Cruise Day 28
Speed 0 knots (kts) (on station)
Course n/a
Location North Pole
Depth 4280 m

GO DEEPER DISCUSSION: (see previous journal for the questions.)

Ice is less dense than liquid water, which is why it floats. The thicker it is, the higher it will float above the water line (just like a thicker log will float with more wood above water than a thinner one made of the same wood.) Ice is about 90% as dense as water, so it will float with about 90% submerged. This leaves about 10% above water. So if we had a little over 10 cm floating above the water, this means that the total ice thickness would be a bit thicker than 100 cm (1 meter.)

TODAY'S JOURNAL:

At 7:47 this morning (Alaska Daylight Time), we reached the North Pole! The Healy was making speedy-enough progress to reach the goal sometime in the middle of the night, but as folks on the crew and science team were tired from the all-night ice sampling station the day before, the decision was made to stop for some ship maintenance and take it easy getting to the pole overnight so we could arrive at a civilized hour. We're on a full sampling station today, the first ever to collect trace metal samples at the pole. From 90° N we could see a large lead about a mile away, so after time for photo opportunities and letting the polar experience set in, we chugged over and parked where sampling off the stern and starboard side would be easy. The lead was newly-frozen over, with maybe an inch of dark nilas ice on it, but some open water portions remained. As we began the GEOTRACES shallow cast, a Ringed Seal surfaced a couple of hundred meters out in the lead to see what our big red ship was doing in its world. On our approach to the pole yesterday I saw polar bear tracks, further proof that the top of the world is home to a marine ecosystem.

The North Pole has long been a target of exploration, and I encourage readers of my posts to look into some of the amazing books and journals chronicling the history of these expeditions and the hardships early explorers faced. Many who failed to reach the pole died in the attempt, and most others only made it back home after incredibly desperate, harrowing journeys. Even deciding who was the first to make the pole isn't a cut-and-dried issue: Navigation was difficult for polar explorers in the days before electronic aids like GPS and the honesty of some claims has come into question. Planting a flag or other evidence at the pole does no good for long-term posterity, as the ice here is always moving and eventually even the oldest, thickest ice reaches latitudes where it melts. Robert Peary's expedition in 1909 is often listed as the first to reach the North Pole but their success isn't completely unequivocal. The first ship to reach the pole was the USS Nautilus, a nuclear-powered submarine that crossed 90° N under the ice in 1958. The first icebreaker to reach the pole was Russia's nuclear-powered Arktika in 1977, and the first non-nuclear powered ships to make the journey successfully were the German icebreaker Polarstern and the Swedish icebreaker Oden together in 1991.

I'm very pleased to have made it to the North Pole. By reaching the pole we became the first US surface ship to do so unaccompanied by another icebreaker. We are also the first surface ship on a scientific cruise to reach the pole via the Bering Strait route, which crosses the Arctic Ocean on its longest axis. We have some incredibly experienced polar scientists and sailers aboard, but only two of the science party and three of the Coast Guard crew had been to the North Pole before this morning. I think that statistic gives a little perspective on the rarity and difficulty of reaching this place. On the other hand, the speed with which we made it to the pole underscores the trend of ever-thinning Arctic sea ice. Last summer saw the record minimum extent of Arctic sea ice since measurements began, and in a few weeks this year's measurements will be released. I don't know how this year will stack up but I'd be willing to bet there won't be a jump back to ice levels of recent decades past.

Screen Shot showing USCGC Healy at North Pole
Screen shot from our map server showing USCGC Healy at the North Pole on 9 September 2015. The biggest chunk of land on the upper right is Greenland and the large island below that is Ellesmere Island along with some other smaller members of Canada's Queen Elizabeth Islands. On the upper left is the Russian Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago.

Screen Shot showing USCGC Healy GPS at 90° N
One of our three GPS systems rolled up to 90°N as we passed over the pole (the others showed us very close, within any rounding error of the pole.)

To put the ice conditions in a bit of a personal context, I asked Jim Swift, Research Oceanographer at the University of San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography if I could relay a portion of an email the team received from him last week. Jim is one of the aforementioned scientists who has been to the North Pole before. In fact, he's been here twice previously, reaching the pole on the Canadian ship Louis S. St-Laurent (accompanied by the US Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea) in 1994 and again in 2005 aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden (accompanied by Healy.) Here are some of his comments comparing and contrasting this year's polar trip to his first:

The ice conditions in the area we are traversing border on astonishing to a person like me who recalls the thick, tough, old ice of the Arctic Ocean in 1994. If my memory serves, in 1994 CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent and USCGC Polar Sea were continually looking for a workable course around thick ice floes - the size of football fields to small towns - occasionally necessitating a slow crunch through a tough area we couldn't go around. Helicopters were used to scout out feasible routes. As we know from recent published scientific studies, the older, thicker ice has in more recent years occupied a smaller area of the Arctic Ocean, nearer Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. Thus much of the ice we are traversing is first year ice, but there is multi-year ice out here, along with thick ridges. The ship is able to follow leads around the ridges and multi-year ice, and motors well through the extensive first-year ice. (I enjoy the "Richter 3-4" jostling as the ship gets buffeted by the ice.)

GO DEEPER!

What direction would a compass point here at the North Pole?

Bill Schmoker at North Pole
PolarTREC Teacher Bill Schmoker at the North Pole.

Aloft Con web cam updated every hour

Healy Track

That's all for now. Best- Bill

Author
Date
Expedition
Weather Summary
Mostly Cloudy & Cold, Gentle Breeze.
Temperature
21 F
Wind Speed
9 MPH
Wind Chill
11 F
Add Comment

Comments

Sheryl Weiss

I've been following your posts since the beginning of the cruise. The teachers I work with, as well as my Facebook friends and Gabi's Facebook friends have been following you as well - at least though the picture I repost along with the links to your blog.
Thanks for all of your communications. They are entertaining, informative, and understandable A especially for those of us without a science background.

Looking forward to reading about the rest of the cruise.

Sheryl Weiss

Guess I should proof what I post. Auto-correct has its own way of changing text.
I've posted multiple pictures.

Hanks again.

Bill Schmoker

Excellent to hear from you, Sheryl! I appreciate your kind words and am glad to hear you & your colleagues are following along! I can't imagine what a cruise like this would be like without Gabi and her fellow supertech Simone- they keep the operation running!
Best- Bill

Bill Schmoker
Centennial Middle School, Boulder, Colorado
PolarTREC Teacher
2015 US Arctic GEOTRACES
Aboard USCGC Healy
http://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/us-arctic-geotraces/journals

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Susan Steiner

Congrats, Bill, on getting to the North Pole...wow! Interesting history you related, and amazing number of firsts for a cruise in 2015. Great shot of you and your school flag at the Pole!

Bill Schmoker

Hi Susan- thanks for the note! We're on a final water sampling stop at the Pole (well, nearly so, we're about 3 miles away) before heading off into the Canada Basin leg of our cruise. Really nice to hear from you, hope your school year is off to a great start!

Bill Schmoker
Centennial Middle School, Boulder, Colorado
PolarTREC Teacher
2015 US Arctic GEOTRACES
Aboard USCGC Healy
http://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/us-arctic-geotraces/journals

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Andrew Sitrin

Do you think that you'll ever visit the North Pole again?

Bill Schmoker

Hi Andrew- glad you wrote!
I have learned in life never to say never, but I don't expect that I'll get back to the North Pole. We have scientists on board who have spent long careers in oceanography and polar studies for whom this was their first visit, for example.

Generally, I think reaching the pole is already easier than it has ever been since people started trying by ship, so perhaps it will be visited more often. But for now a big icebreaker is still needed, and they just don't get up to the pole very often due to the long cruise up into the middle of nowhere. Usually, icebreakers are closer to shore opening up routes for shipping and doing research within reach of countries' offshore waters.

There is another pole I'd be pretty interested in visiting, however...

Bill Schmoker
Centennial Middle School, Boulder, Colorado
PolarTREC Teacher
2015 US Arctic GEOTRACES
Aboard USCGC Healy
http://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/us-arctic-geotraces/journals

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Deanna Wheeler

Hi Bill-What a wonderful cruise. I really feel that I am on the cruise with you as I read your journals. (I wish I was there in person, though!) Thanks for all of the excitement of reaching the North Pole and the ice stations. Enjoy the rest of the expedition.

Birds? Have you seen many? Any eiders?

Deanna

Bill Schmoker

Hi Deanna- thanks for writing!
Birds were pretty awesome in Dutch Harbor and the Bering Sea- lots of seabirds including 3 species of albatross (Black-footed, Laysan, Short-tailed), some murrelets and auklets, murres, & cool gulls like Black & Red-legged Kittiwakes. A White-winged Crossbill landed on the deck, as did an Eastern Yellow Wagtail up in the Chukchi Sea. Birds really thinned out fast once we reached the ice, with Black-legged Kittiwakes occasionally seen until about 78.5°N. Then no birds for a few weeks- the longest I've gone without seeing a bird. A couple of days ago a Northern Fulmar was flying around the lead where we were sampling, finally breaking that string and setting a new northerly bird record for me just a bit below 88° N.

Hope your school year is off to a great start!

Bill Schmoker
Centennial Middle School, Boulder, Colorado
PolarTREC Teacher
2015 US Arctic GEOTRACES
Aboard USCGC Healy
http://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/us-arctic-geotraces/journals

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