Time for another catch up on some of the polar sailing expeditions. Northeastern side first. Previous posts on this are:
Børge Ousland and crew in the Northern Passage are finally around Cape Chelyuskin into the Laptev Sea having encountered little ice in the Kara Sea (link to map of journey so far). Lack of wind has put them a little behind schedule and they are now coming up on a barrier of what has been fast ice – anchored to the coast (Figure 1). Winds forecast for this week seem favourable to break up the ice and push it away from the coast. Despite cloud in the area today that make it difficult to see clearly, there are indications of this happening.
If they can get through this and put up with a few days of careful threading through brash and open pack ice, the remainder of the Laptev Sea should be plain sailing. After that, although the ice in the East Siberian Sea is off the coast (see http://exploreourpla.net/explorer/ Aug 12 for a clear view), there are plenty of bergs in the area that require care and the wind could just as easily push the ice back toward the coast. Add to that the now-falling temperatures and their passage even through the Northern Sea Route is far from assured.
As a bit of an aside – on ice conditions in the area: the Laptev Sea is rarely free of ice due to the influx of fresh water and it is normal for fast ice to persist along the coast here close to the delta of the Lena River. In fact due to the relative volumes of buoyant fresh water, the relatively shallow sea can be considered an open, seasonally frozen, estuary. (Eicken, H. et al., (2005) Zonation of the Laptev Sea landfast ice cover and its importance in a frozen estuary. Global and Planetary Change, Vol. 48, Issue 1-3, p. 55-83. PDF)
Some of the early documented exploration of the area (18th-19thC; 1920s-30s Nansen and the Fram Expedition) is fascinating – reading off names now familiar as geographical features: Bering, Chelyuskin, Laptev etc. (and it is exactly the same in the Canadian Arctic, but of that more another time).
I said in the first post that I hoped the Northern Passage succeeded “despite the ice conditions not because of them”. I meant only that I did not wish for another record melt season. I have the utmost respect for anyone who, adequately prepared, ventures into Arctic waters. I have no problem with people who are keen to take advantage of the low ice conditions to explore the Arctic for personal interest or ‘because it is there’, providing they do so safely and are adequately insured against the cost of rescue. What does annoy though are the misguided souls who seek to promote the ‘plight’ of the disappearing Arctic. Of these there seem to be many. Too many (according to a brief WWF blog there were eight private vessels making the transit of the NorthEast Passage in the summer of 2009). I wish they would learn a bit of history and look at some of the science themselves.