Skip to content


Marine science on the ice

5 August 2021

Science on ice, helicopter training, and a polar bear encounter: all in a day’s work for a Marine Chemist in the Arctic.

Image of polar bear on ice

Having departed Sweden at the end of July aboard the IB Oden - one of the world’s most powerful icebreakers - PML Marine Chemist Ian Brown is among the international team of scientists currently taking part in the Synoptic Arctic Survey (SAS)

Incorporating a range of datasets being collected by multiple scientists aboard several research vessels in the Arctic Ocean, SAS is a ground-breaking collaborative initiative, designed to provide a unique baseline which will allow the tracking of climate change and its impacts as they unfold in the Arctic over the coming years, decades and centuries. 

Ian’s work aboard the IB Oden will contribute to PML’s PETRA project, which is focused on how ocean acidification and the warming of Arctic waters, together with increased light penetration due to the melting of ice, have consequences on the production of trace gases (including methane and nitrous oxide) which, in turn, influence the climate. 

Ultimately, the research for PETRA - which is co-funded by UKRI NERC and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research - will be used to develop ecosystem models to identify the main controls on trace gas production in the Arctic Ocean, now and into the future. 

Having crossed the 83rd parallel north – which is as far north as the northernmost area of land on the planet - Ian has begun his scientific work and completed his helicopter training, with sampling from melt pools and below the surface of the ice due to take place as the weather allows.  According to Ian in a recent update, life aboard the 108m 40-berth vessel is fairly relaxed, although not without the occasional drama: 

“A polar bear was pretty close to getting on board yesterday. The ship has a funny swallow tail thing on the back behind the A-frame which is quite low, the ice was piled up and the bear was happily clambering over it towards us about 20ft away almost at eye level. Luckily it was spooked and disappeared without us having to take action.”

The team onboard the icebreaker includes fellow Marine Research Plymouth scientists Dr Birthe Zaencker and Dr Kimberley Bird from the Marine Biological Association (MBA) who are studying micro-organisms beneath the sea ice. 

The expedition is due to complete in September – watch this space for further updates in coming weeks.



The IB Oden moves through the ice, and Ian Brown watches from deck (Credit for bottom right image: Maria Samuelsson)