Coming homeSeptember 27, 2012
I was sad to leave the ice pack. On our way out, the large swells made for a special treat as the ice-covered ocean pulsed with the waves. I tried to capture it on video, but since the boat was also moving up and down, it’s hard to capture the scale of the movement. Naturally, once we left the ice, I was once again sea sick, though not like I was the first time out. This time it was a more general malaise. I slept a lot the first day back into the open ocean, lulled to sleep by the motion. But happily I was able to eat so overall felt much better. Spent more time on the deck outside, getting fresh air.
We arrived in Svalbard on the 17th of September. We could see the islands off in the distance for several hours, and I spent hours on deck watching Svalbard get closer and admiring the views of the snow-capped mountains and glaciers. Longyearbyen was our final stopping point. It was great to step foot back on solid ground that evening, and we spent a few hours at the 5 or so pubs in Longyearbyen. The next day I tried to go for a hike with a couple of folks from the boat, but since we didn’t have a gun, we were advised not to leave the city limits. The hill outside of town that we were hoping to climb to had a fatality last year by a polar bear, so we wisely turned around and walked around the town instead. Would love to come back to Svalbard though and do some hiking and camping. I admire the folks though that live there year around, winter is long and dark there.
Looking back it was an amazing experience. It’s always great to have a chance to see in person what you’re studying. So much of my time is spent in front of the computer analyzing satellite data. It gives me a new perspective. I will be looking into more detail as to why the satellite data was suggesting there would be quite a bit more ice than I saw out there. The Arctic Ocean recorded the least amount of September ice this summer, at least since 1953 when we have reliable observations. The thin, first-year ice we mostly encountered is certainly behind the continued ice loss each year. As the Arctic loses more of its store of old, thick ice, that is replaced by thinner, first-year ice, summers like this will become the norm.
Climate models all suggest that the Arctic will eventually be open water in summer as the planet continues to warm from increases in greenhouse gases. The dates as to when this will happen are continually being revived in the models, with the models now saying sometime around 2050. Yet the ice loss we’re seeing today is still happening faster than many of the models can capture. So perhaps the Arctic will become ice free during summers even sooner. It’s hard to imagine that animals like the polar bears can adapt to such quick changes in their environment. I felt lucky to see as many bears as I did (6 total). I can’t imagine an Arctic without ice and bears.
I hope that doesn’t come to pass.