Looking Back

A new Gina, shaped by the Arctic. Photo by Calle Schönning.

When I left for Tromsø on January 22, I thought I would be gone for no more than 2.5 months, returning home in the middle of April at the latest. Instead, I returned to land about 4.5 months after I left, in the middle of June. Nearly double the time I had been expecting to be gone.

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Journey Home Part 2: Svalbard to Germany

June 9 – June 15

A Rough Beginning

The Merian during the safety drill, picture taken from the Sonne.

As mentioned in the last post, there was a bit of a storm happening as we were leaving the fjord. As we made our way out into less protected waters, and the storm continued to build, we soon found ourselves in 3 to 4 meter seas. All I wanted to do was lay in bed and not move, lest the seasickness get to me, but as per the rules of sea travel on such a vessel, we were required to do a safety drill within 24 hours of boarding the ship. So we were woken abruptly at 10am to an announcement on the loudspeakers telling us to be at the muster station in 30 minutes.

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The Leg 3 to 4 Handover

June 4 – June 8

Arriving to the Fjord

Approaching Isfjorden.

On the morning of June 4, I woke up to find that we were on our way into Isfjorden, where we would be meeting with the Sonne and Merian to begin the handover procedures, passing on the responsibilities to the leg 4 scientists. Our plan was to arrive outside of Longyearbyen, Svalbard at 8am, to meet with the pilot, who would help approve and coordinate our procedures for the handover, in terms of how we would position the ships. For the past day, we were sailing a bit slower than our full capacity, because we did not want to arrive early to our appointment. Can’t have the pilot working outside of business hours, of course.

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Journey Home Part 1: Central Observatory to Svalbard

May 16– June 3

Leaving the Floe

The Met Hut getting crushed by the surrounding ridging. Photo by Julia Schmale.

In my last post, I described our last-ditch effort to recover everything in danger from the floe. Our plan was to then drive the ship to Met City the next day and recover the Met Hut before heading on our way home. But in the night, the ice decided it had other plans, and swallowed up the last major infrastructure we had left on the ice. We were just one day too late. At this point, there was no purpose in recovering a crushed hut, so we did not even bother, as it could likely take the whole day to reposition the ship to where we could gather the rubble from the hut, and we were eager to get on our way.

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Last Days on the Floe

May 8 – May 15

Goodbye DroneVille 2.0

DroneVille 2.0, from the lead at the end of the runway.

This week I said goodbye to DroneVille 2.0. The DataHawk flights I did last week truly were my last flights for MOSAiC. This week, I thought I might potentially fly another time or two, but the weather was not favorable for that. At the beginning of the week, the winds were consistently above 10 m/s, which is our maximum wind speed for flying, and were forecasted to be that way until after May 13th. I had originally planned to take down the tent on the 12th at the latest, to give it time to dry on the ship and be packed away by the 14th (the deadline for packing all containers) but try to do as many additional flights as possible until then. However, on the 8th, I already saw that the winds were forecasted to be too high to fly through my self-imposed deadline, with the lowest winds of all days on the 9th, so I made the decision to pull the tent down on that day, taking advantage of the relatively low winds for ease of tent removal.

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Ninth Week on the Polarstern

May 1– May 7

Photo by Christian Rohleder.

DataHawk Flights

The beginning of this week was consumed by DataHawk flights. Since the 4th of May was declared to be the last day where science was the priority, and after that, we would prioritize packing up the floe, I was eager to get in as many flights as possible before that day. So I was out every day with Julia and/or Andi, doing one or two flights as usual. I even flew so many days in a row that I hit the maximum 6 consecutive days of flying, after which there is a day of mandatory crew rest, which is written in our flight operations manual, again. The planes have been behaving more or less well, except that my trusty plane 116 decided it didn’t want to work in autopilot anymore, and is no longer functional. But plane 115 has stepped up to the plate. It had some big shoes to fill, but it has not let me down.

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Eighth Week on the Polarstern

April 24- April 30

The sun shining over the Polarstern in the middle of the night, during another camping trip. Photo by Julia Schmale.

DataHawk Flights

The 24th was the first day of DataHawk flights without John. The first day with me taking full responsibility of the flight operations. I would like to say things went smoothly but unfortunately, that was not the case. On this day, I took two planes out to the field, so we would have a backup if there was a problem with the first one, as DroneVille 2.0 is quite a bit farther from the ship than the last location, so it is not very quick to go back and grab a new plane if need be. Since we were at a new location, we had to re-set-up the ice screws for the launcher at a distance that would allow for a long enough stretch of the bungee. Since the bungee had been so dangerously tight at the last DroneVille, I was legitimately concerned about it causing harm if it slipped out of our hands while pulling it to the plane, and since it had warmed up a bit, I thought we could launch the plane with a little bit less pull on the bungee. But I took it a little too far in the opposite direction, and in the first attempted launch, there was not a pull on the bungee, and the plane went down in front of the launcher. Unfortunately, I must not have cut the throttle fast enough, because the connection from the autopilot to the motor got fried.

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Seventh Week on the Polarstern

April 17 – April 23

Throughout this week, the weather was not so great, so we did not get to do as many flights as we had been used to doing for the past two weeks. In fact, we were only able to fly for 1 day out of the week – the first day. Our flights on the 17th were very exciting, because we were able to sample this warm front coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. Additionally, a 10+ meter-wide lead had opened up behind Met City, so we were able to do our first real lead sampling flight! One of our main scientific goals for this project is to measure the difference in atmospheric dynamics properties upwind and downwind of a lead. Unfortunately, our lead sampling flight in the morning was cut quite short because we needed to be on the ground for the return of the helicopter to the central observatory.

Crack between the Polarstern and DroneVille.

We planned to continue flying in the afternoon to do a longer lead sampling flight, but first we did a usual profile flight up to 1000 m. We were about to get prepared to launch again for a full lead sampling flight, which would have been our fourth flight of the day, and a MOSAiC record for number of drone flights in one day, but then a large crack started to open up between DroneVille and the Polarstern, as you can see in the picture above. Since it could not be known how far this crack would spread, and if we might get stranded on the far side of it, we were told to return for the ship, cutting our flight operations short for the day. I was pretty disappointed that we did not get to do a full lead sampling flight, or break our record, but in the end, the ice makes the decision, and you just have to listen.

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Sixth Week on the Polarstern

April 10 – April 16

Photo by Michael Gutsche

DataHawk Progress

Flying the DataHawk with manual control. Photo by Calle Schönning.

This week we flew a LOT. Since we had a stretch of great weather last week, and through the beginning of this week too, by April 11, we had been flying for 7 days in a row, for two or three flights each day (besides at the beginning of this stretch where we had some crash landings due to various issues). I had been the RC (remote control) pilot (the one who holds the remote control and flies in manual for take-off and landing) for at least two flights each of these days, for 5 days in a row. So I got a lot of practice in! And I was able to consistently land the plane where I wanted it without damage. This was the plan, so that I could build up my confidence with manual flights a bit more before John leaves. We also had Julia out flying with us for a lot of days in the week, practicing the ground control procedure. Additionally, we trained another person, Andi, on how to operate the ground station in the lab, though he did not yet have a chance to actually come fly with us in the field. One day, John did not do anything for either of the flights we did, he just supervised Julia while I flew on the RC. After this day, and everything went smoothly, we knew I would be able to carry out this project on my own, with Julia helping me.

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Fifth Week on the Polarstern

April 3 – April 9

Spirit Revival

Open lead running alongside Met City, with DroneVille visible just in front of the Polarstern.

From my last post, you may have been able to tell that I was not in the best of spirits last week. The consistent stormy weather had stopped me from getting outside and working much, so my energy was low. But this week was different, and it started out in such a wonderful way.

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