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Anna (U6D) explores the Arctic

Anna (U6D) went on an extraordinary expedition in the summer holidays. With the organisation Students On Ice she travelled with 131 other school and university students from around the world to the Arctic, via Ottawa, Greenland and many other astonishing locations around the Arctic Circle.

Anna wrote blogs detailing her adventures, giving a wonderful taste of the atmosphere on board the Ocean Endeavour and her discoveries at the top of the world.

24 July

I have met some incredible people from all kinds of different backgrounds. Over 50% of the students are indigenous to the Arctic and I was speaking to a Canadian Inuit yesterday who was amazed to hear that I had never tried polar bear! I am so excited to keep meeting new people and learning more about their different cultures.

26 July

Day 2 aboard the Ocean Endeavour and within the Arctic Circle! We are making our way from Itilleq Fjord to the Greenlandic coastal town of Ilulissat with an incredible view across the Davis Strait to the port side of the ship (and this evening our first glimpse of bright sunshine). The ship and crew are fantastic and so smiley. Already I feel very at home on board and so privileged to be here.

Words cannot do justice to the immensely beautiful landscapes surrounding us. We set sail down Sonderstrom Fjord yesterday surrounded by vast mountains descending into bright blue water, with clouds dipping just below the peaks. It is among the longest fjords in the world at over 90 miles, with the rocks exposed formed as many as 2 billion years ago. We made our first landing this morning on the banks of Itilleq and it felt very surreal to explore the Arctic tundra for the first time. During my workshop, we were given the opportunity to take a soil core from the nearby pond. This technique allows scientists to see back as far as 12,000 years before present and use sediment, dissolved gases and algae deposits to reconstruct the state of the atmosphere in the past.

28 July

It’s just after 7am and we are rapidly approaching the coastal community of Uummannaq. Ilulissat Icefjord is also widely known as an ‘iceberg factory’, at its height around a decade ago being the main outlet for 10% of Greenland icebergs. In the morning we were able to go out in the zodiacs and explore close up, which was a definite highlight of the expedition so far. Our zodiac driver (Ian) was so knowledgeable and also knew a number of traditional unaccompanied Greenlandic songs, which he sang as we were cruising. It was really moving, and I learned so much, both about the different types of icebergs and their importance in fostering the productivity of the local ecosystem.

30 July

We spent yesterday crossing the Davis Strait and had our first encounter with vaguely stormy weather. Early morning yoga was certainly interesting with everyone trying to maintain a tree pose whilst swaying dramatically from side to side! My favourite onboard activity was a panel discussion called ‘Arctic Hours’. I chose to attend the session on the culture of the Sami people and their deep connection with reindeer herding. Several of the Sami students were involved and hearing about the challenges that they face both politically and in the face of global warming was very eye-opening. I was struck most by their deep passion to keep this aspect of their culture going, despite the increasing difficulty of making it a livelihood in the changing socioeconomic climate of the Arctic North.

1 August

The past couple of days in Sirmilik National Park have been very remote but incredibly exciting and I have learned so much about the people, wildlife and landscape.

On Tuesday afternoon a large group hiked right up to the snout of a huge outlet glacier. It was completely breath-taking to approach the glacier from below and get a real sense of the massive scale. We were also able to drink some water from the outwash stream, which as a member of staff pointed out “hasn’t been water in 12,000 years”! However, according to educators who had visited Sirmilik before there have been a number of significant changes in the landscape over the past few decades. For instance, 40 years ago the glacier flowed as far as the sea, whereas today it takes a 2.6km hike to reach the snout. There is also evidence of ice thinning (about 3m) on the slopes of the valley where a lack of vegetation clearly shows the former position of ice. It is very rare to see such dramatic changes in nature over such a short timescale and exploring first-hand really helped me to understand just how significant the impacts of climate change have become in the Arctic.

3 August

One of the key focuses of the last couple of days has been the creation of Tallurutiup Imanga, a new 110,000km square marine protected area extending across the entire of Lancaster Sound and adjacent bays. It was officially announced on Thursday in Arctic Bay (NE Baffin Island) and SOI were able to visit the local community as they celebrated everything that the area means to them.

This agreement is special because it is one of the first that recognises Inuit as stewards of the land and trusts them with the task of enforcing the protected area, monitoring its success and managing it sustainably. It was very moving to hear elders reflect on this recognition as a key step towards reconciliation after the injustice of their treatment following colonisation in WW2. The Arctic Bay community was one of the most welcoming we have visited so far. Even as we were coming off the zodiacs there were about 20 local children crowding around for high-fives and everyone was in really good spirits.

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