Two of the scientists traveling with Greenpeace on the Arctic Sunrise are Dr. Julienne Stroeve, a research scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), and Nick Toberg, an ice scientist at Cambridge University. I asked them what research they would be able to do on the ice, and for some insight into why Arctic sea ice is so important, and what impact the melting would have on our climate.
What will you be doing on the ice?
Julienne: I’ll be measuring ice thickness – it’s a more important measure than ice extent as it tells you about volume (total) loss. I can measure thickness in different spots by drilling with a hand augur, which can go two metres deep. I also hope to look at snow thickness, whether there are melt pools on the ice and whether they are frozen. As the ship is traveling we will also measure the ocean temperatures.
Nick: We will test impact of ocean waves as they hit the ice edge, using buoys fitted with accelerometers. This will fill in the missing physics of how the strength of the waves adds to the ice breaking up and melting. Broken ice reflects sunlight less well as the sun’s rays are absorbed into the ocean beneath. The lack of ice creates even stronger waves which break the ice up more the following year. Continue reading
You’re walking home through air so hot and thick that your steps seem twice as hard and your breaths half as deep. You can’t wait to step through your front door and meet the chilly relief from your churning air conditioner. However, when you step through the front door, you’re met with stale, hot air instead. Just when the summer reaches its hottest days, your air conditioner went and quit on you.
Imagine the impact of the global air conditioner quitting on all of us. Except, in this case it has the help of oil companies like Shell and Gazprom, a Russian company, to accelerate the process of its failure. The Arctic serves as our giant climate regulator since the sea ice there reflects sunlight, and we’re already seeing signs of its sputtering numbered days. The sea ice level has hit its lowest level ever this year, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. When there is less sea ice present to reflect sunlight, the ocean then absorbs that light resulting in a warmer Earth. While this is sorrow news for most of us, it’s good news for big oil companies, like Shell and Gazprom, as less sea ice clears a path for them to drill in this pristine and fragile environment.
In fact, the U.S. Interior Department just announced that Shell has the green light to begin preliminary drilling.
We’re not giving up the fight to save the Arctic.
We put serious pressure on Shell by communicating the hazards of drilling in the Arctic. Last week, Greenpeace activists took a more literal approach by interrupting work on Gazprom’s Russian offshore oil platform.
This is a desperate race for the last remaining oil in a critical region of the planet which actually only equates to a few years of consumption. It’s not too late to turn around and invest in a greener future.
When I spoke to my friends and family this weekend I was unanimously scolded. After Friday’s 15-hour occupation of Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Pechora Sea, they all said “you’re getting too old for this!” With blue hands and feet from the cold, and in the midst of being treated by our ship doctor Marcelo for hypothermia, for a moment I thought they could be right.
But then I returned to the spirit on board our ship the Arctic Sunrise; the eager faces of my fellow activists Sini, Jens, Lars, Basil and Terry, the determination of our Captain Vlad, and the rest of the committed crew who were standing up for what they believed was right. Coming back to this I knew that the risks had been worth it.
For me, an action like the one we’ve just completed in the Arctic is Greenpeace at its best. Teams united in the one goal, taking a risk to confront dangerous industry at the frontlines of destruction, shining a light on an environmental crime that happens out of the sights and minds of most regular people.
I’ve been an activist since the age of 15. I’ve seen the inside of a prison cell for the cause, but nobody – even with experience – can honestly say that there is no fear when you set out to take action involving risk to personal safety, or the risk of imprisonment. We were feeling it acutely in the days preceding the action as we traced through our different scenarios and plans. But I felt encouraged, we gave each other confidence.
And then our time came. We sailed early morning towards Gazprom’s oil platform, and soon some of my worst fears came true. During my first attempt to climb, I got knocked off course by a big swell and did not make it up. I spent several minutes in the icy water fighting with the rope. Defeated and fighting the cold, I had to retreat to the boat. Continue reading
In the Greenpeace office, staff have developed a bad habit. We take our seats, switch our computers on and click on the bookmark to the National Snow and Ice Data Center website. Today was like any other day, except that today the extent of sea ice melt surpassed that of 2007, the lowest year on record. The plummeting line on this seemingly innocuous graph shows that the Arctic has already lost more ice than ever before in recorded history – and it’s still melting. Across the office it was met with a sharp intake of breath. Continue reading