should we be cast adrift for long enough - of course, the crew think the vegetarians should be first - eek!
Friday, 25, July 15:15 BST
Just got back from a gym session to wake myself up after the early start.
Lots more to do this afternoon so I needed to get some exercise.
Wearing shorts made me aware of the remarkable number of bruises I have all over my legs from loading the gear and banging into doors, doorsteps, bits of kit etc.
I am bound to acquire more as I am forever bumping into things as the ship sways.
Worst bit is sitting on the edge of my bunk and catching the back of my thighs on the wooden box frame (designed to keep you and the mattress in during heavy seas) as I get up. I have to remember to pull the quilt over it or sit on a pillow.
Friday, 25, July 10:50 BST
I have revised my opinion about being rolled off the ship.
I am running up and down so much taking samples from the continuous seawater supply (water pumped from the ocean from ca. 6 m depth and supplied to the labs continually), starting and stopping experiments and trying to keep up with computer work that I feel like I have run a marathon already today and it isn't even lunch time.
I did manage to eat a bowl of cereal in between tasks earlier this morning but I will be ravenous by 12:00 when lunch is served. By the way, we get waiter (or rather steward) service onboard!
Each meal time, we collect our linen napkins in individually named napkin rings from a table by the door, sit at pre-laid tables, peruse the day's menu and give our order to the steward.
Breakfast is a little less formal in that you help yourself to cereal and fruit, but bacon, eggs, toast etc. are brought to you by a friendly steward. Lunch and dinner are both 3 course affairs that keep the two stewards very busy and leave one feeling very full.
Friday, 25 July 07:18 BST
Just sailed past the most enormous oil rig and there are others on the horizon. If we didn't already know, they would immediately identify us as being in the southern North Sea.
The scale of the rig is almost unbelievable, towering above the waves. I can see a helicopter, looking tiny in comparison, perched on one corner.
The North Sea is a busy shipping area and there are always other ships in sight, ranging from sailing boats to huge oil tankers.
There is slightly more motion to the ship today, a gentle roll. If you stop to think about it you could start to feel a little dizzy / queasy * good job there is no time to stop and think.
Having said to that, the sea has claimed her first victims and even in really calm seas people have been confined to their cabins feeling sick.
I just make sure I get out on deck from time to time for a few minutes of fresh air and keep drinking lots of water and redbush tea.
Friday, 25 July 05:30 BST
05:00 start * Uggggggg!
Thursday, 24 July 22:25 BST
Been a very long but successful day running bacterial production experiments using the water collected from the first CTD and battling with unruly instruments.
Been fed really well so far, especially given my awkward diet. In fact, we're being fed too well and we will all probably have to be rolled off the ship 10 stone heavier!
05:00 start tomorrow so it is time for a spot of yoga to relax and then bed, although the yoga balances I can do are becoming more restricted now that the ship is rolling.
I risk a broken neck performing some of my usual shoulder stands and I make a very wobbly 'Tree'.
Thursday 24 July 15:00 BST
I have been working in the radiochemical lab, using radio-isotopes (radioactive carbon and amino acids) to measure bacterial production from the morning's CTD samples.
The 'lab' is a white, metal shipping container approximately 12' by 6', with doors at either end and 4 small windows, two on each of its longer sides.
It is located on the back deck of the JCR, outside the main infrastructure.
At first we had no air conditioning and I felt like baked bean being slowly cooked in a tin as the sun beat down on the roof.
Once the air conditioning was connected up by the crew it became a cool, airy space to work whilst keeping an eye on the passing waves.
I have a feeling it will be much nicer there then in my other lab space; a windowless, dungeon in the middle of the ship.
Thursday, 24 July
It's the first day of the journey to the North and I am really excited about what the trip has in store for us.
Polar bears would be lovely, but I am looking forward to simply seeing snow and ice again, as well as getting some really cool science done.
We departed later than expected. In fact we got underway shortly before I went to bed exhausted last night after two days of heaving heavy boxes of scientific gear around.
Will scientists ever learn to pack light? I tried to start the day as I mean to go on with a 06:00 trip to the gym.
Once there, in the bowels of the ship, I tried not to get bored out of my mind staring at the beige, metal clad walls of the approximately 16 metre-squared room.
I used the rowing machine and bike, but there are three other machines, steppers and weights, all crammed into the tiny space.
Mats and free weights are also provided but I have no idea how you could find the room to use them without injuring yourself on the machines during sit-ups, push ups or bicep curls?!
The Lara Croft soundtrack CD kept me sufficiently pumped up to keep going - great gym music.
Breakfast (07:30) was cereal and fruit since my vegan diet keeps me safely away from the fry ups.
Then before we knew it, we were at the first sampling station (08:50) and our first CTD cast of the trip.
CTD stands for Conductivity (similar to salinity), Temperature Depth gauge, and as its name suggest, it is a large array of instruments to measure the physical and chemical properties of the seawater as it is lowered from the starboard side of the ship.
As well as instruments, the CTD holds 24 x 20 litre Niskin bottles that can be remotely controlled to collect water from different depths in the ocean.
Everyone was filled with a mix of excitement and trepidation as we tried to work out what we were going to do with the 480 litres of water once it got to the surface.