5 October 2012

Reykjavik, Iceland

N 63 13.330

W 21 93.330

After having flown off the grid, leaving harbor in Longyearbyen, sailing through rough seas, entering a world of different thicknesses of ice, observing the scientific process, clicking a shutter a few thousand times over the course of seven days in the Artic, I have both feet back on solid ground. Looking back, trying to convey a sense of place in relation to news of record lows in summer sea ice coverage, I have to start by thinking of a thin, white line, like the one that appeared on the horizon one early morning.

That line represents a long list of things, including the uniqueness of sea ice and its variety and importance to global climate and to the future of humankind. Measurements like the ones taken by scientists and students on our trip and observations going back a century by Arctic explorers, along with satellite data from the last 30 years, provide the information we need to understand that changes are happening. Climate modelers use that data to create predictions that, although bleak for the future of summer sea ice, have, in the past, come up with numbers that were optimistic compared to the actual rate of present-day melt.

Extreme Ice Survey leaving the sea ice behind heading for port

The RV Lance leaves the thin white line of the sea ice behinds and heads for port in Longyearbyen.

The links drawn between changes in the Arctic and carbon emissions are strong and mostly agreed upon in the scientific community. What is less understood, or perceived, is what this changing landscape looks like. Some imagine Polar bears and Santa Claus, explorers of old and the kingdom of ice. These images fail to convey the nuances and realities of the place. Predictions of an absence of summer sea ice convey an image of dark open waters, very much unlike what we consider to be normal: a white, reflective ice cover. The landscape I just returned from has both, yet so much in between.

The Extreme Ice Survey has had the rare opportunity to experience the Arctic sea ice, and, using the tools of photography, an opportunity to convey a sense of place.

Matt and I thank Frank Nilsen and UNIS for inviting us on this research trip and for executing an impressively productive expedition. Many thanks to Cecilia Bitz, Cecilia Peralta Ferriz and John Guthrie for sharing their expertise and deep knowledge of the Arctic. Thanks to all of the students aboard the cruise for their constant and refreshing enthusiasm for ice. We couldn’t have gotten to the ice without the tireless work of Captain Johnny and his crew aboard the RV Lance. Lastly, we extend a big thanks to the Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation for helping EIS reach 81˚ north and allowing us to share this important story.

Svavar Jónathansson

Svavar Jónathansson, Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway

Svavar Jónathansson, Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway

Extreme Ice Survey

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