The best way to get around in the Arctic waters of Spitzbergen, an island in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, is on an icebreaker. So it’s good that the Arctic Sunrise is one of those -you don't want to get stuck around here.
This morning, after I’d had breakfast and cleaned the toilets (one of the chores I do every morning on the ship), a good dozen of us went for a trip to a glacier on the island of Blomstrand. The island was long believed to be a peninsula, but after the dramatic melting of the glaciers in the region, it became apparent what it really was. Armed with a picture of the glaciers taken in 1928, Greenpeace went and photographed it in 2001 to mark the difference.
Today we are going back and the trend has unfortunately not changed.
Blomstrand's glaciers, like many others, are slowly disappearing.
It is very special, and a real honour, to be part of this trip. To bear witness of this dramatic 'icescape' is mind-blowing. I feel a bit like I’ve gone back in time, because the only two colours that one can spot are black and white. But sometimes some sky- blue ice can be seen. I am told that it is ice that is so old that the air has been starved out of it.
In the afternoon, after observing Blomstrand glacier from a different point of view, we navigated towards Ny Alesund, a former coal-mining town. But after a nasty explosion in one of its shafts, the village has been converted into an international polar research centre. Representatives of all around the world are conducting research on the quality and density of particles in the air, water and ice. The measuring instruments are so sensitive that it is forbidden to light any fires. Also, all communications devices aboard our ship had to be turned off during our stay.
This summer they measured 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere in Svalbard.
That’s alarming, given that CO2 levels have to be reduced to 350ppm if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided. Seabed research has concluded that this summer was the warmest in 1800 years, and that the warmer water in the fjords around Ny Alesund is resulting in changes to the seabed flora. Some cold water corals have for example disappeared from certain areas.
There are also climatologists, marine biologists and even some people doing research on the Northern Lights, based at Ny Alesund. Talking of the Northern Lights, we had the privilege to see some green ones last night. They are breath-taking.
It’s not every day that you find yourself at 79 degrees latitude north. Apparently its only 1200 kilometres from the actual North Pole.
Chris Burman is a Greenpeace New Zealand street fundraiser. He has personally gathered 7,595 signatures for Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic petition (savethearctic.org). That made him a world-beater in Greenpeace street campaigning circles, and won him a trip to the Arctic Circle, aboard the Greenpeace vessel the Arctic Sunrise. This is the second of a series of blogs on his experience. Each is a few days old, because of the delays in getting an internet service aboard the ship - the region is incredibly remote, after all.