Reporter's Notebook: Snow, Sky and Silence in the Arctic

There is a half-knot current pushing us southwest, so the idea is to line up the submarine a bit northeast of where we want to surface and let the current push us. Everything has to be right: forward speed, ascent rate, the axis, the angle. This is a nearly $1 billion piece of equipment. You do not want to slip up.

With intense focus, crew members concentrate on their particular tasks, and the submarine hits its mark dead on. Visibly relieved, Brunner asks for some water.

Surrounded by Snow, Sun and Sky

While the crew outside clears the hatch, I head up to the top of the sail, which is sticking well above the ice surface. All around is snow, sun and sky. But if the submarine were in trouble, this is proof that they can come up through ice, safely. In open water, a submarine can come up anywhere, quickly, if necessary. In the Arctic, it's a completely different ballgame. You have to look for the right spots where the ice is thin enough and flat enough. It could be a matter of survival.

We climb out, take a quick helicopter flight back to Ice Camp, and board the small plane back to Prudhoe Bay. The volcano, again, delays our flight, and we are forced to spend the night in a hotel, most of which is occupied by oil workers. The next day, the volcano erupts in the afternoon, allowing us to return to Anchorage in the morning, and get out on the final flight back to the lower 48 before any more flights are cancelled.

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