Reporter's diary: Arctic warming

Tania Page watches a killer whale feeding frenzy and is dazzled by the Northern Lights.

    In a rare sight, scores of killer whales herded fish in a feeding frenzy [Tania Page]

    In the lead up to the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Al Jazeera sent a team to the world's northernmost regions to discover the effects of global warming.


    In the past 24 hours, I've seen two extraordinary events. Both were reminders of how impressive the natural world can be - a fact that sometimes gets lost in the build-up to the Copenhagen climate change talks, which can look a bit like a merry-go-round of world leaders shaking hands.

    in depth
    From the bridge of the G.O. Sars someone spotted a pod of about a dozen killer whales just off the bow.

    When another pod appeared much closer, Karsten, our cameraman, and I went on to the deck to try and get some good shots for our television story. 

    Suddenly, the water about 100m in front of us looked like it was boiling and we realised there were literally hundreds of killer whales in a feeding frenzy.

    Everywhere we looked they were slicing through the water, some were moving in unison, side by side, herding fish to the surface where the school's panic created this great swirling, boiling effect.

    I didn't know where to point my camera and Karsten was beside himself. It was such a sight even the scientists we're travelling with joined us in the arctic wind to watch.

    One said that in 15 years of research he'd never seen anything like it.

    The whales use sonar to locate their prey, and we'd been doing the same thing.

    The G.O. Sars is a marine research ship, and the current mission is to test various methods of monitoring Norway's waters, including keeping track of fish stocks.

    The Northern Lights appeared like a smoky arc stretching from the horizon [Tania Page]

    The MS70 sonar is something really special – it's shaped like a cone and comes out of the ship's side in a fan like motion. Once they find a school of fish they circle it and from the resulting data a 3D image of the school can be built.

    Everyone on board is passionate about their work. The detailed information these scientists collect will give them a wealth of knowledge, and more importantly, the data will be a valuable resource for those tracking any changes caused by the earth's rising temperatures.
    After sunset (there are only about three hours of daylight here at this time of year) we watched the first trawl to catch herring – this part is left down to an experienced crew of sailors as its quite dangerous work when the winches are operating.

    Casually one of the crew pointed to the sky and said "Nordlys" - or Northern Lights.

    We rushed up to the ship's deck and just gazed at the sky for about an hour. It was like a huge smoky arc stretching up from the horizon - but it changed quickly like a long cloud, expanding as if taking a breath then twisting in on itself.

    Both events made me feel small, and it's difficult to comprehend amid such grand natural beauty that in just a few weeks world leaders will meet in some auditorium in Copenhagen to argue over cutting carbon emissions – handshakes and smiles at the ready. 


    Charging a battery sounds like a straightforward task but as I'm discovering, when you're at sea, few things are very straightforward.

    I'm on board the G.O. Sars, a ship that's owned by Norway's Institute of Marine Research. At nearly 78-metres long and weighing about 4,000 tonnes, it is a state-of-the-art-vessel equipped with all sorts of gadgets.

    The battery was submerged under 250m of water [Karsten Sondergaard]
    We're currently inside the Arctic Circle off Norway's coast. There's a team of eight scientists, about six sailors, my cameraman Karsten and myself.

    So far, we've been getting in the way a lot by pretending to be ship savvy - which generally leads to lots of waving and yelling in Norwegian by the sailors as they try to keep us safe.

    My assignment is to report on the effects of climate change. It's no secret that ice in the Arctic is melting - rising sea levels and the threat to the polar bears' habitat are well known issues - but there are other, less visible effects that are just as profound.

    On board the G.O. Sars scientists are concerned with monitoring fish stocks.

    They've discovered that the number of cod is increasing, and that the cod population in the Barents Sea is now at a 60-year high. Scientists believe that's partly because Norway has a strict management system, but it's also because the water is getting warmer.

    The scientists I'm with are testing ways to keep track of fish.

    The battery they wanted to charge is submerged in 250 metres of water. It's powering a submerged platform that uses sonar to measure how many fish are in the area.

    Tania Page is travelling in the Arctic Circle to observe the effects of climate change
    Over time that information, when compared to data collected from other studies, can help scientists to decipher why the number of cod in this particular area is increasing.

    But as I said, even with eight scientists and an experienced crew of seamen, sometimes plain old bad luck gets in the way.

    The mission to charge the battery started off well. The team used an echo sounder to trigger the release of a buoy that was attached to the submerged platform. When the buoy surfaced it was about 500 metres from the ship.

    Once the ship was close enough, the buoy was hooked on to a line connected to the ship's winch, gradually the line was pulled in, taking at least 15 minutes to haul the platform from the depths.

    But, only a few minutes after being hoisted out of the water and while hanging alongside the ship the battery lid exploded.

    The bang gave us all a fright and although no one was hurt, the platform is damaged and I don't need to be a scientist to work out that no amount of charging will make that battery work.

    It'll be a day or two before they know how much data can be retrieved from the platform, so in the meantime we're heading north to a herring fishing ground for the next experiment, but minus the explosion.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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