Confined to the south of the arctic circle

Confiné au sud du cercle arctique

Photo: Cyril Aubry
To limit the risks posed by the coronavirus, a small number of scientists participating in the expedition of the”Admunsen” this year. Never more than 11 researchers and technicians, will not be at the same time on the icebreaker, compared to 38 in normal times.

By dropping its mooring lines to Québec, the canadian icebreaker dedicated to scientific research begins its annual mission this Thursday. Contrary to his habit, theAmundsen is not explored, however, not the waters of the Arctic ocean in order to avoid any contact with the northern communities. A prudent decision that forces the reorientation of the research projects conducted on board, but which also enables the organisers to avoid the worst : a complete cancellation of the season.

The pandemic plays with the world of culture, of education and of the restoration, but also one of science. Normally, the’Amundsen made a stopover in the arctic communities of Canada during the summer to refuel and conduct crew changes, thanks to the staff who went there by air.

In order to minimise the risk of dropping the coronaviruses in these isolated villages, the stopovers will take place this summer in St. John’s, Newfoundland. In the framework of its scientific mission, the vessel will, therefore, not the 60th parallel north, an imaginary line that crosses the northernmost tip of Quebec and borders the southern end of Greenland.

“Honestly, we can’t be dissatisfied, because it was able to make a mission with a number of different components by the month of October. But it really does not the extent of what we is usually able to do on theAmundsen , “judge Alexandre Forest, the director-general of Amundsen Science, the body which oversees the scientific program of this vessel to the canadian coast Guard.

The team responsible for this 16th annual shipping will thus focus its work in the waters of sub-arctic off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavik. It will collect such samples of water in the Labrador sea to assess its temperature, its salinity, acidity and other biogeochemical parameters, and climate. Sediment cores will also be collected in the same region.

Sanitary measures

“Understand that if one goes in the top of the canadian archipelago, and that something happens on board [such as a mechanical breakdown, for instance,] he must return to the South. Risk doing all this transit without taking scientific data, it was not worth the effort, says Mr. Forest. And of course, if a case of COVID-19 claims to be edge, you can’t use a northern community to disembark the sick person. “

In the last few months, the organizers have juggled with the idea to cancel the season. They wanted to avoid as much as possible to leave holes in the series of observations patiently collected by scientists for years.

Pandemic is forcing, the separation physical will be performed in the confined spaces of the ice-breaker. Of personal protective equipment will be available, as needed. A nurse will take the temperature every day for all the occupants. And especially, a screening comprehensive is conducted prior to departure.

Thomas Linkowski, a professional in the instrumentation for Amundsen Science, was installed in his cabin on Monday. On the same day, he underwent a screening test on the quay, close to the ice-breaking anchor at the port of Quebec. Since then, he remains on board the vessel, except on rare occasions when he sets foot on land to retrieve the equipment on the dock.

This man used to long journeys in the Arctic, covers without fear the unusual mission. “The atmosphere is the same as usual, except that one is a little less many. Will have to see how it will change our ability to sample, but the scientific programme is designed accordingly, ” he said on the phone Wednesday, in the midst of preparations before departure.

Wednesday morning, the team received the confirmation that all screening tests are negative. The ship will therefore take the direction of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, where the rest of the crew will climb aboard Sunday. To limit the risks, a small number of scientists involved in the shipment. Never more than 11 researchers and technicians, will not be at the same time on the icebreaker, compared to 38 in normal times.

Only one or two students will join the mission. “It is mainly graduate students, who come usually to the edge for their thesis or their master’s, who eat the shot this year “, said Mr. Forest.

Projects that are cancelled

Some early career scientists écopent also. This is particularly the case of Vincent Villeneuve, a biologist with a graduate who had obtained a contract of four weeks from the federal government for taking water samples off the coast of Nunavut in order to determine their concentration of nutrients and chlorophyll. His project has been cancelled a few weeks ago. “I just finished my master’s degree, and I want to make a place in Fisheries and Oceans. I found the spout to the water this summer and I lose that income. I hope that this is only a postponement, ” he said.

On the other hand, no scientist from outside of Canada will not set foot on theAmundsen this summer. The hermetic boundaries, and the delays associated with the mandatory quarantine made the admission of these researchers and these students too complex. A program of research on the Beaufort sea, carried out with the netherlands and Germany, for example, has been deferred to the next summer.

Remaining in the Labrador sea, the flagship science of the canadian fleet is not likely to break a lot of ice this summer, according to the commanding officer Alain Lacerte, who will take the helm.

“I looked at the maps of ice this morning,” he said in a telephone interview. There is not much else. Maybe some burgundy. “(These are blocks the size of a small house, made of ice-very hard, old of several years.) In the waters of sub-arctic, a conventional boat instead of an ice-breaker would probably have agreed to this mission, think of the officer of the coast guard.

However, it is not completely excluded that the Amundsen needs to be able to sail to the north of the 60th parallel, if it receives a distress call. “Do rescues, it is our core mission,” recalls the commander. In all, eight ships of the canadian coast guard must travel in the Arctic this summer. Their presence allows commercial vessels to ensure safe delivery of essential goods to northern communities.

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