by Alberta student Andrew Dargie
This past summer I embarked on a journey to Canada’s Arctic with Students On Ice. When I left Calgary I wondered what I would find, what I would learn and who I would meet. On the trip to Ottawa I was wrapped in a blanket of uncertainty and excitement.
But when I first met the group of students, chaperones, scientists and expedition leaders, I knew that I didn’t have anything to worry about. The group was amazingly receptive and I was soon part of a big family setting out on an amazing adventure – an adventure of a lifetime!
When we reached the Arctic I was overwhelmed with its immensity and beauty and my senses were repeatedly shocked, amazed and astounded. What follows is only a small part of what I found and what I learned.
I stood on the deck of the Kapitan Khlebnikov and saw countless towering icebergs, twelve Polar bears, a few rare Ivory gulls, and mountainous islands. I went hiking and I saw jagged cliffs, rolling tundra and delicate purple saxifrage. I flew over gigantic glaciers and stood on the frozen Arctic Ocean where polar bears walk in search of seal holes, and patiently wait for a meal.
I learned that polar bears are successful only one out of every twenty hunting attempts. I learned that if the Greenland Icecap were to melt the world’s water level would rise twenty-two feet and land and cities would be flooded. I saw a vast land that appeared untouched and pristine.
However, I learned that the Arctic and its’ inhabitants are being threatened by pollution and global warming. I learned that pollutants are carried by ocean and air currents from far away and have a negative effect on all Arctic inhabitants. I learned that global warming has put Polar bears at risk because a warmer climate means that they have a shorter time to hunt seals on the ice.
I felt the crisp Arctic air and ran my hand through Musk-ox hair that was as soft as eider down. I felt spongy moss, Sunburst lichen, Arctic Cotton and the biting Arctic wind. I felt the crushing cold of the Arctic Ocean that numbed my body when I dove into it and became a member of the Arctic Swim Team! I felt the warmth of the Arctic sun on a calm summer’s day, the smooth hide of a newly skinned Harp seal, and the insulating fur of the Polar bear. I learned that a Polar bear has been tracked traveling from Alaska to Baffin Island.
I heard the cries of thousands of baby Thick-billed Murres who were being encouraged to jump off cliff edges into the ocean by their parents, so together they could begin their long swim to Newfoundland!! I heard Glaucous gulls fighting over their small perches on the edges of vertical, imposing cliffs. I saw walruses and heard their grunts as they lumbered slowly off their ice floes.
I saw and heard the piercing crack of an iceberg calving and the resounding silence on the top of Ellesmere Island. I learned that icebergs are broken-off parts of glaciers and that 7/8 of each iceberg is submerged under water.
I tasted fish and Musk ox jerky in Resolute. I learned that the Musk-ox meat is prized by the Inuit and this has led to over-hunting, and as a result their population has had to be restocked.
I smelled the pure Arctic air as I traveled over the water on a Zodiac and the musty, raw, remains of a recent seal hunt. Every day I sensed a new adventure. I leaned that this summer in Grise Fjiord the ocean ice was slow to melt and this prevented whales from coming into the bay and as a result the main food source for the people of Grise Fjiord had to be seals, both Ringed and Harp.
I talked with knowledgeable scientists, hiked up steep mountains, flew over river beds and wind blown ridges, felt the imprint of a wolf’s paw in dried mud, crept up on a herd of Musk ox and stood in the ruins of homes once occupied by the ancient Thule people. I made good friends with people from different parts of North America and Inuit friends who gave me the name Amahuaq, which means baby wolf.
Writing about the trip is difficult because words cannot describe the beauty of the Arctic. The trip was a feast for the senses. I have learned more about our environment, and particularly how alive, vibrant and interesting the Arctic is and why it is so important to take care of it. I learned how pollution and ignorance are both individual and global problems that need to be solved. I learned how sensitive the Arctic is to ecological disrespect, even if this insensitivity occurs far from the North.
The Arctic is a land of incredible and unscarred beauty which deserves to be preserved. My trip with Students On Ice has made me more determined to try to ensure that I do not leave negative or harmful footprints on either Earth or its people.
Check out the Students on Ice Website