Normally, the only ice I see on the 4th of July is in a beer cooler. But this time I went for a walk on a big floating chunk of it.
What struck me most were the winding turquoise streams feeding in to pools so blue it startles you. Maybe to a Greenlander this scenery is perfectly common. For me, walking this frozen icescape was entirely surreal. So, how to describe this scene for those of you who'll never get to walk on sea ice yourselves? Well, if I am going to be perfectly honest, it was like the world's best ever arctic themed miniature golf course. Only better.
I will also say that it was surprisingly easy to get around on - not too slippery at all. There was a light snowy covering, which made for good traction, except over by the pressure ridge (where the ice has been scrunched up on itself), which had large ice granules - maybe from melting and refreezing.
Access to the ice was via a ladder rigged on the bow, which was wedged up against the ice. Several times, but fortunately not while anyone was on it, the ship drifted off - leaving the ladder hanging above open water. Mental note: always good to look down before climbing down. And, in case you're wondering, yes we could have used the helicopter or one of the boats to reach the ice, but in this case a ladder was more convenient.
Why do it?
An entire ship, with a crew of 27, doesn't stay parked for half a day just so the web editor can stretch his legs. This week, leaders from eight of the world's wealthiest nations (the G8) are meeting in the UK. We decided to send a message to help nudge the Bush administration towards joining the rest of the G8 nations in committing to legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
It's not an easy job at all, but we were resolved to give it our best shot - mindful that we need to play our role as part of a much larger movement towards renewable energy. After a brainstorming session in the mess, and conversations with the U.S. office, the two messages pictured are settled on. Polar bears are only one of the many species threatened with extinction by global warming.
Personally, I liked the idea of using the U.S. flag, and doing this on the Fourth of July. I've always felt that Greenpeace is also part of a much larger movement of people committed to protecting and exercising freedom of speech. That the artwork was actually done by a Canadian, the guy in the polar bear suit is Australian and that there are a dozen more nationalities represented on board, seems entirely fitting. After all, people who really believe there are solutions to global warming, and who really believe in the power of free speech, are not confined to any one country.
I was up on the bridge all night helping out with a glacier survey we are conducting for a scientist at a university in the UK. The scientist arranged for a satellite picture of Scoresby Sound to be taken last night at 23:15. Our job was to count and document all of the icebergs in the satellite image.
The data we collect will be compared with the satellite photo, which in turn will help the scientist adjust his models based on the difference between what he sees in the satellite photo and the data we collect.
Iceberg behavior - how they travel and degrade over time - is an indicator of global warming. As the Greenland ice sheet warms, its glaciers move faster towards the sea and discharge more ice into fjords.
We took a photo of each berg and used the radar to measure each one's distance from the ship and the size at its base. We recorded each berg's GPS coordinates and its shape (tabular, sloping, dome-shaped, weathered or glacial). This took from midnight until around 09:30 this morning, so by the time we were finished, I'd been up for 24 hours and definitely needed some sleep.
Polar bear with an escort
So I hit my bunk for five hours and when I woke up, I trundled bleary-eyed up to the main deck, looked outside and saw Thomas in a survival suit escorting a polar bear by the arm across cracks and around melt pools in a huge ice flow. It was very surreal and quite an unusual sight.
When I went to bed earlier this morning, the rest of the crew set up two photo shoots that will hopefully be used around the upcoming G8 meeting.
Bernard (deckhand from Canada) used charcoal to draw a 14 x 18 meter (15 x 20 yard) polar bear and a 20-meter (22 yard) square United States flag on the ice flow with the words, "SAVE ME" beside it. While he was doing that, John (who works with Lonnie and Eric at One World Expedition and is on board helping us with logistics and safety) dressed up in a polar bear costume, and was photographed on the ice flow holding a banner that read, "SAVE ME." The polar bear suit looks fantastic but doesn't allow the wearer to see much of anything, so John had to be guided by Thomas, a deckhand from Norway, across the ice.
Even though it looked like a bit of a comedy to watch a person escorting a polar bear across an ice flow, the threat of global warming is very real and not too far off in the distance. If scientific models are right, polar bears could be extinct by the end of the century if warmer temperatures result in an ice-free Arctic in summer. That's in my lifetime. It's a very grim thought.
We are now crunching through ice toward Ittoqqortoormiit on the north side of the entrance to Scoresby Sound. Our ETA (estimated time of arrival) is some time before midnight. I'm looking very much forward to seeing how village life in Greenland compares with village life in Alaska.