I am in the Arctic again. We are in Kirkenes, Norway, at 69 degrees 45 minutes North. That’s 192 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It does not feel right to me though: there are too many trees! Though they only go up to an elevation of one or two hundred feet, they are there. And yesterday I had shorts on. Well, at least in the morning.
My experience of being in the Arctic before is mostly from Greenland. And even though here in Kirkenes we are about 600 miles north of Cape Farvel, the southern tip of Greenland, this is a much gentler climate. There was not a tree in Greenland. In fact, there was such a lack of green that when we finally got back to Norway and started seeing vegetation again, it was a real shock.
We went to Greenland to document and research climate change, looking at how our warming planet was affecting the region’s glaciers. I’m sure everyone here on the Arctic Sunrise with me agrees that the Arctic must be saved from oil drilling, but if you’re in doubt, just think about what a different place this planet would be without its polar deep freeze at the top of the world. Rest assured, it will change your life.
Greenland was the most spectacular trip I have ever made. The glaciers, floating ice, vast mountains and abundant wildlife were almost indescribable. I can recall sitting with my shipmates at midnight on the helideck, and everybody knowing we had to be up soon to start another day, but nobody was able to go to bed and miss a minute of the view. We had seven weeks of 24/7 sunshine, except for when we had a snow storm on July 4th. I remember one polar bear coming running up to the boat, and looking like he was going to eat the whole ship. I was only after he got a few feet away, looked us up and down and decided that maybe we were too big to eat, that he sauntered away with a disgusted look on his face.
Our scientists were flying back in the helicopter one day when they saw a pod of narwhal, the unicorns of the sea. They took lots of pictures, but did not say anything until we had motored a couple hours away. We should have left them on a very small iceberg.
Being north of 80 degrees North felt like being on a mountain top. But unlike most mountaineers who have to come down after a few minutes, we got to hang out for two and a half months.
So I am looking forward to seeing how things look north of Novaya Zemlya. There is no ice there right now, so it should be pretty mild going. But in the Arctic, you never can tell...
Pete Willcox is the Captain of the Arctic Sunrise.