Polar bear sighting during ACCACIA research

Published: 30 Jul 2013

Scientists and crew members of a British research ship studying Arctic climate change had a close encounter with one of the Arctic’s iconic creatures after spotting a polar bear.

The Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross is in the Arctic as one of several summer research projects of the Natural Environment Research Council’s Arctic Research Programme (ARP).

The ARP’s work in this project involves the use of ship and aircraft based measurements to look at how clouds, and other air-borne particles called aerosols, affect the climate in the Arctic.

Both the ship and the Twin Otter aircraft are run by the Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey. The ARP is also managed from the offices in Cambridge.

Mike Gloistein of BAS, who took stunning images of the animals, said they spotted the bear about 4pm while the ship was moving through some loose pack-ice just 45 miles east of Greenland.

He said: “Catering Officer, Richard Turner, spotted what looked like a small piece of ice with a wake. On looking through binoculars it was soon realised that we had encountered our first Polar Bear of the trip.

“The Polar Bear continued to swim for a short while as the James Clark Ross approached and then climbed onto an ice-flow, giving all on board excellent views of this majestic animal.

“We continued to enjoy its company for about twenty minutes before it then decided to continue with its swim and parted company from us.”

The ARP work on the ship is done through a project called ACCACIA which is investigating sources of air-borne particles from the Arctic Ocean and sea-ice.

Scientists still do not fully understand how cloud and airborne particles affect climate in the Arctic but they do know it is important. The Arctic region has a strong impact on global weather patterns so understanding what influences Arctic climate is vital for better predictions of its impact elsewhere.

As well as using the BAS ship the ACCACIA project is also using one of the BAS Twin Otter aircraft which is operating from Svalbard at the moment high above the Arctic Circle.

Professor Lucy Carpenter of the University of York who is leading the ACCACIA activities on the ship said: “We hope to link up with the aircraft in the next few days with some over-flights of the ship. We have 17 scientists onboard the JCR with a wide spread of expertise.”

“So far the equipment is working smoothly, the results coming in look very exciting, and we’ve seen some amazing wildlife.”

ARP science coordinator, Dr Cynan Ellis-Evans, who is based at BAS in Cambridge, said: “Our field work in the Arctic offers us the opportunity to do cutting edge science which hopes to answer crucial questions about climate change in the region. It also, luckily for us, offers a chance to see magnificent wildlife at first hand.”

Image credits: British Antarctic Survey, Mike Gloistein, Richard Turner.