Category Archives: Blog

Canada!!

A cloud bank engulfed us an hour before the plane banked over us. We thought we were condemned to the ice for another week as the forecast was for continued bad weather and watched from a pressure ridge as Troy the pilot made at least ten passes in the distance before finally landing. We packed quickly and skied 45 minutes to the plane. Bengt was on board, collected at 88 degrees after abandoning his attempt to ski to Canada. The flight over the frozen ocean is always so captivating, pondering how we could ever live on it, travel over it, abide by it. And of course the final sector, that of the Canadian coastline with its colossal pressure ridges, is a bitter-sweet pill to swallow.

We stopped at Cape Discovery for refuelling and I now send this from my room at the Eureka weather station on Ellesmere Island. Canada! Land! Shower! People! Food! Beer! It can only but herald the end of another journey, and perhaps the start of another.

Pic of us on the plane.

Eric

The evolution of the frozen surface of the Arctic

Two months ago, the Arctic ice area reached number 4 on the scale of the lowest values since the beginning of record. This means in February 2014 the Arctic ice area was only 14.44 million km² big. The lowest size was measured in 2005.
The ice size of summer 2013 increased compared to 2012. However, scientists assume that it was rather an exception and that the ice is going to melt further. In the past decades the average air temperature in the Arctic has risen double the speed than the global average. Since 1980 the Arctic has been warming up the strongest in spring and winter and the most little in autumn. In one decade the temperature is rising about around 1°C. In the months after April the ice layer is usually getting thinner as it is getting warmer in summer and the ice is melting again. The ice is the thinnest after the warm months in September.

Dream crushed

Yes, we have been forced to make the decision to abandon our attempt to reach Canada. Ken Borek Air’s deadline of latest landing on the sea ice has arrived, May 12, and we cannot guarantee reaching Canada with our remaining food, which means in effect we would be stranded if we didn’t make it to land. The distance remaining, average daily distance to date and food in reserve just doesn’t add up. From my respect as a polar guide it’s an easy decision to make, and Martin too who has been here many times before. In fact the decision was made for us. But for Bernice it’s a dream crushed. This was her baby and she is feeling the hopelessness acutely. But we continue to ski south as we await better weather for a plane to land. With the pressure off we are enjoying these unfettered days immensely, seeing the polar sea with new eyes, despite our 11th consecutive day of poor visibility. Today we skied 6km in poor light but no wind.

Pic of my goggle-eyed perspective of the route ahead.

Eric

D Day

We never thought it could come to this but we are forced to leave the expedition whenever an airplane from Kenn Borek can get to us. We are currently 194 km from the coast of Canada and have been given a May 12 deadline for an ice pick up. We have tried to get an extension but the answer is no. Where ice pick ups possible in the past few years as late as June 13 now due to unpredictable weather in combination with arctic ice conditions, this date has been set much earlier since it is too risky to land on ice much later in the season. We are currently dealing with challenging conditions, many leads of open water, problematic pressure ridges and add to that a cocktail of zero visibility, accumulative snow, easterly drift again and strong winds as a series of storms have been nailing us during the last 11 days.
The road ahead is too unpredictable to risk without a safety net of a pick up in case of an emergency, an uncrossable lead or pressure ridge. Through the Canadian Ice Survey we have been given updates and know that some more difficult terrain is ahead of us as the ice collides and stacks up vertically against the coast. The storms and relentless southwest winds has mobilized the ice and it is breaking up. You can tally the distances from our last 10 days, and you will see we can’t stick to progress despite committing to long and hard days in adverse weather and ice conditions. We have given it our best effort.
This sadly leaves us to only one conclusion, the hardest one to make, and to take the last flight before Kenn Borek shuts down for the season.
This expedition has never been about a new route, a record or any kind of polar laurels but our aim has always been to simply show and tell how treacherous and spectacular the Arctic is and what is at stake. In these 40 days here, I believe we have given the world the best of our impressions in words and image and soon in film. The Arctic is incredible yet fragile and we desperately need to protect and preserve what remains left of it and I feel we have been successful in this. We are very fortunate to have been part of this expedition and for Plant for the Planet to commit and support to this experience. We dealt with adverse conditions that hindered us in a brutal way but also gave us an opportunity to witness and document what is at stake as we have crossed the various latitudes on our way south. We drifted 175 km to the east, 40 km to the North, had 3 major long lasting blizzards but we still manage to ski over 500 km. We continue skiing and documenting until the airplane lands which at this point is still uncertain because, yes once again, the visibility is zero. I will keep updating this blog until we are in Resolute Bay in Canada. Thank you all for your incredible support, this has meant and still means a lot to us..

What is permafrost?

Regarding the fauna we have already told you that the soil consistency in the Arctic is quite limited and that it is mainly made out of permafrost soil. It means that the temperature of this soil was lying around or below 0°C for at least 2 years and therefore was constantly frozen.
In some areas of Siberia and Canada the permafrost layer is up to 1.5 km thick. How does that relate to climate change you ask? Up to 1,000 gigatons, 1,000 billion tons, of carbon dioxide are bound in the Arctic permafrost soil. Due to the ongoing climate warming, the permafrost soil could defrost completely if nothing is being done against global warming. It is one cause of the melting but also the soil’s own energy by microbes which process the carbon inside the permafrost is a second engine. Microbes are little creatures which can’t be seen by the eye. They process carbon to CO2 and methane. Inside the permafrost soil their activity however, is strongly restricted or not even existing anymore because it is too cold. When the air temperature rises above 0°C the microbes start with their degradation work. Besides greenhouse gases, also warmth is produced which further defrosts the permafrost ground. If the complete permafrost would melt, ¾ of the locked carbon would be released as greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, just feeding into the global warming cycle.

trouble zone

We have entered the dramatic zone that the Canadian Arctic Survey calls “trouble”.
Did only 2 km today through wicked yet spectacular ice fields and frozen leads that will last 10 km. We are camped in the middle of it now and spend the rest of the day filming pulling sleds in the pressure ridges. The sky cleared, wind stopped and the sun poked through.We climbed on top of an iceberg and saw for the first time the incredible anarchy of ice blocks all around us. The horizon is filled with blue ice and black reflections of leads. Incredible to see, scary to have to go through.

Rubble field seen from space

We were warned by Trudy from the Canadian Ice Service about a 10km band of rubble and pressure seen by satellite. We are in the thick of it now. At least it seems we managed to avoid some big leads.

Only 2km for an afternoon’s work, the morning spent on the phone to the outside world, and filming interviews.

Happy Mother’s Day!!!

Pic of the indomitable Martin Hartley during yesterday’s blizzard, camera at the ready, indelible smile.

Eric