Environmental Statement

High Arctic Climate Change
A Personal Experience

For more than half of my life, I have spent significant periods of time in the Canadian High Arctic and trekking on the Arctic Ocean to the North Pole. More specifically, between 1986 and 2010, I spent more than 600 days and nights on the Arctic Ocean while trekking to the Pole. In 2000, we purchased a wildlife-viewing lodge called Arctic Watch located on Somerset Island in Nunavut. I have since spent every summer at Arctic Watch.

Climate change is very apparent at the top of the world. The ice on the Arctic Ocean is now generally three to eight feet thick. While trekking towards the North Pole in 1908, Fredrick Cook described the ice to be fifteen (first year ice) to fifty feet thick. During the last five years, I have trekked three times to the North Pole from Canada. Each time, there is less and less old ice and more new ice. In the 1980s and 1990s the ice near Ward Hunt Island and the coast of Ellesmere Island was broken and shattered. There were no flat areas for the first several miles – Ice was piled three and four stories high. The last two times that I have left the northern Canadian coast, we simply started walking or skiing. There was a bit of rubble, but nothing like fifteen to twenty years ago. As one travels out on to the ocean, the ice is now much flatter. Today, the polar traveller will seldom encounter a high ridge.

As the ice gets thinner, it also drifts more easily and more rapidly. In 2007, for the first time ever, after twelve hours of walking north, we made minus one and a half miles! In three days, we drifted about thirty nautical miles (roughly 60 km) south. This past season, on one occasion, we ended up on an ice island drifting loose on the ocean!

In recent years, the weather has been generally much warmer and there has been more bad weather. In the 1960s, the temperature was in the -40Cs until the end of April. In the 1980s and 1990s one could expect -60C until mid-March and temperatures well into the -40s through the first week of April. Today, super cold lasts about one week, it is no longer -40C by the third week of March. By mid-April the temperature can be -25C!

In this era of climate change it seems that the North Pole traveller can expect:

  • Thinner ice
  • Big areas of rubble ice, less open pans
  • Soft snow
  • More severe weather, i.e., sometimes warmer temperatures, higher winds (more drift), whiteouts
  • More open water earlier in the season
  • More bad weather in April

Even in the High Arctic the changes are apparent. During our first summers at Arctic Watch, we wore long underwear all summer. To work we needed insulated “winter” work gloves. Yesterday I went for a run wearing shorts and no shirt. Our clients sometimes swim in the river! In 2009, we had sparrows and sand hill cranes on Somerset Island. These are “southern” birds that are not supposed to be in the High Arctic; they’re nearly 2,000 km “too far” north. A scientist who studied the beluga whales at Arctic Watch for almost thirty years, told me that the whales always arrive between the 10th and the 18th of July. In reality, the whales arrive as soon as the ice melts enough to permit them to get to Arctic Watch. A couple of years ago they arrived on July 8. In 2010, they arrived on July 3rd.

At Arctic Watch, there has never been any biting insects. Last summer, for the first time, we experienced two days with mosquitoes. Birds can be blown off course and get lost, but insects cannot survive unless the environment and the climate is right.

Years ago, the ice between Arctic Watch and the community of Resolute Bay would freeze four to six feet thick. People used to drive D8 bulldozers, pulling trains of supplies to the mines. For the last two winters, there has been no ice between Somerset Island and Resolute Bay.

You can argue about the causes of climate change, but if you spend any time at the ends of the world, it is clear that the climate of the North is rapidly changing.

Richard Weber
Polar Adventurer

Products

Featured Video

South Pole Kite Launch View More Videos »
Close

Arctic Watch is a Nunavut 5-star resort, located 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle. A world-class beluga whale observation site, Arctic Watch offers access to hiking, kayaking and more. You don’t have to be an experienced explorer to go on this Arctic adventure – Find out for yourself and book now for the trip of a lifetime.

Arctic Adventures

Set against the vast and incredibly beautiful Arctic tundra, your Arctic Watch adventure offers an unexpected range of activities. You can participate in as much or as little as you wish- It’s your adventure.

Whale Watching

The congregation of beluga whales at Cunningham Inlet is a unique natural phenomena. Nowhere in the world do so many whales, gather so consistently, every year, where they can be observed, so easily by humans. It is a unique whale watching experience!

The Experience of a Lifetime
Let’s be friends