Friday, June 27, 2008

Ice-free North Pole likely this summer : Mail Today Exclusive

By Dinesh C Sharma, Onboard CCGS Amundsen in the Arctic Ocean

We are very close to witnessing one of the most dramatic impacts of climate change so far – an ice-free North Pole at the end of this summer.

This means there would be no ice by the end of September in the North Pole. It will be just open sea. The North Pole would then depend on seasonal formation of ice during winter – the ice which usually melts down again in summer – instead of perennial multi-year ice. However, it is some more years before the rest of the Arctic also witnesses ice-free summers.

The North Pole – which is made up of ice accumulating over years - does not melt even during summer time. But this multi-year ice is melting fast due to rising temperature in the Arctic. Latest satellite imagery shows that the current ice cover in the North Pole is made of mostly thin ice.

The prediction is based on field observational data in the Canadian Arctic as well as imageries of ice cover from different satellites. If an ice-free North Pole becomes a reality this summer, it would be way ahead of projections made by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other climate models.

"We are not talking models, but field data. We are actually predicting that the North Pole may be free of ice this year for the first time. There will be no multi-year ice left there. It is happening extremely quickly" – this is the categorical statement from Prof David Barber, leading Arctic expert who heads the multi-country Circumpolar Flaw Lead (CFL) Study Project in the Canadian Arctic. "Existing models project Arctic ice to be totally gone sometime between 2013 and 2030. Clearly, all models are underestimating than what observational data tells us".

Since the Arctic plays critical role in the global conveyor belt of oceanic currents which contributes to different weather conditions globally, its sooner-and-faster-than-expected meltdown would have wide ranging climatic effect all over the world. Scientists believe that there is a 'tele-connection' between the Northern polar region and the intensity of the Indian monsoon, though its exact mechanism is not fully understood.

The sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean comes to a minimum in September and starts to grow out again after this, getting to its maximum extent in March and then shrinking back towards the North Pole. This is the natural cycle of sea ice witnessed for at least a million years. Now this cycle is rapidly changing.

At the end of the summer melt season in September 2007, the Arctic ice cover had reached its lowest since satellite records are kept – 4.3 million square kilometers or 39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000. The September rate of sea ice decline since 1979 is now about 10 percent per decade, or 72,000 square kilometers per year. During May 2008, the daily ice extent continued to be below the long-term average and was close to low levels seen in May 2007, as per data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. Some members of an independent group called "Study of Environmental Arctic Change" estimate the ice extent in September 2008 to be as low as 3.1million sq km.

"The extent of ice cover was very high in February 2008 and there was hope that the ice would recover. But this ice was very thin as it did not form until much later in the year and as a consequence, it has broken up already. We should have had ice till the end of July. We don't have it in June," pointed out Barber while talking to Mail Today in the fast ice region of Franklin Bay. "Right now we are predicting that the minimum value of ice cover in September 2008 is going to be somewhat near that of last September if not lower than that."

The CFL project was launched just at the end of the dramatic meltdown – in October 2007 – and has been tracking the ice in the Arctic since then. The icebreaker, CCGS Amundsen, being used for data collection for the project had to change its path as it could not find suitable locations for holding ice camps for scientific studies.

When the icebreaker entered into floating ice on the Northern side Banks Islands in November last, scientists found the multi-year ice to be highly decayed. Thaw holes were common and the average thickness of the ice was only about 2.8 meters. The ice was thinner than in previous years due to the late formation of sea ice in the Southern Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf. The open strips of water resulting from early melting absorb more energy from the sun and become warm. This large heat storage drew cyclones over the open waters of the Amundsen Gulf in the fall of 2007. These cyclones, in turn, kept the ocean surface rough resulting in delayed onset of freeze-up.

Another sign of vanishing ice was that the ice bridge which forms every year connecting Cape Perry to Cape Lambton never got formed this year. Also, the multi-year ice was much more mobile compared to previous years, as per information beamed back by 24 GPS-fitted ice beacons released as part of the project.

Rising temperature is clearly one of the main reasons for thin ice and its faster melt down. "The global average temperature has gone up by 0.7 degrees. This increase gets amplified in the polar region because of the relationship between sea ice, the ocean and the radiation feedback system. It is getting warmer here faster than the rest of the planet. If the global average temperature rise is 1 degree, the rise in the polar regions would be 3.5 degrees," pointed out Barber.

Reduction in sea ice thickness and extent is being witnessed in the Norwegian Arctic region as well. Dr Haakon Hop, research scientist at the Norwegian Polar Institute said, "We have seen some drastic changes in the ice cover in the marginal ice zones in North and West of Svalbard in the Arctic where we work. The last three winters have been ice-free in the Kongsfjorden…. There is data to show that 50 to 70 percent ice in the Arctic ocean is first year ice, which would be all gone by the end the summer. So there might be very drastic changes happening right now."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Celebrating summer solstice in the Arctic Circle

Sorry for the late posting....

It was a great feeling to have witnessed the summer solstice in the Northern hemisphere at Inuvik on June 21. It also happened to be the National Aboriginal Day in Canada. A mid night run was organised in Inuvik to mark the occasion. During the day, a mid-day rally of aboriginals marked the occasion. I shot the proverbial midnight sun on the night of June 20, hours after landing at Inuvik after a rather bumpy flight in the chartered twin otter from Cape Parry.

June 21 marks the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere and simultaneously heralds the beginning of winter in the southern hemisphere.The earth spins around its axis, an imaginary line going right through the planet between the north and south poles. The axis is tilted somewhat off the plane of the earth's revolution around the sun. The tilt of the axis is 23.5 degrees; thanks to this tilt, we enjoy the four seasons. For several months of the year, one half of the earth receives more direct rays of the sun than the other half.

When the axis tilts towards the sun, as it does between June and September, it is summer in the northern hemisphere but winter in the southern hemisphere. Alternatively, when the axis points away from the sun from December to March, the southern hemisphere enjoys the direct rays of the sun during their summer months.
June 21 is called the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and simultaneously the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. [from:]

Friday, June 20, 2008

Preparing to leave...

It's time to leave Amundsen now. Will be boarding a Coast Guard helicopter shortly along with chief scientist Dave Barber, who is also returning to his base at the University of Manitoba.

It has been a wonderful 10-days on the ship and had a tons of experiences, will keep sharing them in future...

More from Inuvik

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Setting up the met station

It has been a week that I have been on the icebreaker. The ship moved between Darnley Bay and Franklin Bay. In between for a day it had gone to the area where the river Horton joins the Franklin Bay. In both the bays, we had ice camps, as both the bays have fast ice or the shore attached ice. The ice which is in the ocean is called pack ice or mobile ice. The camps are held in fast ice. Different teams of scientists are on the ice collecting a plethora of samples – air, water, ice, sediments, organisms and so on. Today I had gone out in the ice with the team which installed a met station for measuring a number of parameters – not just temperature, wind speed etc but also wave speed in melt ponds, light refraction and so on. It was truly fascinating to be with this team and actually help them out in lugging and fixing up the systems on the ice.
Back in ship, I visited a number of laboratories which are located at different places in the ship – including the deck and the starboard. In the evening we had a science seminar on the ecology of the Arctic cod fish. The day in the Arctic can go on as long as you want to stretch it…….

.......and the sky

.......... ice

Different hues of the Arctic - water

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Amundsen in open sea

A long day in Franklin Bay

It has been a very long day on the icebreaker. There is really hectic activity on the ship, despite being a Sunday. Nobody takes an off here on the ship. In fact, they worked more as the ship went back and forth into fast ice and the open ocean where the plume from river Horton meets Franklin Bay. Scientists are really excited about Beluga whales. Today also they sighted a lots of them during the helicopter survey. The divers found a lot of larvae of cod fish. Sediments samples were also taken. Simply there is too much happening on this ship and everyone is excited about what they are doing.
The weather is simply amazing. It is 9 pm and the sun is shining real bright as if it is midday. When I went to the topmost deck in the afternoon, it breeze was too strong and I was shivering even in my parka. Some people on the ship told me why are you saying it is cold on the ship, in your dispatches. I had to explain to them that it is cold if I compared to 40 degrees in Delhi. Yesterday it snowed also for a while, it rained and then it was sunny. Today it was breezy and now it is sunny…. [yesterday it snowed for a while]
The Sunday supper was good, but for the timing. We had to buy wine between 3 and 3e.15 or so, and take it to the supper at 5 pm! By 8 it was all over. The idea is to give the crew sometime free in the evening.
It has been decided to stay in Franklin Bay for one more day. Looking forward to going out in ice or on Zodiac Monday morning….

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Amundsen in steam

For the past 14 hours, Amundsen is in steam. We left Darnley Bay and are moving towards Franklin Bay. The ship moved through opne sea for about 10 hours through the night, and has been cutting through the ice which is attached to the landmass for the past few hours. It has been a great experience to see the icebreaker in real action.The weather is fine as wind speed are low. But on the deck it can get very cold at times. Some time it is foggy, but most of the time it is sunny. The ship will not stay in Franlin Bay. It will be there just for a few hours taking some samples through rosette, Zodiac ( a small boat that is lowered into the ice) andf other instruments mounted on the outer surface of the ship.

More in the evening....

Friday, June 13, 2008

Life onboard the icebreaker

It is 24-hour day light in the Arctic, though I have noticed that after 2 am or so the glow of the sun dims a bit. Today morning it was bit foggy but cleared up very soon.

The day on the ship begins very early.Breakfast is served between 7.30 and 8.30, lunch at 11.30 and supper at 5.30. One has to adjust to the rythm other you would miss a meal. The coast guard crew is stickler for rules. You cant be late for an appointment with them. I, along with a few others who came onboard this week, were given a familiarisation tour of the ship which included an extensive safety drill. We had to actually wear evacuation suits, and were made to sit in a life boat, as part of this drill. It was not just a formality. The same with the helicopter safety lessons.

Enjoyed my day out in the ice today - went out twice with scientists. You are not allowed to go out of the ship at your will. The names of all those going out are notified in advance and they have to stick to their respective time schedule.

That's it for today [Friday]....

The icebreaker

Amundsen in its full Arctic glory

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Life onboard Amundsen

The first day on the icebreaker has been hectic. It is 12.55 and I am still awake. The sunlight is there but has mellowed a bit. Some scientists are still working. The food on the ship is good and scientists are extremely friendly....

More tomorrow...

Collecting data in the Moon Pool

Scientist get ready for an outing... ....

Finally onboard Amundsen

Last leg on Coast Guard helicopter from Cape Parry

Leaving an imprint on the Arctic terrain

Beginning the journey to the Arctic Sea in a twin otter

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Aurora Institute

Will be missing the winter aurora, but I am happy at least I am staying at the Aurora Research Institute in Inuvik!

Basking in 24-hour daylight

A lake in Inuvik.......

.... and one which is still frozen

Notre Dame of the North – where science and religion meet

The Igloo Church is the most famous landmark of Inuvik and also its largest structure. It bears the same name as the famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. But the Igloo church is based on unique architectural design developed to meet the challenge of permafrost – a typical problem faced in the Arctic region. Most of the Arctic sits on permafrost – an uneven mixture of earth and ice which often reaches a depth of several hundred meters. If heated by the warmth of a building , permafrost melts unevenly and causes building foundations, roads and other structures to crack and collapse. That’s why most buildings on Inuvik are built on pilings, which raise the ground floor by a metre or so. This raised area is kept open to allow heat from the buildings to dissipate before it reaches the ground.

In the Arctic Circle

It is bright and sunny in Inuvik at noon. And will remain so till midnight and beyond, I am told because this is the land of midnight Sun and the June is the month when there is 24-hour daylight.I am feeling slightly disoriented, jet lagged and fatigued. Staying at the Aurora Research Institute.

Inuvik is located inside the Arctic circle, it is Canada's Northern most town with a population of just about 3000 people. Right now a petroleum industry conference is on the town. you can hardly find any people or cars on the street. It is a quiet place.

Looking forward to fly to the Amundsen icebreaker tomorrow morning on a chartered flight.

Btw, I bought heavy duty boots from a military surplus store in Toronto for 97 canadian dollars and a Parka that the store guy said will keep me warm till minus 25 or so...

At the airport

In Inuvik

Landed at Inuvik, the land of Midnight Sun

In Edmonton

In Edmonton, this is 9.45 pm

As I approach the Arctic circle, the daylight hours seem to be going up. Arrived in Edmonton - the capital of Alberta province - a few hours back. It was raining and the sky was overcast. Was slightly cold at 12 degrees. The night was even cooler at about 8 degrees.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Oil crisis in Canada too

All through my 24-hour journey from Delhi to Canada, the subject of oil crisis was looming large. At the Hethrow airport I could see CSE chief Sunita Narain on the BBC talking about the oil crisis in India and the need to have fuel efficiency standards for the growing number of personal cars on Indian roads. Upon landing in Toronto, my lo cal host told me that petrol price touched a record high of 1.34 dollar a litre from yesterday's 1.29 dollar a litre. It is usally below a dollar. Interestingly, the retail prices in Canada change almost every day - they are directly linked to international prices and other factors that determine the supply position. Sometimes the price varies from one gas station to another. But never in the recant history the the hike has been in several dollars like this week. Usually the prices would be corrected in cents.

Incidentally, Toronto was much warmer at 31 degrees than I expected. Looks like all the woollens that have lugged from Delhi may not be put to use after all. Still, I intend hunting for Arctic gear in local stores on Monday. It is very difficult to get winter clothing in summer season... the same problem that I faced in Delhi...

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Leaving Delhi on a cool note

It is 4.45 am at the Delhi IGI Airport on Sunday. It is much cooler than expected. The temperature came down appreiably after the morning showers on Saturday. In fact, Saturday evening temperature of Delhi was 28 degrees. My wife who arrived from Shillong told us that she found Delhi climes simialr to what she experienced in Shillong and Guwahati, though nights were much cooler in Shillong. Spoke to my friend in Toronto. He says Toronto too is warming up. The mercury was hovering around a comvortable 21 degrees. It is also getting warm in Inuvik. He told me to cut down on my warm clothing. I would be saving a few dollars by not carrying heavy warm stuff. Domestic airlines - which will carry me forward from Tornto to further North - are charging 10 to 15 dollar for every piece of baggage. Retail oil prices have gone up in Canada too.

And yes, I did not encounter any chaos at IGI. It was all orderely and took usual time for passing through immigation, security etc. Perhaps it was a wise idea to take an early morning flight than a late one. So, leaving Delhi on a hassle-free note.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Reporting from 40 degrees

The temperature in Delhi today is hovering around 40 degrees or so. This, I suppose, is a couple of degrees lower than what it is in the first week of June. The mercury is gradually rising after the wettest May in Delhi's history. In fact, weather has become a major area of public interest in India in the context of the ongoing climate change debate. The number of extreme weather events is indeed on the rise - be it summer, squalls, strong winds, winter chill, fog, smog or rains. Delhi is a good case in point. The mercury this past winter went below zero degree, for the first time in many years. I will perhaps get another chance to experience sub-zero temperatures right in the midst of this summer. Yes, I am looking forward to my visit to the Arctic Ocean this summer, beginning on Sunday. It is going to be a long journey that will take me through continents and oceans - right to the top of the planet! Hope to keep you posted of this exciting journey through this blog.