Tag

climate change

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 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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Sea Level Rise Makes Miami Ground Zero

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“New Orleans, the Netherlands—everybody understands putting in barriers, perimeter levees, pumps. Very few people understand: What do you do when the water’s coming up through the ground?

This excellent article in the New Yorker, describes how far we need to go to make Americans aware of the effects of climate change and sea level rise. Fort Lauderdale is growing exponentially faster than almost any other American city and yet it’s days are clearly numbered. Florida Governor Rick Scott will not allow State employees to speak about climate change, instead referring to it as “nuisance flooding.” But the message is clear: in my lifetime Miami and much of South Florida will likely be abandoned. No level of ingenuity or faith can stop the rising water. Wake up Florida.

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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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Changing Salinity in Arctic Waters

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

Immense ‘dome’ of fresh water bulging atop Arctic Ocean off Alaska

Doug O’Harra

CPOM scientists have discovered that the freshwater stored in the western Arctic Ocean has increased by 8000 km3 between the mid 1990s and 2010. Credit: UCL – ESA – PVL

Enough extra fresh water to just about fill lakes Michigan and Huron to the brim has collected in the top layers of the Arctic Ocean northeast of Alaska during the past decade, according to new research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Driven largely by strong winds and an immense circular current, some 8,000 cubic kilometers of fresh water have bulged up into a widespread dome since the 1990s.

“In the western Arctic, the Beaufort Gyre is driven by a permanent … wind circulation. It drives the water, forcing it to pile up in the centre of gyre, and this domes the sea surface,” lead author Katharine Giles with the Centre for Polar Observation in London, told BBC news in this detailed and graphically illustrated story.

Giles and her four-member team monitored changes in the height of the sea surface between the mid 1990s and 2010 using the Eurorpean Space Agency satellites EFS-2 and Envisat. They found that the overall level in the Beaufort Sea and Canadian Basin has been rising about 2 centimeters per year, mostly during the 2000s.

 “This increase in fresh water corresponds to an increase in the anti-cyclonicity (clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere) of the wind over the western Arctic,” they explained in this story posted by the Polar Observation center.

 “Models had suggested that the action of the wind on the sea surface could cause a raised dome of freshwater to form in the middle of the Beaufort Gyre, but until now there had been no continuous observations of sea-surface height to categorically demonstrate this.”

A reversal of the wind could prompt a release of this fresh water into the rest of the Arctic Ocean or even into the Pacific and Atlantic, the scientists noted.

That’s not all. The scientists also found that the sea surface height didn’t always match the behavior of the wind — leading them to speculate that sea ice tweaks the pattern and changes the freshwater build-up in ways that still need to be analyzed.

“We were surprised to find that our results also suggested that something else was going on,” Giles said here. “One idea is that sea ice forms a barrier between the atmosphere and the ocean. So, as the sea-ice cover changes, the effect of the wind on the ocean might also change.”

There’s actually an ocean of freshwater perpetually sloshing around atop the Arctic Ocean — coming from river runoff, precipitation, evaporation, melting of sea ice and glaciers, and the complex interchange with the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the authors explained.

“More than 70,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater are stored in the upper layer of the Arctic Ocean, leading to low salinities in upper-layer Arctic sea water, separated by a strong (boundary) from warm, saline water beneath,” the scientists wrote.

How much is that? About 16,800 cubic miles — enough to fill six Lake Superiors.

Where that water flows and how it interacts with sea life and the warmer, saltier water beneath is critical to Arctic oceanography. A different group of researchers reported in Nature a few weeks ago that the central Beaufort Sea was the freshest it’s been in 50 years, with most of the additional water coming from Eurasian river runoff — not ice melt.

“A hemisphere-wide phenomenon — and not just regional forces — has caused record-breaking amounts of freshwater to accumulate in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea,” wrote Sandra Hines of the University of Washington in this story.

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Water Change in the Arctic

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

How Climate Change Affects Water in the Arctic

Right now the permafrost is changing fast in the Arctic and will likely shrink more than 10% in the next 20 years with the permafrost borders shifting up to 200 km northward. Where permafrost is present, the ground is frozen up to 500 m deep with only the top meter thawing in summer. That means that lakes, rivers and wetlands in the Arctic do not generally connect with the  groundwater. Surface water is abundant in summer offering breeding grounds for  fish, birds and mammals. That paradigm is changing fast.

When surface water disappears, it affects breeding animal populations and humans who also rely on it for survival.  Therefore, it is imperative that we study the impacts of climate change on general water security in the Arctic.

As the climate warms, natural sources of water and water infrastructure are both affected. Communities and support structure built on permafrost may have to move. Sanitation facilities may also be affected and can contaminate clean water sources if not contained properly.

Water quality is also being impacted adversely as mankind industrializes parts of the Arctic with mining and energy operations. Pollutants are released into the pristine natural environment. Natural pollutants are also released as the permafrost melts. Greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere by thaw and flooding, when lowlands are swamped from sea level rise and erosion is increased.

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