Climate Witness: Ann Daniels, UK
Over this time I have completed 6 expeditions on the Arctic sea ice, sledge hauling over 1500 miles, and spending more than 223 days in temperatures well below zero. During my time up ‘North’ I have witnessed the change in the sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean and experienced more extreme temperatures and unexpected storms. I have worked with the children in the schools in Resolute Bay, Nunavut and the local people in Khatanga in the Taymyr Peninsula, Northern Russia. It saddens me to see how much the change in the environment has effected the indigenous people. Many have lost their traditional methods of living and face a bleak future.
I first learnt how to survive and travel on the Arctic Ocean as part of a relay expedition to the North Pole in 1997. Whilst this expedition had no scientific meaning, it was here that I first understood the nature of sea ice and became passionate about the Arctic and it’s ecosystem that is so powerful and yet so fragile. Whilst we encountered open water during this expedition, it was never necessary to swim in the ocean in order to reach the North Pole. However, just 5 years later I took part in a further expedition to the North pole. This time, whilst we hoped to break a world record to become the first all women’s team to walk to the North and South poles, we also combined this expedition with collecting scientific data and assisted an American foundation who were also working in the Arctic regions and with various universities in England. During this expedition we came across so much open water that we had to swim many times and use the sledges as canoes in order to reach our destination. The ice was also much more dynamic and constantly fractured and broke as we travelled across it’s surface. At times we could barely find enough ice to continue our journey north and zigzagged from one small floe to another. It was a frightening experience, not only from the physical difficulty of crossing the ice but also from the realisation that this majestic and beautiful ice-scape is being threatened from outside forces.
In 2005 I spent 3 weeks in Northern Russia, meeting the local people, learning from them about the changes they are facing and provided school books for the local school. After this I moved up to the Arctic sea ice in the Russian territories and encountered five polar bears. The bears were very aggressive and I can only assume that this is due to a shortage of their natural food source. One bear stalked me for five days. Again the sea ice was very thin and I spent long hours searching for a safe route through the ice and snow.
I have recently returned from The Catlin Arctic survey (2009). A scientific expedition to measure the thickness of the ice and again we witnessed a very dynamic and moving sea ice. Our scientific advisers had told us we would encounter older thicker ice but in fact the average thickness of the ice was relatively thin at just 1.77m, suggesting it was new ice formed only last autumn and not multi-year ice as expected. This was a terrifying discovery and made me even more aware of the tragedy unfolding in the Arctic region.
The Arctic sea ice could disappear in the summer sometime between 2013 and 2040 and the consequences of this will catastrophic to not only the indigenous flora and fauna but for weather patterns globally. Some Arctic species, such as narwhal, hooded and ringed seals, walrus and polar bears are very dependent on particular ice conditions. The loss of Arctic ice jeopardizes the very survival of these ice-dependent species.
As this warming cycle continues, it in turn influences global weather patterns, by changing wind and water currents. The global weather is driven by the differences in air temperature between tropical regions and the poles. As these differences are changed by a warming Arctic, global weather patterns are destabilized, creating new more unpredictable and more extreme weather events at lower latitudes.
My time in the Arctic regions both in Russia, Nunavut and on the sea ice itself has instilled in me a personal need to try and do something to clean up my own act. These regions may be at the edge of our existence but they are so valuable and unique that they deserve our care. I still drive a car when I have to but endeavour to walk and cycle whenever possible or to use public transport if I can. I reuse and recycle but more importantly try not to use packaged goods in the first place and buy local foods in season. I use less energy and water. I spend a lot of time talking to schools about the Arctic regions and the changes that are occurring there and around the world and what they can do in their own lives to make a change. I also give presentations to universities and corporate groups but I believe that our children really are the future and hope for this planet.
I would like to see more expeditions such as the Catlin Arctic survey to try and get to the bottom of what is happening to the sea ice on the Arctic Ocean, where the conditions are complex, ever changing and currently poorly understood.
Climate change is happening and it is up to all us to take an active interest and to becoming involved in trying to find a solution. To start now by taking responsibility and trying to reduce our own carbon footprint. This world is not ours and I would like not only my children but all the animals in the world to inherit a world we can be proud of. Give Mother Nature a helping hand, not a stamping foot.
Scientific reviewReviewed by: Prof. Peter Wadhams
On the whole this is a consistent and accurate description of climate-related changes in the Arctic, which although anecdotal fits in with quantitative observations. The witness has been visiting the Arctic Ocean since 1997 and has reported that in later years (2002 and 2009) the ice cover was much more open, presumably at the same season of the year (although this is not stated explicitly), than on the first occasion that she went there. This is consistent with observations by submarine and from ice camps of a greater degree of break-up of floes and more prevalent leads and polynyas in recent years, leading to increased warming of near-surface water and increased melt.
Her account of encountering unusually aggressive polar bears on sea ice north of Russia is an interesting observation but may not be a consequence of climate change, as many factors can influence the availability of food supply and the behaviour of the bears.
Ann Daniel's story is mostly consistent with current peer-reviewed literature about climate change impacts already happening today in the Arctic. The climate witness story is consistent with anticipated or projected climate change impacts.
A relevant recent reference is M. Wang and J E Overland (2009). A sea ice free summer Arctic within 30 years? Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 36, L07502, doi:10.1029/2009GL037820.
All articles are subject to scientific review by a member of the Climate Witness Science Advisory Panel.