Ice, Bears and Inukshuks: My Arctic Adventure

It has been a whole 72 hours since I returned home from my amazing adventure in the Arctic and I’m still finding it difficult to tear my thoughts away from the north and return them to my regular life down here.

I was told that my trip would be “amazing” and “inspiring” but words like those can’t really describe just how powerful this trip has been for me. I don’t think words can describe how this trip has changed me and my perspectives on the north and on climate change.

Let me take you on my adventure.

Getting There

At CWSF 2012, I met someone who travelled to the polar regions through an organization called Students On Ice (SOI), which takes students from all over the world on expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic along with world-renowned scientists, educators and artists. I applied and got accepted for the 2013 Arctic Expedition!

The first step was getting to the Arctic. This is a lot harder than it sounds!

After getting accepted, I needed to raise $10,000 to pay the travel fees for the expedition. But, with help from sponsors like the Ministry of Education, the Rotary Club of Barrie, the Horseshoe Resort, the Lion’s Club of Oro Medonte, the Township of Oro Medonte and others, I managed to raise the money I needed.

After that, it was time to buy all of my apparel for the expedition! The gear I needed for the trip was a little more heavy-duty than the stuff I would wear during a typical winter back home.

Finally, on the 14th of July, I had to do the 7 hour drive from my house to Ottawa, the gateway city for the expedition. From there, it was off to the Arctic!

The Trip

There are a countless number of amazing things I could write about that I did during my two weeks in the Arctic.

We started our journey in Ottawa. We then flew to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and traveled to the Greenlandic towns of Itilleq, Ilulissat and Uummannaq by icebreaker boat. Next, we sailed across the Davis Strait to Canada, visiting Pangnirtung, Kingnait Harbour, Lady Franklin Island, Monumental Island and Iqaluit. Finally, we flew back to Ottawa for a welcome-home reception at the Canadian Museum of Nature (at which I had the privilege of giving a speech!), marking the end of our Arctic adventure.

On my trip, I experienced so many firsts: I went on my first zodiac cruise; I saw my first polar bear (we saw 11 in total), seal and walrus; I saw my first whale (throughout the course of our trip, we saw FOUR whale species!); I got to stand near my first glacier, iceberg and icefjord; I went on my first Arctic swim (I will admit, this was a little uncomfortable, but it was AWESOME); and I visited communities in Greenland and Nunavut for the first time.

One of my favourite experiences was our visit to the Greenlandic town of Ilulissat, home to the Jakobshavn Icefjord. While we were there, we were being swarmed by huge amounts of mosquitoes but we hardly took notice of them as we looked at the gigantic icefjord in awe. I was able to stand right next to this icefjord and experience just how massive it is. It was such an amazing feeling! The ice towered above me, making me small.

Massive amounts of ice are spewed out of this fjord and end up in Disko Bay. The expedition leader gave us the chance to ride in zodiacs (inflatable boats) around Disko Bay to see the icebergs up close! It was absolutely incredible to be so near to such large pieces of ice.

After Ilulissat, we visited Uummannaq, which was probably the most beautiful community I have ever been to. We did many things there on the 250th anniversary of the town including meeting the Prime Minister of Greenland and participating in the town’s anniversary festivities.

One thing that stuck out for me was a conversation I had with a local fisherman. He told me that the people of Uummannaq used to fish on ice that was once thick and strong but, now sometimes the water does not even completely freeze, meaning that the people of Uummannaq cannot fish. Fishing is the main industry in the community and without it, the locals have no means of making an income. For me, this really hammered in just how pressing the issue of climate change really is. Sometimes, we, living in the south, may feel far removed from the issues facing the people of the north, but speaking to this man made me realize that there are people, just like you and I, who are being affected by climate change in devastating ways.

But not only did I spend my two weeks visiting communities in the north, seeing Arctic wildlife and learning about climate change, I also spent those two weeks talking to some of the most passionate youth, scientists, educators and artists I have ever met. I was able to become good friends with incredible people like Geoff Green (order of Canada recipient and SOI founder), Stephane Dion (former Minister of the Environment and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada), Ian Tamblyn (Canadian Folk Music Award’s 2010 English Songwriter of the Year), Daniele Bianchi (oceanographer published in Nature), John Crump (former Executive Director of the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee), Meg Beckel (President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature) and so many other amazing people who I could just sit down with at a meal or during a workshop on the expedition and start talking to. My experience in the Arctic just wouldn’t have been so awesome if it weren’t for the wonderful people I was travelling with. I have made friendships that I am sure will last a lifetime.

What’s next?

This trip has really inspired the environmentalist inside of me. For those of you who have met me before, you know that I usually do stuff relating to antibiotics, neurodegenerative disease or fundamental physics, not environmental sciences! However, this trip has empowered me to do something about climate change.

So, I am currently working on filming a documentary on climate change from the unique perspectives of youth and Inuit elders in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, Microsoft Canada and others. (If anyone would like to help out with the upcoming documentary, don’t hesitate to drop me a note – we need people who have experience in fund raising, film editing, copy writing, special effects and anything else that could be useful in the production of a film!)

I am also scheduled to make presentations at numerous organizations about the importance of preserving the Arctic.

Because of this trip, I have realized the burning need to increase our awareness, as a society, of how our actions are contributing to the decline of the traditional Inuit culture as a result of climate change.

But, it’s just been 72 hours. I have no idea what might happen next.