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Students On Ice: Lessons From Mother Nature In The Canadian Arctic


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by Nova Scotia student Susannah Robertson

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Everyday we see the world around us changing. New buildings go up, old ones are torn down, laws are made and laws are broken. Yet these are only small, minuscule changes when compared to the changes that are taking place in Canada’s Arctic. Changes that is partly due to our Southern ways that we aren’t even aware of. Many of our most educated citizens don’t have a clue what is happening in their own country.

So how do I Susannah Robertson, a grade 12 student from Halifax, Nova Scotia know a thing about the Arctic you might ask? It was as easy as reading the newspaper! Can you believe it? In October  I was reading about “Students On Ice” a scientific expedition to the Arctic and in August I was literally a “Student On Ice” sliding down a glacier on the seat of my pants.

Now it wasn’t all that easy, between October and August I worked hard, really hard. I wrote sponsor letters to local corporate companies, newspapers and radio stations and did one fund-raiser after another, from poinsettias at Christmas to cosmetics on Valentines Day. In the end I didn’t raise the total amount of $7,000.00 but I passed my own personal expectations by far. So with some help from my family and a few kind hearted Halagonians I was off to the great Canadian Arctic, with butterflies in my stomach and only one expectation, to see snow. Lots of snow!

starboardBy the end of the first day all my hard work was repaid in smiles, memories and new friends. Now don’t get me wrong as Geoff Green, our expedition leader, would say “this was not a vacation.” We did more than play Inuit games, sneak up to the bridge at night and swim in one-degree water. We set out on a scientific expedition and that is what we did.

We attended, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes with a little persuasion two or more lectures a day. These were put on by a group of exceptional scientists. Alain Fontaine (our ornithologist), Lynn Gillespie (our botanist) George Hobson (our historian) and many others. I learned a little about everything from bird migration to ice flows and everything in-between. After two weeks in the Arctic on the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov I learned more than I have learned in all my years of high school.

Did you know that half a million birds depend entirely on the habitat of Colburg Island to survive? Or that after baby chicks take that first leap of faith from the cliffs edge to the deep icy waters below they than swim all the way to Newfoundland.

Did you know that scientist know of no reason as to why walrus have tusks? Or that after dropping their calves in salt water they must go directly to fresh water in order for the mother to lactate to feed their babies.

Do you know what a Musk-ox looks like? Have you ever seen the beauty of a polar bear in its natural habitat? Have you heard a scared walrus call out to his young?

Finally did you know that during an Arctic summer they don’t have snow!!!! Lots of mud and tons of ice but very little snow!

polarstarI probably would have never known any of these things if I hadn’t read that newspaper article. One might say well who really needs to know what a Musk-ox looks like? A couple of months ago I might have said the same thing but to me the little things I learned are what makes life worth living. They are the reasons why we need to take care of our planet and one another. People talk about climate change and the need to enforce the Kyoto protocol but I don’t think they truly understand how important it is. Its more than just warmer summers it’s a danger to the survival of a whole way of life. If temperatures keep rising, for us its having a heat wave, to the Arctic animals it means the melting of their homes and to the Inuit an end to their traditional ways.

The most important lesson that the Arctic has taught me is that to get the most out of life we must embrace one another and learn as much as we can. Talk to a stranger on the street or the person sitting next to you on the bus because you never know what they might have to share.

I know I am only 17 and have a lot more to learn but I think that’s what makes Students On Ice such a great program. It was simply two young adults, Geoff Green and Angela Holmes who had a dream of teaching the youth of today about the world around them so that as they grow they can teach the youth of tomorrow, about things they would never get to experience otherwise.

My dream is to travel the World and to learn about all it has to offer. I’ve started at one pole and I can’t think of a better place to go next than to the other pole. Unfortunately dreams take work to become reality and my dream just happens to cost $10,000.00, money, which I need for university next year. However I believe that if you want something enough you can achieve it so I’ll keep dreaming. Maybe I won’t be the first Canadian youth to see both poles in one year but I’ll get there someday. I know I will!

Like a ship searching for a leeway in the ice I’m searching for my path in life and I think I’m one step closer.

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READ ANDREW DARGIE’S ARTICLE ABOUT HIS ARCTIC EXPERIENCES

Check out the Students on Ice Website

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