Bergy bits and bits and bobs

Last night around 10pm we crossed the Arctic Circle. We stopped the boat, donned out dry suits and jumped off the Cape Race with giant strides into the water like 10 bobbing black lemmings with colourful fins and snorkels. We floated along, our dry suits making us buoyant, popping up in the water, checking out jelly fish and really feeling like little seals must and glad to be far enough from shore not to be mistaken for them by Greenlandic hunters. To my delight we were scooter less. This is what it really feels like to be floating out here. There was no ice in sight. In fact since Canada’s shores the week before we hadn’t seen any ice.

The ingredient to the Arctic is the sea ice. For 800,000 there has been no point that the Arctic has not had ice. But yet here we are in mid summer, crossing from Canada to Greenland in balmy conditions and only as we approached Disko Bay in the north in mid July did the bergs start to float past. The sun is hot and it’s a lot warmer than we expected, and even though that is not an indication of climate change, just a one off weather observation, yet still feels like a valid travelers observation. The whole is the sum of the parts and climatic changes have been occuring in the Arctic.

I asked myself in the last blog, what does the sea ice hold? Those magestic white glossy bergs, with chiselled edges and deep enticing shadows above water and long turqoise foundations below. I wonder after seeing this magical place, where would all the seals go if they disappeared? How will narwhal live if there is no ice? It is afterall adapted to pack ice habitat, only being found in the Arctic. Even if ice becomes seasonal and just here for winter that won’t help our species that need ice all year round. In addition to polar bears and narwhal, I want to share the little endemic guys, upon which this habitat relies, hopefully without it sounding like an eulogy for amphipods with cool names like Apherusa glacialis, Gammarus wilkitzkii, Onisimus nanseni and Onisimus glacialis; and ice algae, like Melosira arctica which grows into metre-long ‘curtains’ under multiyear sea ice. Interesting to note the flow on effects of this, because a change in sea ice algae will propagate along the pelagic food web and to benthic habitats, affecting a whole chain of species, including the arctic birds.

Of course we are all affected by this change. Without the sea ice to reflect the sunlight, more sunlight is absorbed by the earth, leading to greater warming. If the Greenland ice sheet melted entirely sea levels would rise about 7 metres around the world. On the journey north towards Disko Bay as melting bergy bits drift past the boat, mostly from the swiftly retreating best of Greenland’s glaciers, this is quite a sobering thought.

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