August 3, 2011

The fog has lifted, too late for us. The air is cold this morning, the sky overcast though there are areas of clearing and sun behind us and ahead. We’ve been informed about the possibility of mirages, and the eye is fooled by the combination of sea, sky and clouds. Sailors have sometimes been known to surmise land where there is none. I think I may see land, but we are in the Barents Sea, far from any; land is two days away. Just before we head into the final expedition briefing, I see a couple of passengers looking out the window and focusing their cameras. I get up just in time to see a ringed seal pop up from the water and dive right back in. We rush out onto the deck, where a few more people are scanning the water intensely to find more, but none resurface. But it’s a good sighting and gives hope for perhaps more.

In the briefing, some of the lecturers summarize some of what we have seen. James Cresswell, a geologist and glaciologist, tells us that 7 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by sea ice, “but so few people have seen it the way we have.” Susan Currie says only between 12,500 and 14,000 people in all of human history have visited the North Pole. “We’ve walked on Franz Josef Land in places where perhaps no human has ever walked,” she says.

By dinnertime, the weather is foggy, windy, rainy and cold. This is more what we might have expected from the Arctic, so more than ever we count ourselves lucky to have done what we did. The night is punctuated by a spectacular, blazing sunset, sunset being what it is here, the sun never actually setting.