Iris, a marine biologist and oceans campaigner from Greenpeace Germany, explores the bottom of the Arctic ocean.
I am Iris, an oceans campaigner from Greenpeace Germany, and part of the Arcitc Under Pressure Expedition team. For two weeks now, I have been on board the Esperanza here in the Arctic. It’s wonderful to be back in the Arctic again as I loved the Greenpeace expedition we did last year with the Arctic Sunrise. I had always wanted to see the polar oceans, so when I got the chance last year to join the expedition, one of my dreams became reality. I can't describe with words how it feels to get the chance to come here again.
A marine biologist by profession, before moving to Greenpeace I worked on a small island in the North Sea at the German Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, where I spent many years studying the life both on and in the sea bottom. I have always enjoyed looking at, identifying or counting the small organisms in the ocean; they might not be as iconic as a whale, but they’re no less important for the overall ecosystem, in fact sometimes they are more important. The work we are doing during this leg of our expedition touches the scientist in my heart. We are currently mapping an area in the far north of the Barents Sea that is actually part of the Arctic Ocean. This area is unmapped until now, which means nobody knows what kind of life is down on the sea bottom or if there is even life at all. This applies to most areas of the deep sea: she is still unknown for us. We know less about the deep sea than we know about the surface of the moon.
We are exploring this ocean floor here north of Svalbard using a drop camera and an ROV (remote operated vehicle). Our first step has been to lower the drop camera, which gives us good overview of the life that exists down there. If we want to see things in more detail we will be sending the ROV for a down for a dive. We have seen much more than I have expected so far; in a depth between 30 and 200 metres, the underground is a mix of sand and mud with many stones. There is a lot of life there: sea urchins, sea stars, sea anemones,ectoprocta,soft corals, sea squirts, tube worms, sponges, haddock, cod, red fish, shrimps... It is a feeling similar to what the early explorers like Jacques-Yves Cousteau might have had: We are putting light into an ecosystem which has been in the dark so far.
The data we are collecting during this expedition will be handed over to scientists who are working on a project to map the Arctic seas. Our data will be an important piece in the whole mapping puzzle. Therefore we decided to work on two larger areas north of Svalbard – one closer to land, and one near the ice edge. In each of these areas we have planned several transects, each one a straight line of approximately 1-2 nautical miles across the sea bed. So far we have done four of these transects using the drop-camera; as long as the weather is favourable we will continue exploring the deep ocean in the far north. It is challenging and inspiring work!
>> Find out more about the Arctic Under Pressure Expedition.
Top image: "Iris Menn, Oceans campaigner from Greenpeace Germany stands in front of the MY Arctic Sunrise (2009)"© Nick Cobbing / Greenpeace
All other images: "Greenpeace used state of the art recording techniques to explore the little known seabed of the Arctic Ocean, north of Svalbard. Not sure what they would find, their cameras revealed a seabed rich in biodiversity. By sending visual imagery (with location and depth data attached) back from the ship by satellite phone, they will share their findings of this unique place with the scientific community. As climate change causes the Arctic sea ice to recede, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza has sailed north of Svalbard, to survey the poorly understood Arctic Ocean seabed. Meanwhile on the surface the crew are tracking and documenting fishing vessels from an industry that is encroaching on this fragile, unstudied ecosystem. Greenpeace is calling for the area of the Arctic Ocean historically protected year round by sea ice to be closed to all industrial activity, including destructive fishing" © Gavin Newman / Greenpeace