Melting arctic sea ice makes treacherous North-East Passage transit a breeze



Posted on 26 June 2009  | 
The Arctic is under major threat from global warming.
© WWF-Canon / ProkoschEnlarge
In an attempt to highlight rapidly melting summer sea-ice in the Arctic, an expedition will attempt to sail through the Northeast Passage of the Russian Arctic in a single summer, a trip that took over two years to complete when first attempted in 1839.

The expedition, led by the Swedish/Norwegian polar explorer Ola Skinnarmo will receive assistance from WWF in documenting the incredible pace of change in the region.

The Arctic is melting fast. The summer sea ice extent has decreased by 40 percent since the 70s and may be completely gone within a generation,” says Neil Hamilton, director for the WWF International’s Arctic Programme.

“WWF supports the expedition to document the state of the environment and highlight impacts of climate change on the arctic ecosystems, and importantly to communicate the need for urgent action to address greenhouse gas emissions at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.”

Hamilton will join the first half of the expedition, while WWF’s polar bear coordinator Geoff York will participate in the latter half.

The famous Swedish/Finnish explorer Nordenskiöld first completed the voyage some 130 years ago, as he voyaged from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the North-East Passage.

At that time his ship was stuck in the ice for 10 months, but due to climate change, it is now possible to challenge the passage in one summer in a sailboat, without the support of an icebreaker.

“The arctic marine ecosystem depends on the ice for its survival. Polar bears need the ice to be able to hunt their primary food, seals. The seals in turn need the ice to give birth to their pups and the ice supports their primary prey - Arctic cod,” says York.

“Decreasing sea ice in the Arctic will cause hardship throughout the arctic food web - including impacts to arctic peoples, destabilizing a system that is already sensitive due to the comparatively low number of species.”

Both Neil Hamilton and Geoff York will be blogging and documenting the trip through photos and film.

The sights of this little-visited part of the world will be made accessible through photographs and blogs sent directly from the boat.
The Arctic is under major threat from global warming.
© WWF-Canon / Prokosch Enlarge
WWF representatives will be lead through the North-East passage by explorer Ola Skinnarmo on a sailing boat, such is the lack of sea ice in the area in recent summers. (June 2009)
WWF representatives will be lead through the North-East passage by explorer Ola Skinnarmo on a sailing boat, such is the lack of sea ice in the area in recent summers.
© Andres B Schei Enlarge

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