A tale of two passages
WWF recently supported two expeditions that took on some of the world’s most difficult waters, to see first-hand the effects of arctic climate change.
One expedition sailed across the top of Russia, a journey of 6000 nautical miles through the Northeast Passage, while another made a west to east transit of the Northwest Passage, also by sailing boat, a journey of about 7,000 nautical miles.
Tom Arnbom of Sweden was on the ‘Explorer of Sweden’ though the Northeast Passage, as was WWF Arctic Programme Director Neil Hamilton for much of the trip, replaced near the end by WWF polar bear coordinator Geoff York. On the ‘Silent Sound’ Cameron Dueck of the Open Passage Expedition was filing regular stories from the Northwest Passage.
North East Passage expedition
It is now 130 years since the famous Swedish/Finnish explorer Nordenskiöld finished his voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the North East Passage, the ice-fringed thread of water through the Russian Arctic.
At that time his ship, the Vega, was stuck in the ice for 10 months.
Due to climate change, it is now possible to challenge the passage by sailboat, and without the support of an icebreaker.
Latest news from the Northeast Passage
Senior officer for polar bear conservation at WWF, Geoff York, has been one of the crew of the Explorer of Sweden though the Northeast Passage. In his last post from the expedition, he describes how we have a chance - fleeting and perhaps elusive, but a chance - to save the Arctic and conserve what is best in this still remote and mystical region of our planet.>> Read more
Follow the Explorer's progress via our interactive Twitter map!
- WWF supported the expedition to document the state of the environment and highlight impacts of climate change on the arctic ecosystems, and the resultant need for urgent action.
- In addition, the material was used during COP15 in Copenhagen in December where WWF reserved a prominent square in the city centre
What did they discover?The Arctic is melting fast. A new study shows that from 2005-2008, temperatures in the central Arctic were 5 °C above the level anticipated.
The summer sea ice extent has decreased by 40% since the 70s. Significant permafrost melting has already taken place.
These changes are driven by greenhouse gas emissions. The models vary, but many experts now suggest the summer ice in the Arctic will be completely gone within a generation.
Ecosystem survivalScientists forecast that the Arctic will warm by 2-4°C over the next 40 years. This is a very large and rapid change for a region where species have evolved to be well adapted to cold, snow and ice.
Taking the sea ice away from the Arctic could therefore cause hardship all the way through the arctic food web, destabilizing a system that is already fragile due to the comparatively low number of species. The expedition is expecting to see and document evidence of the effects of decreasing ice.
The expedition also had the opportunity to visit several of WWF’s ‘Polar Bear Patrols’ along the coast.
The expeditionThe vessel is called Explorer of Sweden and is a 62 foot sailboat that has been reinforced to handle the icy conditions. It has a satellite connection with phone, and is run by solar panels and wind power.
The expedition was carbon neutral.
Stops on the way
- Dickson: named by Nordenskiöld
- Cape Chelyuskin: the most northern point of the old world
- Wrangel Island: famous for all its polar bears
- The Chukchi Peninsula: where WWF-Russia works with its polar bear patrols
- Pitlekaj: Where Nordenskiöld spent the winter
- Providenyia: The goal of the expedition
North West Passage expedition
The expedition’s goal was to tell the story of how climate change was affecting people in the Arctic in a creative and compelling way.
Latest news from the Northwest Passage
>> Read more