Ice station Jeannette

We’ve not quite finished the Jeannette, but thanks to the excellent work of gastcra, clewi, jill, and the crew, I have already been able to reconstruct her route. And for this ship, we can learn a lot from just the route, because she spent nearly two years drifting embedded in the sea-ice.

The Arctic ocean has winds and currents, so the sea-ice does not just advance and retreat with the seasons, it also moves about. To understand its movement, nowadays we use ice stations and ice drifters: These are groups of people, or more often just un-manned automatic instruments, that are placed on an ice-floe and drift with the ice for months or years, recording its movements and the weather at their location. From them, we’ve learned a lot about how the sea-ice works and changes.

Jeannette was effectively the first ice station. The video shows the route of the ship reconstructed from her logbook, together with a sea-ice field. We don’t have good sea-ice records for 1879 so I’ve used the sea-ice from exactly 100-years later (as we did for the Thetis). We need to remember that the sea-ice in 1879 would not have been the same as that in 1979, but the comparison does add poignancy to the story of the voyage: They were unlucky not to escape the ice in the autumn of 1880, and they came so close to reaching the seasonal melt region around the New Siberian Islands – another couple of weeks, and maybe they would have escaped.

Our records from Jeannette end on June 13th, 1881, when she was abandoned and sank. But her contribution to science did not end there. Wreckage from the ship continued drifting across the Arctic Ocean, and was recovered in Greenland; and that evidence helped inspire Fridtjof Nansen to build the Fram and undertake an even greater Arctic voyage.

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  1. Jeanette – The first ice station | Daily Zooniverse - September 9, 2013

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