Melting Point

Jan Richard Heinicke

2019 - Ongoing

Greenland; Germany; Norway

In June of 2019 the danish climate scientist Steffen Olsen twittert a photo from his expedition in northern Greenland. The picture showed his sled dogs running ankle-deep through freshly melted water on an ice sheet. The picture went viral and served as example for the acceleration for the impact of climate change in the arctic, a region that suffers more than others from rising global temperatures. A collapse oft the Greenland ice sheet could lead to a massive rise in global sea levels.

Warmer sea water in the region also leads to the thawing and the erosion of costal glaciers that are melting from the bottom. In July of 2019 a group oceanographers left the harbor of St. John’s in Canada to examine how much sea water leaves the fjords in Greenland and enters into the East Greenland Current (EGC). The EGC is part of the global thermohaline circulation, a change in its constitution could have severe effects on the global water circulation including the Gulf Stream that brings a moderate climate to Europe.

Aim of the research was to follow the EGC along the whole coast of eastern Greenland to determine how much is actually ice melting in the arctic and to give a prediction on how this will impacts global sea levels in the future. The scientists took hundreds of water samples on 170 stations along the way, the analysis will take months.

Following the scientists on their journey of collecting samples and data was the first step in my ongoing project. Most of the evaluation und analysis is done in the laboratories back at home. The work they do there, hidden away from the public eye, largely contributes to our understanding of the world. The aim of the project is to follow scientists working on climate releated topics and give them the space and the attention that they deserve in times of public climate change denial.

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  • An ice radar shows icebergs and iceflows around the ship. Besides the size of the floes it aloows tracks their location.

  • A view on the stormy sea near Iceland. Harsh weather conditions don't stop the scientists from taking samples at the pre-selected spots along the route. After days of severe storm and high waves the weather finally calmed down, leaving the crew exhausted.

  • The scientists on board share rooms during the expedition. After some days on board, privacy becomes something very rare and valuable.

  • The enigne room is the machanically beating heart of the ship. The diesel engines provide electricity to ship and give the ship its thrust.

  • Fog is a very common phenomenon in the arctic when warm surface water meets cool air on the ocean surface.

  • A young scientist looks at the ice floes passing by. While the region seems hostile to all forms of life there is a surprising amount of wildlife. While the sightings of whales become rarer along the way there is a very large number of seals and birds living on and around the ice.

  • An iceberg close to Scorseby Sund. After measuring its size from the distance the crew came to the conclusion that it is at least 90 meters tall. Navigating in regions with icebergs can be very dangerous as big icebergs like this one tend to tip and to cause massive waves in the surroundings. While driving fast on the open sea the captain tries to stay as far away as possible from any forms of ice.

  • A scientist watches the sampling probe as it is being lowered into the water. The probe is the central scientific piece of equipment of the expedition. It allows scientists to take water samples from different water depths. The closer the sampling spots are together the higher the resolution of the final data will be.

  • The sea around the ship is rising up at wind speed 9. The crew is still taking samples. The engines allow the ship to stay on one coordinate with a precission of half a meter.

  • An improvised clean room of one of the scientists. While most people on board work on the same project there are some scientists who do their own research. This scientist is adding trace elements to water samples in order to research how these elements effect the growth of biomass in the sample.

  • The CTD control room is the most important room for the scientists. From this computer the sampling probe is controlled. The screen shows collected data in real time.

  • A hose for liquid nitrogen. Most of the samples are analyzed on board. If this is not possible the filter papers are frozen and shipped to Germany.

  • In this incubator a scientist is mimicing the surface temeperature of the sea. The samples in the bottles come from the surface and were treatet with trace elements. After a filtration the scientist can say how the trace elements stimulated the growth of biomass.

  • This scientist is doing her masters degree in Hamburg. After school she decided to become a tax consultant but left the job after some years to follow her passion and go to sea.

  • The sampling probe below the surface. During the expedition the ship stopped at 170 points to gather samples from various depths. In total there are over 1500 samples which will be analyzed in the coming moths.

  • The captain of the ship in his cabin. He is responsible for both, the scientific and the technical crew on board. Furthermore he takes care all administrative and legal work as the ship enters and leaves the territory of multiple countries along the way. He has been to the arctic many times before and whitnessed the effects of climate change during the last decades. Routes that were once blocked by ice are now navigable and the retreat of the glaciers can be observed all along the coast.

  • Besides GPS navigation the crew works a lot with various maps. Routes can be calculated and altered in a much faster way on paper. New ice charts come in every day which also effects the planned route.

  • A scientist while sealing a CFC sample.

  • Sample tubes for one of the main experiments. The water in these tubes is analyzed in regards of its CFC content which is an idicator of the age of the water. The combination of the age of the water in different depths and the meltwater content allows scientists to calculate a rate at which the ice along the coast is melting.

  • The Maria S. Merian seen from the air. After arriving at its final destination in Svalbard the expedition is considered a succes. All experiments and projects that were planned for years in advance could be conducted. This expedition gives the scientists a new insight into the region with data that has never been recorded before in such a high resolution.