Fantastic fjords and cool conversations
The Grigoriy Mikheev was built in St Petersburg as a research vessel and now runs trips to the Arctic from April to September and the Antarctic from October to February. Being designed as a research vessel, it is perfect for this expedition as our itinerary is built around the research programme of the four scientists.
The end of the fjord is quite shallow and we get to the ship 12 people at a time, by zodiacs (rubber inflatable boats). On the strange blue of the fjord, caused, Carol the oceanographer tell us, by the mineral content washed from the rocks, the white ship is suddenly lit by the sun breaking through; and we are laughing off the drenching from the spray thrown up by the skittering rubber boat.
Everyone is very friendly. Perhaps we will tire of each other eventually but the interleaving of small talk and impassioned discussions about climate change in this company makes time fly. The boat is comfortable, the food good, the bar not bad either. Two or three of the company have been on previous Cape Farewell expeditions including Marcus Brigstocke, who is even funnier and sharper in person than on TV and radio and knowledgeable about climate change.
In the slowly darkening night Teresa Elwes, whose Bromley Trust supports human rights and climate change work, and Ruth Little, who is the literary manager at the Royal Court Theatre, and I spend a long almost silent hour on the prow as the ship sails seaward along the fjord; silent because we are genuinely awestruck by what we are seeing. The dark symmetrical mountains either side, make a gigantic boat's hull shape, the fjord like its liquid keel; our boat sliding along inside another of unimaginable dimensions. The majesty of the peaks as they rise above us is so affecting that it is easy to think of them as beings; and ancient legends from a time before science make instant sense.
Saturday is the first full day of the expedition and half the morning is spent learning about the scientific experiments that will be carried out on the voyage. These will be some of northernmost measurements ever of ocean currents and of the mapping of the geology of the ocean floor.
A device called a Argo Float will be released shortly to wander about for a couple of years transmitting data to help build a more accurate picture of the West Greenland Current. Last year one of these helped the study of the North Atlantic drift (the Gulf Stream in British coastal waters) whose behaviour will be crucial in deciding the future climate the UK and many other places.
The science team is also measuring the salinity related to temperature and depth for a similar purpose. The ocean-floor mapping provides data on historical climate conditions going back well over 50 million years, far longer than can be gathered from ice-core samples. It is the most spectacular of the investigations and produces luminescent underwater flashes as a 3000 volt charges releases sound pulses whose reflections contain the information needed.
From our conversations it is evident that quickly sharing as much as possible of the knowledge that individuals have gathered through their interest in climate change will increase the effectiveness of all our work. So Francesca Galzieri of Arup, Joe Smith of the Open University and I assemble and give a presentation called Building-Carbon- Politics. Almost everyone turns up. Not bad, having Laurie Anderson, Jarvis Cocker, KT Tunstall, Martha Wainwright and Marcus Brigstocke at our first gig, all joining in a lively discussion.