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Making Art

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I’m not a scientist. The funny thing is that sometimes I play someone that sounds like a scientist on TV. My professional training is as an artist. My written articles will never be published in a scientific journal, but I hope my photography, films and art will connect people with the world they might not get to see on their own.

PolarBearWoodcut

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Life Above and Below the Ice

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Air, ice, water and land blend to create a unified ecosystem in the Arctic. There is a constantly shifting balance between the elements that fight for dominance throughout the year. As the ice cracks and exposes leads each spring, the mammals begin to gather at the floe edge. When the ice breaks up, an abundance of nutrients is released to fuel an ocean of life.

A lion’s mane jellyfish beneath the ice

Dive operations beside a massive iceberg stuck in sea ice

A very tiny diver, Nathalie Lasselin descends towards me sitting 90 feet beneath the ice cover.

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Changing Sea Ice

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Inuit guide Sheatie Tagak and other local guides share with me that their hunting range is shrinking. The sea ice forms up later each year and does not extend as far. They have no question that the Arctic is melting and despite the enormous change that will mean for their ecosystem, they are determined to adapt and retain the most important aspects of their traditional existence. According to Tagak and Bill Merkosak, hunting together binds a family union.

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Diving into Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet, NU)

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In 1931, famed Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris painted a series of canvases of Arctic landscapes that captivated the attention of Canadians. Landscape Photography of the time was either monochromatic or hand-painted in a pastel wash of color. It was Harris who brought the North to life in vibrant graphic brush strokes. His paintings of Bylot and Baffin Islands were some of the earliest representations that helped people build a visual impression of the mysterious wilderness of the Arctic. While studying his work in art school, my mind often wandered. Would I ever have the chance to experience the purity of such an incredible place?

Now standing at the very location that captivated Harris’ imagination, I am awed by the majesty of the snow-covered peaks, whose glaciers connect with the sea ice in Eclipse Sound. Misty clouds pour down the valleys in swirling masses of white that blend into the tableau before me. I can see that the connection of people, snow, mountains… the environment of the Arctic is one harmonious organism. The Inuit call the sea ice “ The Land,”  and when they are out on the land, you can sense a palpable joy that animates their day.

I have been drawn to this place to share a story of ice. Elder Sheatie Tagak tells me that the time they have on the land is limited these days. He recalls that the sea ice used to set earlier, spread farther, and last longer. Now he waits until February for the ice to harden enough for his Skidoo and notes that the turning point, when the sea begins to melt, now comes in March. He also sees running water all year long. It is bleeding into town from beneath the glaciers and snow cover. The fresh water vaporizes from streaming rivulets that furrow the muddy road and pour down into the sea. Things are changing, and he and his people are trying to adapt.

Nobody can predict with certainty when the Arctic sea ice will be gone, but scientists agree that we are on a precarious downward slope. Professor Jason Box, a glaciologist with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland declares that “the loss of nearly all Arctic sea ice in late summer is inevitable.”

I feel compelled to document this rapidly changing landscape both above, below and within the ice. During my “Arctic on the Edge” project, I will be following the journey of ice from glacier calving grounds in Greenland, across Baffin Bay and down the coasts of Baffin Island, Labrador, and Newfoundland, where large bergs finally melt into the ocean. I’ll be sharing stories of shifting baselines, transforming geography and societal impacts of our warming world.

Camping on the sea ice at a place the Inuit call Kuururjuat, I recognize I may be one of the last people to have this opportunity. In just a few days, the ice is breaking up into increasingly large leads. The hard surface transforms into melting pools of turquoise blue, and the floe edge creeps ever closer. What will happen to the traditional hunt that unites families in their most treasured time together? What will happen to the polar bear, ring seals, narwhals and eider ducks? When I ask Sheatie Tagak about the melting ice, he laments, “it is happening, and we can’t stop it.”

Top: Inuit guide Kevin Enook pulls the kamootik over Eclipse Sound. Lower: Lawren Harris painting of the same region of Eclipse Sound and Bylot Island.

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A Connected Community

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My flight from Ottawa included stops in Iqaluit, Hall Beach, Igloolik and finally Pond Inlet. Each small community stop provides an opportunity for families and friends to reconnect. Despite the great distances and difficult terrain, everyone in the Arctic is connected with each other and with the landscape. Our plane drops into Hall Beach and applause and cheering erupts in the small cabin. One woman yells, “there is my house! There is my house! Can you see my house?” She is truly excited when two quads roll in to the airport piled high with aunties, young men, and women wearing amautis. Tiny eyes poke out form the dark corners of a hood and soon a small baby crawls around the young woman’s neck emerging onto her shoulder and reaching towards the passenger from the plane. They nuzzle a familial greeting filled with with joy then hug and giggle with gratitude for a brief reconnection. Thirty minutes later we are called back to the plane after cargo has been swapped and fuel has been loaded. Some people would call these stops an inconvenience, but I can think of nothing better than being a part of these brief reunions.

Many thanks to Canadian North Airlines for their assistance and transportation support. I’ll never forget the warm cookies and great flight services!

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Just Getting There

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It is a journey just to begin an expedition and it requires the help of a lot of people. Staging equipment can be monumental in and of itself. In order to conduct diving activities in Southeast Bylot Island, Nunavut, a lot of logistics came together. Arctic Kingdom has already staged a camp on the edge of the ice floe. They have also shipped a compressor and tanks to the camp and all the equipment we will need for support from food to shelter. Canadian North and Nunavut Tourism have sponsored an airline ticket to reach Pond Inlet. I am extremely grateful for their generous assistance. Here is what the journey looks like so far:

2451 km – High Springs, Florida to Fergus, Ontario – Driving camera and scuba equipmentCANNO Logo - Airlines_FC

541 km – Fergus to Ottawa, Ontario – Driving to meet first flight

2100 km – Ottawa, Ontario to Iqaluit, Nunavut – Flight leg one

796 km – Iqaluit to Hall Beach, Nunavut – Flight leg two

71 km – Hall Beach to Igloolik, Nunavut – Flight leg three

395 km – Igloolik to Pond Inlet – Flight leg four

70 km – Pond Inlet to Southeast Bylot Island – Qamutik traditional sled to ice edge

Total distance traveled: 6424 km

For someone who usually travels underground, that is almost exactly the distance to the center of the earth!

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How to Stay Calm Under Pressure

By | All Posts, Arctic, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

While speaking at the Vancouver Aquarium, I took a moment to speak to CBC Radio about how to deal with fear. I’ve used this to stay alive in underwater caves, but these lessons will serve you any time your worst nightmares come true. Read and listen here.

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Penguin Random House Canada Announces Multi-Book Deal with Aquanaut Jill Heinerth

By | All Posts, Arctic, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Sidemount Diving, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

May 4, 2017. Toronto, Canada –Penguin Random House Canada is proud to announce the signing of a four-book deal with renowned underwater explorer Jill Heinerth. The first of two adult titles, Into the Planet, is scheduled for publication by Doubleday Canada in Fall of 2018. The first of two children’s books with Tundra Books will follow in 2019. Literary agent Rick Broadhead of Rick Broadhead & Associates completed the deal.

More people have walked on the moon than have been to some of the remote places Jill Heinerth has explored on earth. Jill is a veteran of over twenty years of scientific diving, filming/photography and exploration, and her expeditions include the first dives inside Antarctica icebergs and record-breaking scientific missions in deep underwater caves around the world.

“As soon as I began reading Jill Heinerth’s story, I was completely drawn into her world. With courage, persistence, and drive, she goes deep under the surface of Earth to places that few have been before. Into the Planet promises to be illuminating and transporting; an unforgettable story about determination, focus, and facing down moments of danger. Doubleday Canada is hugely excited and honoured to bring Jill’s stories to readers,” says Amy Black, Publisher of Doubleday Canada.

Jill Heinerth’s children’s books will celebrate a strong female role model in a traditionally male-dominated field. The first book will be an autobiographical picture book based on Heinerth’s extraordinary diving experiences and the second a non-fiction picture book that explores themes of environmental preservation and the awe-inspiring world of underwater exploration.

“Jill is an exceptional individual and role model for children, especially girls, in a time when we need to empower young women. Her cave-diving brings together so many different aspects of science, history, cultural and environmental studies, not to mention creative thinking and character education. Tundra Books is delighted to share Jill’s riveting stories with young readers,” says Tara Walker, Publisher of Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to have found a home for my stories with Penguin Random House Canada. Working with the editorial staff at Doubleday and Tundra is an absolute dream. Their passion for these projects will undoubtedly help me reach a wide and diverse audience with captivating and inspirational narratives,” says Heinerth.

Jill Heinerth has worked on projects with National Geographic, NOAA and television networks worldwide. In recognition of her lifetime achievement, Jill was appointed as the first Explorer-in-Residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Jill is a Fellow of The Explorers Club and a member of Women Diver’s Hall of Fame. Later this year, Jill will be honored with the most prestigious award in diving from the Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences.

For speaking engagement requests related to the book visit www.speakers.ca/speakers/jill-heinerth/. For more info about Jill Heinerth: http://www.intotheplanet.com/

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Oxygen Measurement for Divers

By | All Posts, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Women Underwater | No Comments

LambBookSadly, much of our information about oxygen sensors has been born on Internet chat forums. A lot of that banter is simple anecdotal evidence as opposed to scientific fact. Thankfully, owner of Vandagraph Ltd. in the UK, John Lamb has released his 2nd Edition of “Oxygen Measurement for Divers.” It might not be your idea of a book to curl up with in front of a fire, but it is one of the best investments you can make as a rebreather diver or owner of an oxygen analyzer. Lamb carefully breaks down the measurement of oxygen into abundantly illustrated chapters covering everything from gas laws to blending methods. He dispels some of the misinformation about sensor life and current limitation behavior and offers best management practices for storage and use of common sensors. He reveals the Achilles Heels of sensors and describes future technologies that will improve the measurement of gases in the future. If you want to break through the mire of misinformation and be better informed about diving safety, this is a must-read book.

One of the most important safety practices that Lamb suggests is to replace sensors 12-18 months after manufacture (not after their first use). He describes the normal expected life of a sensor is about 9-10 months in pure oxygen at the surface. He notes that single failure rates are low and multiple failures are rare when these parameters are adhered to. He also advises that correct storage procedures must be adhered to. In his examination of sensors, he believes that temperature is the main cause of early sensor failure. For most divers this means that sensors should be replaced every dive season. For me, that means putting a simple alert in my iPhone Calendar. It is a simple act that can ensure that you are reading accurate PO2 in your rebreather.

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Weston Foundation sends Jill Heinerth to Winnipeg’s Bairdmore School

By | All Posts, Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

With the support of the Weston Foundation, Jill Heinerth visited Bairdmore School in Winnipeg to talk about exploration and science. Jill is on a cross-Canada speaking tour as the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Explorer in Residence. She shares a multimedia presentation about science and new career opportunities and works with small groups of kids on specific skills such as photography, career planning and research opportunities. Jill encourages kids to use discovery learning in their lives and teaches them that failure can have many unforeseen benefits for discovery and learning. She talks about risk assessment, fear, discovery and exploration in the context of geographic education.

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