Arctic Exploration

19 March 2019

Alexander from Earth Sciences undertook a unique global opportunity over the summer of 2018, joining a team of international researchers aboard the R.V. Araon. Read about his experiences in the Arctic here!

Alexander Hayward, Earth Sciences

During Summer 2018 I took part scientific expedition upon a Korean Icebreaker in the Central Arctic Ocean. Fortunately, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the NERC and UCL’s study abroad ensured I wasn’t going unprepared! Prior to travel the NERC sent me off to Newcastle Upon Tyne and Brighton for some safety courses, where I escaped from sinking and spinning helicopter chassis, and extinguished storage containers engulfed in flames and smoke. With my trusty fireman’s hose in hand and air cylinder on my back I felt invincible. 

Book in one hand, laptop in the other, and read up on scientific literature, I start my journey to Alaska. From Telford to Nome, Alaska isn’t an easy journey. After layovers in San Francisco and Anchorage, I arrive in Nome exhausted and sleep deprived. Whilst in the industrial gold-mining town of Nome I made friends with the locals and panned for gold on the beach. In the evening, I rendezvoused with my master’s supervisor to share some wine and sushi, and discuss the expedition ahead. On day one we board onto the R.V. Araon via helicopter. Sitting in the front of the chopper, I’m filled with a sense of adventure for what is to come. After introductions, and meeting all of the crew on-board we soon get acquainted over a game of cards. As the only Brit on-board the ship, I had to adapt fast to learning the sensitivities of many new cultures (and card games). 

ice auger

As any good blog should do, let’s start with the food. When on a placement abroad, don’t expect all of your home comforts! Fully delve into the culinary world of the country you are in. This might mean having kimchi and rice every morning for breakfast, experimenting with fish gut soup, or burning your insides on some of the spiciest curry you’ve tried! Always try something new… Who knows, one day you might be surprised with perfectly cooked king crab! As a pescatarian, it wasn’t always easy. If there aren’t any vegetarian options, the best thing to do is to start a dialogue, there’s always someone that’s willing to help you. This can be applied to all aspects of being abroad; nobody expects you to be an expert. Remain inquisitive, ask questions and always remain open to conversation. My recommendation would be to let your guard down a little, being somewhere new, it can be easy to get intimidated by your surroundings, however, it’s important to remember the good in the world and the kindness of strangers. Of course, have your wits about you, but remember to keep an open mind and be open to new opportunities and adventures. 

polar bear

The work… I must say, every day there is something new! Whether this was looking down a microscope at plankton, setting up buoys on a helideck, or taking cores on ice floes. If you’re conducting field-work and haven’t done it before, stay calm and remember that you’re not expected to be an expert. I had limited experience with using tools, however by the end of the trip I felt pretty confident drilling a 9inch auger hole into an Arctic ice floe. Remember that your placement isn’t just to perform a task or job, the purpose is to learn and experience something new that you’re not able to do back home. 

My main drive and focus was that the work we conducted mattered. Being able to witness the effects of climate change on the Arctic first-hand changed me profoundly. I noticed sea ice melting, ice polluted with particles from forest fires in Siberia, and decimation of the polar bear’s habitat. Though all this was saddening to see, I left with a restored sense of ambition and a drive to try to make the planet a better place for all its inhabitants.