The “Northern Passage” recently sought shelter in a fjord in South Greenland. In this interview, our expedition meteorologist Marc De Keyser casts light on recent weather developments and explains why this defensive move was necessary. He shares insights about his speciality, which is reflected in the name of his website Weather4Expeditions.com
“There is a quickly deepening depression over the Labrador Sea. Friday morning it appeared for the first time on my model maps, which lit my red alert. The next run confirmed this development, with wind speeds up to 40 knots near Cape Farewell. This is the southernmost point of Greenland and it is renowned for its treacherous currents, which makes navigation there very dangerous – comparable to Cape Horn, the most southern point of South America,” explains the experienced weather man.
Safety is paramount
“You do not want to round Cape Farewell under severe gale conditions! So I gave the guys a heads up about this, and advised them to look for shelter in one of the fjords before the gale started. However, the latest run of my simulation programs shows that the track of the depression is centred farther south, which would make the wind conditions around the southern point of Greenland slightly calmer.
“So I have sent them this update and mentioned an alternative: to head for Prins Christiansund and – as soon as conditions allow – continue eastwards.
“From my point of view, safety is always the most important issue. I don’t see this Arctic circumnavigation as a race between “Peter 1” and the “Northern Passage”. I think it is a benefit that both vessels are so close; if something were to happen they would be able to assist each other, as they have in fact already done in various matters.”
“How this is different from “ordinary” meteorology? Well, you do of course have to be a trained and experienced meteorologist in order to produce tailor-made weather forecasts for people who are engaged in activities in the most extreme locations of our planet. In addition you need to understand how expedition people think and what they specifically want.
“As a matter of fact, you need to be a team member yourself and do everything possible to make that expedition a success. And continuity is very important. Continuity means that you watch and study the weather patterns and model runs every day, in the morning and in the evening. It is not just a job that you quickly do between your main course and dessert.”
Challenging the North Atlantic
“Every kind of expedition has its own specific challenges. For the “Northern Passage” the most important challenge is to get the guys safely back home. This must never be forgotten,” says Marc.
“This last leg, especially, will be quite difficult because they have to cross the North Atlantic, which from a meteorological point of view is a ‘motorway for frontal depressions’. In other words, in this part of the Atlantic, and especially now during the autumn, depressions can form quickly and explosively, deepening as they move toward Europe. So at this stage of the expedition, it is even more important to study each and every run carefully.”
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