Author Archives: Ian Brooks

After the endless problems of the first week, we’re now happily ticking along quite smoothly. We even managed to sort out a substitute for the failed Vaisala radiosounding system. Axel and Lars, the IT and electronics engineers on board, managed to build a very effective system from an old broad-band radio scanner, some downloaded software (COAA Sonde Monitor) produced by and for enthusiasts to receive radiosonde data in real time, some co-ax cable, a spare 12V power supply, some terminal block, and a capacitor (see below)


While we can’t do all the processing required to generate the WMO standards compliant messages required for use in initialising weather forecast models, we are able to get all the data required for later analysis. It’s amazing what can be achieved by people with the right skills and endless enthusiasm for solving other people’s problems.

Since we don’t have any web access, we couldn’t complete the online registration for the SondeMonitor software; a big thank you to its creator,  Bev Ewen-Smith, for sending us a registration ID by email.

_LL-0732 - Balloon for Bev

It’s taken a while to get around to writing a first post from the
Arctic. The first few days on board are usually hectic as we reinstall
instrumentation, fire everything up, and then start trouble shooting the
inevitable problems. As first weeks of cruises go, this has not been one
of our better ones; we’ve suffered rather more technical problems than
usual. To make things more challenging, half of the problems are with
kit that we’re running on behalf of colleagues from other institutes,
and with which we’re not fully familiar.

We joined Oden in Longyearbyen on Svalbard last Monday (Aug 8). The
meteorology team – myself and John from Leeds, Piotr from Stockholm, and
Anna from SMHI in Norrkoping – immediately started sorting out all the
instrumentation that needed reinstalling. Most of the work was done back
in May, and all the sensors installed and tested, but we didn’t want to
leave them on the mast for the two months before the cruise started.


We got everything installed and powered up, and almost immediately found
our first problem. The Licor gas analyser, which makes water vapour
measurements, wasn’t starting up properly. We took the spare up, and
tested that: working! So, a complete swap of sensor and it’s interface box.

The next problem was the radio sounding kit. This is the ground station
for weather balloons. Data from weather balloons is used to initialise
weather forecast models, providing measurements of temperature,
humidity, and winds from the surface up to an altitude of about 25 km.
When we first ran through a dummy sounding – just running the radiosonde
on deck – to check the configuration of the system, we got no reception
of the radio signal. After several days of intermittently trying to get
this working – checking all the cables to antennas, double checking them
on a standalone radio receiver, etc, and many email exchanges with the
manufacturer’s engineers, we think the radio receiver card in the
sounding station has failed. A week on and we’re still testing and
trying out possible fixes but with no luck yet. This is a major blow to
the meteorology programme; there are very few direct measurements in the
Arctic, and forecast centres are always keen to get any they can.
Fortunately, it doesn’t actually impact most of the other science we’re

Meanwhile, back on the foremast another problem had cropped up. The
sonic anemometer – a sensor that uses pulses of sound to measure the
3-dimensional turbulent wind and air temperature – was outputting error
messages instead of data. The error messages indicated a mixture of
implausible measurements and a complete lack of signal on different
pairs of transducers. I initially thought this was a calibration
problem; the instrument was calibrated in a nice warm lab, worked OK
when first installed in May, but was now operating in sub-zero
temperatures. We tried to do a field-calibration on the lift platform
alongside the top of the mast, but with no luck. So, stripped it all off
the mast for tests back in the lab. So far we’ve failed to get it
working, but have determined that temperature changes affect which
transducers work and which don’t. Meanwhile we’ve installed another
sonic anemometer; this is working, but doesn’t have a heated head like
the first one, so if we get heavy icing conditions we’ll lose data.


Because most of the science on this cruise is piggy-backing on a
Canadian led sea-bed mapping expedition, we have to fit in around the
other work on board. We can only get up the mast when the ship is
stationary and conditions not too harsh. For the last couple of trips up
this has meant working between 11pm and 3am the following morning. Last
night’s trip up the mast was also pushing the limits of workable
conditions; with winds of 16 m/s we were swaying around rather more than
we were entirely comfortable with.

But for now at least, we’re finally getting the majority of the
measurements we really need. A great relief.


It has been a while – nearly two years – since the last post from the SWERUS cruise around the Arctic Ocean on Oden. We had a year off fieldwork last year, but are about to return to the Arctic Ocean, and the Oden, (probably) the best icebreaker in the world and certainly our favourite. We are participating in the Arctic Ocean 2016 expedition – a 6-week cruise that will take us to the North Pole, and down the Lomonosov Ridge towards Greenland.


We join the ship in Longyearbyen, on Svalbard, in a week’s time. There are several very different science projects sharing time on the ship – more on those later. I am leading a small team to study interactions between the atmosphere and sea-ice. In addition to myself and my post-doc John Prytherch we have two early career researchers: Anna Fitch (from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute) and Piotr Kupiszewski (from ETH, Zurich and the Meteorological Institute, Stockholm University). All four of us will be posting updates here.

Another cruise blog is that of Runa Skarbø:


When I first went to sea an old hand at research cruises told me that whatever I thought I ought to be able to achieve in a day, I should half it when at sea. This was pretty good advice. In part it is because the working conditions can be physically difficult – it can take a lot longer to do a simple job when the world is moving up and down and side to side. But it also results from the difficulty in maintaining focus and motivation.

After nearly 6 weeks at sea, when every day is pretty much like every other, the tedium of doing the same thing every day – the same routine instrument checks, the same backup jobs, the same routine of meals (and as supplies of anything remotely fresh run down the same foodstuffs*) – can take its toll on motivation. The fact that we’re usually tired doesn’t help. It’s often hard to sleep soundly – too much noise and ship motion. On this trip our sleep pattern is getting more and more out of sync with the ‘day’ as we go on. Although we’ve sailed half way round the Arctic Ocean – we crossed the international date line a day or two ago – the ship has stayed on UTC time. Early in the cruise this didn’t matter much; the sun never set, so day and night had little meaning. Now, however, the sun is below the horizon for about 4 hours in the middle of the day – it was setting as I got up (late) this morning; the darkest time of day is lunch time, and the brightest time is the middle of our ‘night’. This screws up your body clock – we feel sleepy in the middle of the day as it gets dark, and wake up at night when the sun is brightest.

Next week we will arrive in Barrow, Alaska, and have to make the switch to local time. Some of us seem to be drifting that way already.

*The peppered cabbage salad is really very good…but I don’t want to see it again for a long, long time after I get off the ship!

We’ve seen very little wildlife on this cruise, we’ve barely even seen any birds for the last week or two; however, last night we sailed straight past multiple groups of walruses and several polar bears in the last mile or so of marginal ice before entering open water. Here’s a couple of photos of the walruses:

There is a strange rhythm to life on board ship – one that is rather different to, and more rigid, than those of life back at home. Even when the pattern of science work varies a lot there are fixed points imposed upon it. Life seems to revolve around meal times; unlike back home, these are rigidly fixed: breakfast 07:45, lunch 11:45, dinner 17:45, and determined by the watch pattern of the crew’s working day. For most of us these meal times feel rather too close together, and since the galley staff like to make sure no one goes hungry, there is always plenty to eat. Add in coffee breaks at 10:00 and 15:00, often with freshly backed cakes or cookies, and it is very easy to eat too much and start putting on weight unless you’re doing a lot of physical work on deck.

With dinner being early in the evening, and many people working late, there can be lots of us feeling in need of a snack late in the evening, which is why there is a fridge full of leftovers and the makings for sandwiches in the mess. There are usually a bunch of people making snacks between 10pm and midnight. For those working shifts – the oceanography work is going on pretty much 24 hours a day – meals get put aside for reheating whenever they’re wanted.

Meals have a longer period rhythm too. Every ship I’ve worked on has a pattern to the meals through the week – on the UK research ships there is usually fish on a Friday, often curry on Saturday nights, a Sunday roast on Sunday. On the Oden the strongest fixed point in the week is Thursday and pea soup and pancakes, a tradition I remember from my last time on board in 2008.

For those keen to combat the effects of the galley on the waistline, there is a small gym; and for those who just need some distraction there’s an extensive library of DVDs to borrow, or watch in company in the small cinema (seats about 20).

When we finish work for the day – usually about 9 at night – a beer or two in the bar helps to wind down and relax before going to bed.