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The journey begins: Hunting the northern lights

23 September 2023

Blog entry by Maria-Jesus Rapanague and Ilmar Lieman

Two days ago (21 September) we set off for Nuuk, passing through Iceland for one night. One of the great things about fieldwork is the chance to see new places, so some of us spent the evening walking around Reykjavik. As darkness fell, some of us stayed awake in the hope of seeing the northern lights, although the forecast was not very promising. Just as we were about to lose hope, they came! We only got to see them for a few minutes, and not as intensely as you usually see them on the internet, but it was still a breathtaking experience.

Early the next morning we flew to Nuuk to finally board the ship and start the expedition. Nuuk is the capital of Greenland and the northernmost capital in the world. After getting acquainted with RV Maria S. Merian, we were able to walk around Nuuk, a beautiful city with colourful houses surrounded by icy mountains. We finally left around 6pm to begin our 4-day transit to the Grand Banks, where we will begin deploying instruments and taking measurements. We tried to see the Northern Lights again, but unfortunately it was completely cloudy.

Northern lights over Reykjavik
Northern lights over Reykjavik. Image © Dinora García Santacruz

The first day at sea was calm, nobody seemed to get seasick. We started the day with an emergency drill, where everyone had to go into a free-falling lifeboat to learn how to act in a real emergency. We spent the rest of the day setting up and testing the instruments so that we can deploy them and collect water samples efficiently when we get to the Grand Banks. After dinner, we had a science meeting to discuss the schedule for the next few days and assign roles.

It is getting dark as we write this article. We are leaving the polar zone, and if we are lucky, tonight will be our last chance to see the Northern Lights. Will we? Stay tuned for our upcoming blog posts to find out and to learn more about the science behind the expedition!

View as ship leaves Nuuk
Leaving Nuuk behind as we head south to the Labrador Sea, and on to Grand Banks. Image © Maria-Jesus Rapanague
View inside free-falling lifeboat
Safety drill inside the lifeboat. You can see where the lifeboat is positioned on the ship in the photo to the left - behind the ship's funnel, mounted at 45º. Image © Maria-Jesus Rapanague