The cracking and rumbling when the ship pushes the ice flows aside to make passage; the countless shades of blue and white in the ice, sea, and melt water; the feeling of being completely removed from the ordinary world, without phones or internet.
That's why I keep coming back to the high north.
We are but visitors here. This place belongs to the animals that can survive here, like seals, sea birds and polar bears.
So why are we here?
It’s been two weeks since our icebreaker the Arctic Sunrise left a busy Amsterdam for the Arctic Ocean. We coasted along Norway and then made straight for Svalbard, the Arctic archipelago between mainland Norway and the North pole. We stopped over in Longyearbyen to pick the last supplies and personnel.
Last night, 24 hours after leaving Longyearbyen, we entered the area where the ice edge was supposed to be, according to the latest data. But the ice was nowhere to be seen. It became a running joke: Can I get a glass of coke – NO ICE?
Over the last 30 years, the Arctic Ocean has seen dramatic changes in its most prominent characteristic: sea ice. You know the planets white top hat? That white dot on the top of your globus? And do you know the many reasons it’s important to us?
However inhabitable the sea ice is in itself, one of the many things it does is to help to make the rest of the world habitable, as sea ice reflects heat from the sun helps our planet to stay cool.
At Greenpeace, one of the reasons we use the phrase “climate change” and try to stay away from “global warming”, is that the changes are not happening in unison across the world. Climate change can mean colder winters in parts of Europe, increased temperatures in sub-saharan Africa and more floods in other parts of the world.
There are a few things we know for sure about climate change, and one is that the place where it is taking place faster than anywhere else – and faster than predicted by the science community – is where we are now. In the Arctic.
Every year there’s an extensive decrease in the sea ice extent over the northern summer. This is mainly due to the melting of relatively thin first year ice that has grown since last summer – in winter it grows back again. What scientists now are finding is that due to the increased melting of old, thicker multi-year ice its being replaced by thin first year ice that is more prone to melt during the summer months. So not only is the sea ice extent now low compared to historic leves, the ice is thinner as well.
That’s why we’ve sailed into the ice. We had to steam another two hours from where the maps said it would be before we got our first glimpse of the ice. As we approached, the ship slowed down and squeezed its way into the pack ice.
We want to bear witness as this remote place is changing because of how we live our lives in that normal world we left two weeks ago. The ship and its crew will spend five weeks in the Arctic, and we will spend most of that time inside the Arctic sea ice using the ship to facilitate research that aims at helping scientists to understand how the Arctic sea ice is thinning.
As for the crew, we are not thinning. The cook is simply too good at his job.
Frida Bengtsson is an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Nordic.
Photo: © Nick Cobbing/Greenpeace