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  Field Notes From
Arctic Ice

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Arctic Ice On AssignmentArrows

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From Author

Jennifer Steinberg Holland

Arctic Ice On Assignment

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From Photographer

Paul Nicklen

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Paul Nicklen


Arctic Ice

Field Notes From Author
Jennifer Steinberg Holland

Best Worst Quirkiest
    Two words: Polar bears. I'd never seen them in the wild before, and there's nothing quite like the real thing. The captain would announce a sighting: "Polar bears off the starboard bow!" And we'd all rush out onto deck with cameras and binoculars to catch a glimpse.
    We saw a mother and two cubs early in the trip. Then later, when the ship was stopped in the ice one night, a lone bear showed up, attracted by the smell of our dinner. It was a big, healthy male, and he entertained us for hours, pawing the ship, sniffing the air, and leaping between ice floes. I like to think he was there for the company, but I have no doubt he would have happily made a meal of us if we'd been within reach.

    The helicopters that would take us to the ship off Kugluktuk couldn't fly until morning, so we spent the very first night in a tiny airport building. I had been feeling the twinge of a cold coming on, but staying up all night on a hard chair in a cold room clinched it. By the time we sailed, I was starting in on a full-fledged sinus infection that would take me through the end of the trip.
    Sleep didn't come easily on subsequent nights (icebreakers are noisy buggers), which added to my troubles. I'm sure my nose-blowing, coughing, and tired eyes made a great first impression on the scientists and crew. Not exactly the way you want to start a three-week-long field trip up north with a bunch of strangers.

    It took many hours for the scientists to sift through the huge sample of sea mud their box core brought up from the depths. They needed all the help they could get, so naturally I volunteered. What's better than hands-on experience?
    As I stood on deck in my orange survival suit, rubber-gloved hands buried in cold, cold mud from the bottom of the ocean, gazing out across the ice-spotted Canada Basin through mud-smeared bangs, I had to wonder how many people on Earth had shared this experience—and decided very few. Something about playing in a bucket of mud on the deck of a ship seemed so wacky. It showed me how messy and imprecise Arctic science can be and how dedicated the researchers have to be to do it. And yes, we enjoyed some good-natured mud flinging, but only after we finished the work. (See Holland's mud buckets in Zoom In.)


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