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The Calm Before the Storm: Looking ahead to the next phase of the Arctic Expedition 2009

by Melanie Duchin

August 20, 2009

The Arctic Sunrise is currently in transit from the west to the east coast of Greenland. We said goodbye to the on-board science team in Nugatsiaq on August 9, and to two Chinese journalists and a campaigner from Greenpeace China in Sisimiut on August 11. Our next port-of-call is Tasiilaq on the southeast coast of Greenland.

You can follow our Arctic Expedition tour on this handy Google map:

View Arctic Tour in a larger map

An independent science team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachussetts will join the ship in Tasiilaq. The team, led by Dr. Fiamma Stranneo, will undertake a variety of oceanographic measurements in Sermilik Fjord, just east of Tasiilaq, from August 19-25. Their goal is to determine if warm, sub-tropical waters are coming into contact with glaciers in the fjord, and to determine the processes that control the variability of ocean conditions where the glaciers meet the sea.

Why is this important? The IPCC’s estimates for sea level rise by the end of this century contain very little contribution from the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica because the dynamics of the melt are so poorly understood. As scientists conduct research and begin to unravel the complicated dynamics that govern and influence the melt of the enormous ice sheets at opposite ends of the planet, their predictions for the rate of sea level rise increase. The IPCC’s 2007 estimate for sea level rise by 2100 is 20-60cm (8-24 inches). Since then, scientists have predicted sea levels will actually rise one to two meters (3.3 to 6.6 feet). That’s a significant jump in just two years’ time, particularly since so many of the dynamic forces that affect ice sheet melt and flow rate are not yet understood.

Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise in the Nares Straight
The Arctic sunrise is pictured here amidst cracked and drifting ice in front of the Petermann glacier (out of shot to the left). This is the zone where the glacier’s front meets the sea and starts to break up. This is the furthest point that the ship can get to the front of the glacier to begin research via helicopter, inflatable and perhaps by foot/skis. © Nick Cobbing/Greenpeace

Dr. Stranneo’s science program in Sermilik Fjord is well-organized and very ambitious, so we are prepared to support her team’s research around the clock, 24/7 if need be. However, scientific research is not the only activity that will be underway in Sermilik Fjord. Although it’s pretty remote, Tasiilaq is relatively easy to reach by air from Iceland and Denmark, so we are able to host a number of VIPs and journalists from around the world while the research is taking place in Sermilik Fjord. This is the one leg of our expedition where a VIP or journalist can join the ship for just a night or two. As a result, we will be hosting a crew from CNN, three German TV crews, one French TV crew, and one Indian TV crew. The ship can only accommodate so many people per night, so additional news crews (AP print and TV, a French newspaper, The Economist) and a Spanish politician will stay in Tasiilaq and be ferried out to the ship for the day.

All told, we’ll have about 20 people cycling on and off the ship as overnight guests, and another ten or so as guests during the day. This may not sound like a lot, but trust me, it is. Each person and their gear must be transported to the ship via a small boat or the helicopter. Ice in the fjord may scuttle our plans to use small boats, and fog (very common in these parts) will keep the helicopter grounded. Every person who joins the ship, even if it’s just for one night, will need to be briefed on safety protocols as well as ship do’s and don’ts. But most importantly, our goal is to provide each guest with a firsthand account and explanation of the work that Dr. Stranneo and her team are conducting, as well as background information on how it relates to the upcoming climate negotiations in December. We want them to leave the ship understanding the urgent need for deep, mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to increase the chance that the message gets to heads of state who are going to be negotiating a climate treaty in Copenhagen this December.

The media are an important avenue for getting our message out into the general public. Greenpeace puts its money into its campaigns; we simply can’t afford to spend billions of dollars on advertising to get our message out (unlike Big Oil and its allies, who have spent $82 million already this year lobbying against climate legislation). We rely on a variety of other tactics – from our website to public speaking to newsletters and talking to people on the street. Our tactics may be numerous, but media coverage is a great way to get our message out to many people – including politicians – in one fell swoop. So we are very excited to be hosting so many top-notch journalists during our time in Tasiilaq.

We have a couple of days of “calm” left before the managed chaos that will ensue in Tasiilaq. I for one am looking forward to it. It will be challenging, hard work, but in the end, the rewards will be measurable.

And it’s always a treat to see someone’s face when they come aboard a Greenpeace ship for the first time. I’ll have more updates for you soon, so check back!

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