On Friday September 6th the Canadian Coast Guard rescued a group of American adventurers who were travelling the Northwest Passage on jet ski as part of the reality television show Dangerous Waters. We met these guys a number of weeks back as they blew past us on the Amundsen Gulf. We were fighting a strong southerly wind at the time that was intent on pushing us offshore when a number of small lights appeared on the horizon. It was in the early hours of the morning and only an arctic twilight illuminated our way. The lights bore down on us fast and before long we were surrounded by a pod of growling jet skis and their support boat. A cameraman was filming everything. We chatted with the group, wished them luck and watched them disappear into the night.
Hearing about their rescue just north of King William Island reinforces the certainty that our decision to stop in Cambridge Bay was the correct one. If motorized craft needed rescue then a human powered craft had no chance at all.
We’ve had the opportunity to decompress over the last week and reflect on our arctic experience. We communicated with Eric Solomon - Vancouver Aquarium’s Director of Arctic Programs – to share our experience and he made some interesting points in regard to the ice we experienced on the strangely cold year in the arctic:
“It’s about putting it all in context, really.” He states, “For example, this year’s sea ice extent is still 1.41 million square kilometers below the 1981-2010 average, and is the 6th lowest sea ice extent in the satellite record. The ice that (you) guys encountered says more about where the ice was over the last 2 months than how much ice there has been over-all. There is, for example, a big hole in the ice near the North Pole right now. Meanwhile, the winds have been blowing a lot of ice down into the Archipelago and into the region where (you) guys have been rowing.”
“Here’s a good example: Last year we saw the lowest amount of sea ice in the Arctic on record—by far. Yet, I was in two different Arctic communities (Iqaluit and Pangnirtung) that were blocked by ice much of the summer. They could not get their food shipments in, they could not get out to hunt and fish. It was a real mess. Elders in Iqaluit were saying it had been at least 50 years since they last saw this happen. How does that happen during the lowest ice extent on record? Wind. The wind blew the ice into the fiords and bays. It was stuck there until the wind changed direction and literally overnight, the bays were cleared. As long as there’s any ice it all, it will blow around. In fact, we can expect to see more winds blowing from different directions than they used to as the climate changes.”
“Many factors affect how much ice there is, where it is and how thick it is in any one place in the massive Arctic. The weather in the Arctic can be unpredictable and is getting more so. The mistake we sometimes make is thinking weather can tell us something about the climate. Weather happens locally over a short period of time. Sometimes it’s cold; sometimes it’s warm; sometimes it’s raining; sometimes it’s not. The guys experienced weather. Climate is something we measure over decades. This summer’s Arctic weather barely even impacted that long-term trend line at all.”
Mr. Solomon’s words echo what the elders told us and what we intuitively understood. The fact that this year’s summer ice will still be 1.41 million square kilometres less than the 1981-2010 average is sobering. To put in in perspective the area of British Columbia and Alberta combined is 1.6 million square kilometres. Climate change is happening and is being evidenced even during a cold year like we just experienced.