by Melanie Duchin

September 4, 2009

The Arctic Sunrise left Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord on August 30 and has been motoring north up the east coast of Greenland since then. It’s been a palette of greys outside — grey water, grey sky, grey fog. It’s nothing like the unbroken weeks of sunshine we experienced in northwest and southeast Greenland. Here on the northeast coast all we’ve seen since leaving Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord is shades of grey. We haven’t seen any clear skies, sea ice or icebergs to break the monotony of greys.

Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise
Click the image to view more "Climate Impacts" pics from the Arctic Expedition 2009 on Flickr.

Until this afternoon, when Arne, our ice pilot, alerted us to the presence of an “ice blink” on the port side of the ship. An ice blink is a bright stripe of white on the horizon between sea and sky that indicates sea ice, it’s actually the reflection or glare from sea ice onto low clouds. I have no idea why it’s called an “ice blink,” and neither does Arne, who is a walking dictionary on sea ice. Perhaps it has something to do with shutting your eyes most of the way — as if you’re blinking — and only having a thin strip of vision? Or maybe the word is derived from a Norwegian or Danish term that has to do with ice or glare? I have no idea. All I know is that the ice blink means sea ice, and sea ice means happiness.

Why does sea ice mean happiness? Because it tamps down ocean swells and waves and guarantees the Arctic Sunrise can motor along without the trademark rolling, pitching and corkscrewing of this keel-free icebreaker. This ship is built like an egg, and it’s famous for making even the heartiest sailor seasick. For some reason I avoided getting seasick since leaving Amsterdam on June 12, but all that ended on August 31 when the ship hit some swells and winds that caused her to corkscrew – a motion that caused just about everyone on board to succumb to seasickness.

And seasick I got. In spades. At one point I could not even make it to the toilet down the alleyway, I just hunkered down on the floor of my cabin with a bowl. It was miserable, I tell you, and I swore to myself that I would never, ever step foot on a Greenpeace ship again. If there was a way to jump ship and get to land I would have taken it, I felt that wretched. It kept up through lunchtime yesterday, September 2 when the seas flattened out and, in the words of our Russian doctor on board, Valeriy, “I finally found the meaning of true happiness.”

The appearance of the ice blink this afternoon signals calm seas and means the worst of the transit from Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord to 79 Glacier is behind us. It also means we’ll soon arrive at 79 Glacier and the independent scientists on board will be able to continue their research on the complex interactions between climate change, oceans and glaciers in east Greenland. It also means we’ll soon be able to send more pictures, videos and eyewitness accounts of the impacts of climate change on Greenland’s glaciers to the public, media and policy makers, which in the end, is what keeps us all going. We can’t expect world leaders to come up with a fair, ambitious and binding climate policy in Copenhagen this December without us, the public, putting pressure on them to deliver the goods. And bearing witness to the Arctic meltdown provides the impetus for the pressure.

With so much at stake and so many people all over the planet doing so much to pressure their heads of state to make the right decisions in Copenhagen, the least I can do is to put up with a bit of seasickness. Looking back, it was over in a blink, anyway.

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