Outside, the sinking sun is colouring the autumnal sky a brilliant lavender, a rich hue that lingers over a vast blanket of ice. Here, off the northern coast of Greenland, the Arctic Ocean is masquerading as land, a snowy patchwork of smooth ice floes and abrupt, jagged piles of crystalline debris. Only the subtle shifting of our ship, the Norwegian icebreaker R.V. Kronprins Haakon, betrays the landlocked illusion.
It took longer than expected to get to this icy wonderland from the small coal-mining town of Longyearbyen, the most populated port in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Now that we’re here, Chris German isn’t paying much attention to the dramatic seascape. Instead, he’s staring intently at a live feed of the seafloor, and he’s trying on hats. Every 10 minutes or so, he plops a different hat on his head, rotating through haberdashery that includes a faux sealskin ushanka, a woven orange fez, and a beanie from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he works.