2005 Expedition Blog - Day 3

Date:

Tuesday, 08 March 2005, 11:00am

From:

Tom Wakeford

Expedition:

Art/Science 2005

Subject:
Gaia in a bottle
Attachments: 1 image
Male brine shrimp or sea monkey

Our six-hour journey from our base-camp to the ship claimed lives. Of the fifty brine shrimps that began from Longyearbyen, only a handful coped with the dramatic drop in temperature their habitat - a recycled lemonade bottle. They are part of a miniature, contrived ecosystem inspired by the Gaia Hypothesis - the theory which suggests that our living global ecological system can be usefully viewed as a single living organism. These Biosphere bottles were the invention of biologist turned school teacher Stephen Tomkins who sought to develop them as an educational tool. Costing just a few pence each to make, they are a perfect way of exploring the interdependence of life with other elements of the biosphere.

Bred from wild shrimps that thrive in a small saline lake in Utah, these fingernail-sized “sea monkeys” exist by feeding on thousands of microscopic algae, which in turn get their energy from the sun, supplemented by the nutrients excreted by the shrimps. Having evolved to cope with strong light and a desert heat that dries out their salt lake habitat every summer, the shrimps will be challenged by the much lower early spring arctic sun that falls on our ship. Having first evolved in the extreme conditions that existed near the beginning of our Earth's history, the microbes in the biosphere bottle have suffered none of the mortality of their animal cousins. Just hours after our arrival these microscopic algae, bacteria and protists started reproducing - hopefully at a rate that will provide the surviving brine shrimps with plenty to eat.

The researchers who pioneered the Gaia Hypothesis thirty years ago - geochemist James Lovelock and biologist Lynn Margulis - helped popularise a fundamental ecological truth: It these microbes, far more than animals - be they polar bears, pandas or people - that have the most powerful regulatory impact on our planet's ecosystem. More recently they have predicted that, whatever happens through the dramatic process of global climate change, our microbial cousins will survive.

The more pressing question is whether, like the “sea monkeys” in our Biosphere bottle, vulnerable human populations can survive the rapid temperature changes that human-induced climate change will have in store for us if the prosperous high consumption human beings such as ourselves carry on our outsized carbon-emitting lifestyles.

Tom Wakeford

Date:

Tuesday, 08 March 2005, 11:25am

From:

David Buckland

Expedition:

Art/Science 2005

Subject:
Daily Log March 8th 2005
Attachments: 2 images
The Noorderlicht locked in ice Rachel Whiteread and Antony Gormley in sub-zero kit

6am. The Noorderlicht is locked in ice, a warm cocoon of 20 sleeping souls as the light rises, the sun won't be up for 2 hours yet, dusk and dawn are long drawn out affairs! This is like living in an igloo with all the comforts of home, the landscape is mountains and frozen sea, we are 60km from any other life and its -30ºC and for any venture outside you have to project all exposed skin from air contact. It is very difficult to recognise who anyone is and it is not until they speak, do you realize you are with a friend of long standing - everything is geared for alienation.

Yesterday reinforced this need for protection as we prepared for the 60km snow scooter ride, 25 of us in all and 400kgs of baggage - the film crews leapfrogging us to get the James Bond moment as we sped across mountains, bathed in a red/golden light - this first real day of perfect weather, we were told, that they had had for weeks - this was cold enough and the thought of a biting wind and near zero viability was impossible to comprehend. We were also told that three weeks ago the temperature hovered at zero for a month and the sea hadn't frozen; now all is normal.

We arrived at the boat very cold, Rachel's feet had lost that capability of feeling and were slowly, painfully, massaged back to life - one of the guides had the first signs of frost-bite on a tiny square of unprotected skin - alien times. The warmth of the welcome from Maaikee and captain Ted, hot fish soup and stories to tell - we last left the Noorderlicht after a wild sail/sea ride in Tromsø, and to many of the Cape Farewell crew she feels like a second home. A quite extraordinary piece of architecture that has let us safely sail over 2500 miles of Arctic Ocean and now protects us as we experience this wild, high arctic. Maaikee has just looks out a frozen porthole, “I like my back garden” she announces. She has been here now for six weeks, 24 polar bears have visited, Ice-Brun, her dog, fell into a seal hole and only just survived 7 minutes of sea ice before being rescued after a frantic search.

We walked the two kilometres to shore last night, conversations drifting as we try to get a measure of just how big the scale is, impossible to represent, wonderful to try and comprehend, white full of colour as again light slowly etches - always this quality of light. Over dinner we talk of work programs for the days ahead and eat reindeer cooked to perfection - they call these hardy animals arctic pigs, such insults now consumed. Northern light wing across the skies, a surreal light show that the photographers and film guys try to record, cameras freeze, mist up, give up and hands complain, but we in part succeed to render some for of documentation of the impossible - it surprises us just how fast the dark night sky throws up sculptural forms of blue green light.

Everyone is now awake and breakfast and an arctic day calls.

David Buckland

Date:

Tuesday, 08 March 2005, 11:25am

From:

Juliet Butler

Expedition:

Art/Science 2005

Subject:
Daily Log March 8th 2005
Attachments: 1 image
Cape Farewell crew setting out in snow-mobiles across the frozen fjord

This morning the trip out from other visitors to the boat is cancelled for the first time the Captain can remember because of the extreme cold. Yesterday (the day we travelled) some visitors returning to base-camp from the boat were frost bitten on the snow scooter trip and they are too worried to send out more. It's even colder today but the boat has emptied out as everyone disperses across the frozen fjord which looks like a moon-scape. Blue eruptions of glacier ice poke out of the ice like craters. Each of us has to be accompanied with a guide with a rifle slung over his/her shoulder in case of a polar bear attack. The day before we came a curious young, male padded up to the boat and put his paws up on the snow scooter by the gang plank. There are almost 3,000 of them on our island in the Spitsbergen archipelago.

Juliet Butler

2005 expedition route map