Onto the Frozen Sea

2/9/2012 8:33:07 PM

Onto the Frozen Sea

We set out at sunrise, a mysterious pink hue streaming across the sky and lighting up the arctic landscape, ready to spend another day searching for polar bear dens using the FLIR camera system.

Arctic sunrise

We drive a tracked vehicle, known as a Hagglunds, across the barren, ragged Beaufort Sea to Pingok Island. The frozen sea, with its jagged pieces of ice, appears to be the perfect environment for a roaming polar bear.

 Hagglunds Vehicle

The Hagglunds we're driving was built in Sweden and originally used for military exercises. Its sturdy design and immense tracks make it perfect for exploring the Arctic.  It also has a heated cab, which makes it comfortable for scientists to perform their work.

After 12 hours of bumpy, noisy riding, we don't detect any definitive polar bear dens using the FLIR camera system. It's a difficult task to detect polar bear dens in this vast landscape.

Dick Shideler with a Magna Probe

We dig a snow pit in an old polar bear den site and take snow depth measurements across the drift. The snow is hard packed by the endless wind that blows across the Arctic. The snow is hard enough that your feet don't crash through the snow. In fact, sometimes your boot doesn't even make a mark!

Digging a snow pit

Even though the landscape is white and endless, it's not without features. The wind forms erosion features in the snow called sastrugi (a word of Russian origin pronounced sass-troo-gee). These features line the land like hard ribbons meandering across the snow surface.


The Arctic greets us throughout the day with other mysteries such as caribou, ptarmigan, and a wonderful surprise of the northern lights or aurora borealis. Perhaps tomorrow will give us the sighting of a polar bear or a polar bear den!

Temperature: 0 F

Wind speed: 10 mph

Photos by April Cheuvront. Return to Scientists & Explorers blog.

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