A lucky artist at sea

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Dragonfly Leathrum on the main deck of the R/V Maria S. Merian in Scoresby Sound, Greenland. Photo by Simon Wett UHH

I am neither scientist nor sailor but an American artist living in Bremerhaven, Germany looking at Greenland beyond the rails of R/V Maria S. Merian. How I got here is another story, but my purpose is to convey work at sea to a broader audience with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation. Dr. Torsten Kanzow of the Alfred-Wegener-Institute is leading scientists from Germany, England, Greece, India, and the USA in their various projects. We are all collecting ocean data in the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland and in Scoresby Sound in Greenland. Even though I have been seasick on and off this first week of four, observing students, technicians, engineers, and crew working together is an eye-opening adventure.

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The Maria S. Merian docked in Reykjavik Harbor. Photo by Dr. Andreas Muenchow UDEL

The research vessel R/V Maria S. Merian is all work all the time. Different groups fill every minute of twenty-four-hour work days. They collect and process data, prepare instruments for year-long deployments into the ocean, and recover instruments placed in the water in prior years. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I document what is happening from an artist’s perspective using photographs, drawings, paintings, and blogs. My first assignment was to photograph all members of the science party so a large poster could be made to help everyone get to know each other. Two days later I was seasick and missed a good photo opportunity when scientists, technicians and crew recovered a first mooring from the Denmark Strait. Dr. Andreas Muenchow from the University of Delaware covered for me and probably took better photos because as a seasoned sailing scientist he is more comfortable with deck operations.

The next day we saw an iceberg: My First Iceberg! Little did I know there were thousands of icebergs just beyond my horizon that I will write about next week.

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Iceberg in the Denmark Strait. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

We sailed back and forth across the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland to map a massive plume of dense water cascading cold Arctic water down the sloping bottom into the Atlantic Ocean. The ship stops every hour or so to lower a metal frame called a CTD that has many sensors and bottles strapped to it. This measures temperature, salinity, velocity, and oxygen levels. The scientists and crew also deployed and recovered moorings which measure similar things. The moorings are weighted down at the bottom with old train wheels. A nice bit of upcycling. All scientists meet every evening after dinner to compare new data and ideas that were collected and processed during the prior day and night. They organize all this in graphs and charts. It is fascinating to see the information visually. As a lucky artist I receive somewhat unexpectedly an advanced tutorial in physical oceanography without taking a single class in mathematics or physics.

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Mooring deployments in the Denmark Strait August 2018 from aboard R/V Maria S. Merian. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

It was a good first week even though my sea sickness pills are all gone. The scientists, mostly students, are extremely bright, nice, and working hard at their stations. The weather has been fair during the week. We enjoyed some unexpected sunshine and we huddled through a few cold and foggy days. I photographed sunsets, moon rises, whales, dolphins, and many of the different sensors, scientists, and science work. Calmer seas here and there allowed me to complete two paintings of Iceland as well.