Oden Reaches the North Pole All Too Easily Once Again

Our regular reader(s) may recall our extensive coverage of the Swedish icebreaker Oden’s visit to the North Pole (AKA Santa’s secret summer swimming pool) in 2016?

We are now able to report that Oden has been back at the North Pole once again, this time somewhat earlier in the season:


There’s not as much open water to be seen this year, although Oden’s visit is a week earlier than in 2016 so that may not be too surprising? What is perhaps surprising is that this year visiting the Pole wasn’t part of Oden’s plan! According to British physicist and oceanographer (and BBC TV star!) Helen Czerski:

Here’s Helen and friends pictured at the North Pole:


That was a couple of days ago, since when the sea ice floe Oden is attached to has drifted in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean:


We have asked Helen whether she is willing and able to provide our readers with an update on here recent experiences on the Oden:

We’ll let you know her reply as and when we receive it!

17 thoughts on “Oden Reaches the North Pole All Too Easily Once Again

  1. So do we know from this ship how thick the ice is around the pole? I look at the DMI chart vs Hycom and I’m utterly confused… 3m or 0.5m

    (There’s a small Swedish icebreaker in the historic ships berth in Stockholm harbor you can get on board of, if you are ever out that way!)

    1. According to Helen the ice the Oden is currently attached to is one metre thick:


      We kept going north, and yesterday morning, we woke up just 5.5 nautical miles from the North Pole, with very heavy ice between us and the pole. That’s apparently well within the official limits for having visited the pole, so the crew lowered the gangway and we were allowed out on the ice for the first time…..

      I’ve spent many months of my life on ships but I have never stepped off one in the middle of an ocean on to the water, walked away and then turned around to look back at the ship I’ve been living on. We were standing on a metre-thick surface shell, with four kilometres of water separating us from the seafloor mountain range below.

      1. So far that’s the way it looks. Thanks for being an integral part of something good happening in the UK.

    1. Thanks Sören,

      It would have been a big surprise if things hadn’t taken longer than 2016. Slightly later in the season, but there was lots of open water in the vicinity of the North Pole that year:

      This year is rather different, but the Oden isn’t 50 Let Pobedy! She’s not really designed for expeditions to the Pole. According to the Swedish Maritime Administration her maximum ice breaking capability is 1.9 m level ice at 3 knots.

      According to Helen Czerski on August 8th:

      1.5 metre ice is enough to slow Oden down considerably, but isn’t thick by historical Central Arctic standards. If my Google Translated understanding of the original Swedish is correct they had a lot of difficulty plotting the best course because their helicopter was grounded due to the fog for much of the time?

      1. Right, he doesn’t want to get stuck so relies on helicopter, at times at least not permitted by weather.

        Only then I wouldn’t put it they didn’t aim at the pole, that’s all more about just final positioning once roughly there.

        1. I’m relying on Helen again, rather than Mattias.

          She said they only ended up 5 miles from the pole because they couldn’t find a suitable floe on which to set up their 5 week research camp any earlier. Oden is now attached to a floe 1 metre thick.

  2. Another blog post by Helen Czerski has been published over at Cosmic Shambles:


    It seems Helen has been kept very busy because her lead of great interest still hasn’t frozen over:


    There are no days off. The open lead could freeze over at any time, and it would be stupid to miss a measurement day when it’s taken so much time and effort to get to this point. But things are getting easier as our setup improves and we can trust our instruments to record without being continually checked on. Our group has agreed that we need to take half days off when we can, because tired people make mistakes, and we need to be alert. But once the lead freezes over we will have much less to measure, so it’s hard to make that call.

  3. The undated photo of the ship surrounded by ice in her 25Aug blog post shows many blue melt ponds in addition to open leads. If it was taken in the last week it’s a stunning image of the exceptional warmth near the pole this August.

    Clearly, this ship had to be very careful to avoid compression ridges and areas where one floe had been thrust over another. In today’s Arctic compression can produce extremely thick and dangerous pile ups of ice. The thicker multi-year ice of the decades before the new millenium did not produce compression features as extreme as today’s thinner ice.

    1. The thicker multi-year ice of the decades before the new millenium did not produce compression features as extreme as today’s thinner ice.
      I disagree, you should read Comdr. Calvert’s description on the polar ice in the late 50s:
      Aug 1958 “I look around the lake. It’s small-too small for complete surfacing. It is surrounded by pressure ridges formed when the giant ice floes press together.”
      Later at Ice Station Alpha,
      His engineer reported: “Captain, there’s something funny going on with the ice, in the last hour or two a hummock 15 ft or so high has appeared.”
      The lake they were in was shrinking and they had to submerge.
      The following spring when the Skate surfaced at the pole Calvert said:
      “Both sides of the lead were piled with the heaviest and ruggedest hummocks I had yet seen in the Arctic.”

  4. Another aerial view of Helen Czerski’s open lead from her latest blog post at CosmicShambles, taken on August 23rd:


    We have just passed the halfway point of the expedition (day 28 of 56) and we’ve also now had two full weeks of drifting with this ice floe. The tapestry of life on Oden has developed a stable shape, and our floating steel village has become home….

    On Saturday we marked halfway with the Swedish celebration of kräftskiva, an extremely enthusiastic fanfare for the crayfish. The dedication of all the Swedish scientists and crew to both schnapps and singing throughout the whole meal was impressive, particularly the song sheet so that we could all join in. There was a minor panic among the British contingent as it became clear that every country present was supposed to contribute a drinking song, because none of us could think of one. To our relief, one of the Germans suggested “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?”, although I can’t honestly remember ever hearing that sung in a pub. But it did the job.

    The following day was warm and calm out at the open lead, and we had an extremely happy day, giggling our way through the various jobs to be done. The in-jokes are multiplying very quickly, gluing the team together as we manoeuvre large floating experiments, hoick instruments in and out of the water, set out mooring lines, deal with snow and ice and cold, and manhandle batteries that seem to get heavier every day…

    We don’t often stop for breaks, but our little hut (which never gets above 2°C but still seems cosy) is a happy place, and a good incubator for laughter.

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