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Arctic

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

By | All Posts, Arctic, We Are Water | No Comments

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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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 World Without Ice

By | Arctic, Royal Canadian Geographical Society, We Are Water | No Comments
Have you ever wondered what our world would look like without ice?

The video assembled by Business Insider is based on the 2013 National Geographic story, “What the World Would Look Like if All the Ice Melted.” It shows a model that represents a sea level rise of 216 feet.

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The Importance of Sea Ice

By | Arctic, We Are Water | No Comments

aBerg2757sThe extent of the cover of sea ice at both poles keeps reaching new records. According to NASA, the Arctic sea ice reached a record low wintertime extent on March 7, 2017. It was the same situation on the other side of the world when Antarctic sea ice levels were documented to reach its lowest extent recorded since satellites began to measure these parameters in 1979. What is even more troubling is that what remains is even thinner than before. Sea ice plays many roles in the health of our planet. When sea ice melts, nutrients are released into the water stimulating the growth of phytoplankton in the summer. These microorganisms play a role as the base of the food web upon which everything else must feed. When too much sea ice melts and disappears, we lose a large white reflective base that would usually send light back into space. With larger expanses of dark open water, more heat is absorbed and the overall temperature of the planet increases.

A Place of Great Change

The Arctic is transforming more rapidly than anywhere else on our planet. Temperatures there are rising at twice the rate seen elsewhere. Many scientists agree that the Arctic could soon be ice-free. Extreme changes are in motion for the people of the North. Permafrost melting, sea level rise, erosion and an increase in stormy weather pose risks for a society that has lived in balance with nature. With the Arctic food web shifting from loss of sea ice, traditional hunts are disrupted, and the tenuous balance of food security is lost.

With the Arctic becoming more navigable and accessible, resource speculation is on the rise. Oil and gas and shipping industries are jockeying into position to snag new routes and drilling rights in the open water. These activities will indelibly change the complexion of the Arctic and bring new risks to an otherwise pristine sanctuary.

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Crossing the Arctic Circle

By | All Posts, Sedna Expedition, We Are Water | No Comments

With 9000 feet of water below us, in the middle of the Davis Strait that separates Baffin Island from Greenland, we watch our Suunto Ambit computers tick down towards the point that marks the crossing of the Arctic Circle. We are determined to swim across this arbitrary point that looms so significantly in our minds.

In early 2000, I crossed the Antarctic Circle en route to making my first documentary film “Ice Island.” We were chasing the largest iceberg in recorded history – a piece of ice the size of Jamaica. It was the first time I had heard scientists speaking gravely about global climate change.

Now, just fourteen years later I lunge into the Arctic Ocean with my nine women colleagues and snorkel across a spot that was bound by sea ice when I visited Antarctica.

We cannot ignore that ocean change and earth change is hurtling towards us like a freight train with no brakes. Though we may feel powerless to halt its advance, we can all make small changes in our lives that help. Talking about it is just the start.

Read the right sidebar on this page for a few ideas.

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Midnight Glacier

By | All Posts, Sedna Expedition, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water | No Comments

Sea ice is declining in the Arctic, but that loss is not directly responsible for rising sea level. Think about a cold drink filled with ice cubes. When the cubes melt, the glass will not overflow. When a glacier or ice sheet on land melts, it directly contributes to more water in the ocean and rising sea level. These photos depict part of the Greenland Ice Sheet where it meets the sea and calves into the ocean. As solid as it looks, it is moving like a river and breaking off into the sea creating icebergs we have seen on our entire journey. I sat on a hilltop in Ilulissat listening to the sound of global climate change… distant cracks and thunderous roars of ice breaking into the sea. It was midnight under a glorious canopy of orange clouds. No photos will ever totally capture this place.

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Departure Day

By | All Posts, Sedna Expedition, We Are Water | No Comments
Happy Canada Day

It seems only fitting to head to my ancestral home on Canada. By midnight I’ll be arriving in St. John’s, Newfoundland and will be picked up by my dear friend Rick Stanley from Ocean Quest Adventures. I’ll have a few days to get wet and enjoy the icebergs and whales in Newfoundland before heading north with the women of Team Sedna. They’ll be arriving over the next week with their piles of equipment and big smiles. I’m hoping for a fireworks show from the plane as I fly from Toronto to Newfoundland tonight.

I’ll be keeping a blog up to date here as we travel but expect some outages when we travel beyond the reach of the internet. I have some posts scheduled to launch while I am in the far north and will catch up as connections permit. Adventures ahead!

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Shrinking Sea Ice

By | All Posts, Sedna Expedition, We Are Water | No Comments

The Arctic is warming very fast and as a result the sea ice minimums are shrinking each year. Watch this video to see a time-lapse of the changes that have occurred sine 1979.

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Canada’s Arctic Warming Fast

By | All Posts, Sedna Expedition, We Are Water | No Comments
FEB16#4National Action Plan is Needed

As I packed my bags to depart for Canada’s North, I was confronted with the front page of Huffington Post. A full screen banner read “Canada is Melting.” In his article, Michael Bolen, reviews a 259 page report form the federal government that describes how Canada is  warming at roughly the global average over the last half century. With no national plan for addressing climate change, he wonders how long we can keep our heads in the sand.

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said recently: “No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country. We are just a little more frank about that.”

The Natural Resources Canada report states that Canada warmed by an average of 1.5°C between 1950 and 2010 and that the trend will continue. It also states that some changes represent challenges and others are opportunities. Encouraging the government to take a forward-thinking rather than react stance, the paper is not all doom and gloom. The study expresses optimism that extreme weather in the future will lead to more “adaptation” on the part of government, industry and the public.

Read more in Bolen’s article here.

 

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