What might be considered Arctic Kingdom's favourite day of the year occurs in one week: International Polar Bear Day. Polar Bears are truly international as they are circumpolar - found everywhere in the Arctic. Did you know they are protected by an international agreement - The International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat.
The Polar Bear Administrative Committee (PBAC) is the Canadian organization that coordinates the efforts of provincial, territorial and federal governments to do their part to protect the marine mammals. Canadians play an important part in the protection of polar bears, 60% of the world's population of polar bears inhabit the Canadian Arctic.
The Province of Manitoba, a member of the PBAC, has established an International Polar Bear Conservation Centre in Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg. Polar bear husbandry - the care and health of polar bears - is researched at the centre. The facility is also a transition centre for orphaned or injured polar bear cubs.
You can mark International Polar Bear Day by donating to organizations that work to protect polar bears or by making a change in your life style. Leave a smaller carbon footprint. Reduce, reuse and recycle. Take a refillable mug to your favourite copy shop. Teach your kids the importance of environmental responsibility.
We contribute to the protection of polar bears through education. No matter which of our polar bear trips a traveller chooses, he or she will return home with a better understanding of the impact that their daily lives have on the habitat of polar bears. Education is essential for conservation.
More encouraging news for conservation and scientific interest in the arctic areas, Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D, administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere announced the NOAA's strategy to focus on scientific and stewardship efforts beginning now through 2017. This declaration came as part of a keystone address given to the Aspen Institute in Washington.
This is terrific news! President Obama has set aside 187,000 square miles in Alaska as a "critical habitat" for polar bears. The total area, which includes large areas of sea ice, is about 13,000 square miles, or 8.3 million acres. This action could have long reaching consequences towards limiting future offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. Increasingly, oil companies have been putting pressure on governments to open up arctic areas for drilling, actions heavily contested by conservationists.
Tom Strickland, assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks at the Interior Department, as quoted by the Washington Post -
A number of US Senators have been pushing for this kind of protection for some time, it's encouraging to see the government taking significant action towards Polar Bear conservation.
Polar Bears in Hudson Bay
Interested in traveling to see the Polar Bears yourself? Learn more about the Arctic Kingdom travel experience with our webinar archive, and read up on our upcoming adventures. You can also check out Polar Bears International for more information on the animals, current conservation efforts, and ways you can directly aid their efforts.
A team of three British explorers described as 'the world's toughest' reached the North Geographic Pole today ending a gruelling 60 day scientific survey across the floating sea ice of the Arctic Ocean.
The Catlin Arctic Survey’s headquarters in London was contacted at 2050 hours (BST) by team leader Ann Daniels and her colleagues Martin Hartley and Charlie Paton to say they had completed their survey work as they reached the Pole.
The team has been collecting water and marine life samples from beneath the floating sea ice as part of the expedition's leading edge science programme which is assessing the impact of CO² absorbtion on the ocean and its marine life – a process known as ocean acidification.
At the North Pole, the taking some final samples took priority over celebration.
"We called it our Hole at the Pole" said Ann Daniels. "Getting the science work done has always been our top priority, but it is absolutely fantastic to reach the Pole as well. We’re ecstatic."
Speaking from Catlin Arctic Survey's headquarters in London, the Survey Director and explorer Pen Hadow described the team's achievement as extraordinary. "It's not possible to imagine what this team has had to do to pull off this extreme survey. I consider them to be the world’s toughest to have done this. Together they’re the face of modern exploration helping to advance the understanding of scientists and the public alike about how the natural world works."
The three explorers have travelled over 483 miles (777 kilometres) since March 14th but to reach the Pole have had to increase the amount of trekking time each day. They made it with only hours to spare before a Twin Otter plane was scheduled to land on the ice to collect them.
Commenting on the harsh conditions Ann Daniels said: "It has been an unbelievably hard journey over the ice. Conditions have been unusually tough and at times very frustrating with a frequent southerly drift pushing us backwards every time we camped for the night. On top of that we’ve had to battle into head-winds and swim across large areas of dangerously thin ice and open water."
Congratulations to the team on making this extraordinary journey!
Sadly, we missed the world premiere of Vincent Ho's Arctic Symphony. The good news is, it's available online! Here's what the Winnipeg Free Press had to say about the piece, which debuted February 6th with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra:
The Arctic Symphony is a mature and atmospheric work that firmly establishes Ho among North American composers of note. It is a beautifully thought-provoking way to promote the message of climate change.
To write the piece, Ho traveled to the Canadian Arctic aboard a research vessel as an 'Artist on Board' through the Circumpolar Flaw Lead System Study. Ho recalls,
“I was taken on board a state-of-the-art research vessel, the CCGS Amundsen, where I was introduced to studies conducted by many of the world’s leading arctic research scientists. I was also taken to Inuit communities to learn about their culture and how the current state of the environment has impacted their way of life. The goal was to provide me with first-hand experience of the Northern region while gaining a better understanding of climate change (from both the scientific and the cultural perspective) so it may inspire the composing of a large-scale symphonic work. During my limited time there, I spent my days and nights observing the landscape. Though the information given to me from the scientists and local Inuit communities was invaluable in broadening my perspective, I ultimately felt that the musical work had to be my own interpretation of the region. Writing it from any other perspective (let it be from the scientists’ or Inuit point of view) would be creatively disingenuous and unrepresentative of my connection to the North. As well, I found myself developing a spiritual connection with the environment, and for good reason: I was in a vast open area; I was constantly being subjected to the environmental conditions of the region; and I was continually surrounded by nature’s angelic beauty, untouched by utilitarian society. I therefore felt that the music needed to express this spiritual connection that had formed.”
The State of the Arctic Conference is meeting this week, March 16 - 19th, at the Hyatt Regency in Miami, FL. Convened "to review our understanding of the arctic system in a time of rapid environmental change," the conference will include presentations and discussions featuring Arctic experts from around the globe.
A collaboration between the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) and the Arctic System Science (ARCSS) Program communities, the National Science Foundation Division of Arctic Sciences, and several other sponsors and partners from around the globe, the conference seeks to provide a forum for creating a better understanding of the current state of the Arctic, as well as a more complete understanding of the changes taking place in the Arctic today. It also hopes to "translate research into solutions," connecting researchers with funding, and exploring solutions to the problems created by climate change.
I'm looking forward to reading about (and hopefully finding some online video of) the talks that come out of the conference -- it looks like a historical lineup!
Last week, I posted a link to an article about Ann Daniels, one of the Arctic explorers heading to the North Pole as part of the Catlin Arctic Survey.
In this week's Guardian, John Crace looks into the training Daniels and her fellow expedition members Martin Hartley and Charlie Paton endure before they can tackle the pole. Crace paints a vivid picture:
Six am on a sub-zero morning in Devon. A five-mile run in the dark, ending in a couple of hill sprints. Breakfast. Circuit training in the barn; beyond any pain threshold to physical exhaustion. Lunch. Ninety minutes dragging weighted tyres up and down a 1:6 hill. The only upside is that the mud has frozen over. It's mindless, repetitive, punishing effort, not improved by an ex-marine shouting in your ear. Tea. A three-mile run, followed by more circuits. Die
The article also creates a nuanced and detailed portrait of the explorers. As I was reading, I was struck by how normal -- and simultaneously how extraordinary -- the explorers are. Everyday people, not superhuman, not Olympic athletes, aging (45 now, for God's sake," as Daniels readily admits), they tackle the pole, year after year, gathering data and working to mitigate climate change. Everyday heroes, exploring the Arctic.
Trial by ice – what it takes to be an Arctic explorer | Environment | The Guardian.
The jawbone of a fully grown male polar bear, believed to be somewhere between 110,000 and 130,000 years old, is giving scientists a rare glimpse into polar bear evolution.
Polar Bears: Younger than they look
DNA from the jawbone, which was discovered in Svalbard by researcher Olafur Ingolfsson of the University of Iceland in 2004, shows that polar bears are a relatively young species, having split from brown bears approximately 150,000 years ago and evolved rapidly during the climate changes that took place during the late Pleistocene. As Ingolfsson notes, in an email quoted on the New York Times' Dot Earth blog,
I think our find shows that polar bears have been around for a while, and they probably have survived situations in the past where the Arctic was warmer and there was less seasonal sea ice than today. . .
I want to stress that we should be concerned about the polar bears’ future. There are other risks out there, mainly from chemical pollution of the Arctic (heavy metals, pcbs, etc). Also, increased traffic (oil tankers) when/if ship lanes open up across the Arctic Ocean could constitute a major threat.
An Arctic Kingdom Diver Enjoys a Relatively Warm Summer Swim
Today on CNN, there's an article up about Ann Daniels, a widely respected polar explorer (and British mother-of-four) who is embarking this week on a 500-kilometer trek up the Canadian sea ice toward the North Pole, part of the 2010 Catlin Arctic Survey.
On the way, Daniels and her team will be taking water samples and other field data on the changing Arctic climate, providing raw data for scientists studying the state of the Arctic today. This year's survey will focus on ocean acidification as increasing levels of carbon dioxide are absorbed from the atmosphere.
Another side affect of climate change is an decrease in sea ice, and a corresponding increase in the amount of swimming Daniels and her team will have to do -- through cold, dark water. And swimming in the Arctic winter sea, Daniels notes, is no easy task. Along with the cold, there's the psychological element to swimming in the winter dark:
"Nothing from under the sea is going to jump up and eat you. But as a human being there's that feeling of, 'what is under here? It's pitch black and anything can get me.' Mentally you start imagining all kinds of things in the water," she said from her home in Devon, southwest England.
Daniels notes that, in the 13 years since she started making regular trips to the pole, the amount of swimming has increased.
The first time I swam was in 2002 and steadily we've had to swim more and more as the years go on, and we're certainly expecting this year to do an awful lot of swimming. We've got a flotation device to go around the sledge as well because we're expecting more water than ever before."
I just got back from Vancouver, a city abuzz with talk next month's winter Olympics (and the hopes that it will snow in time and spring will stop its early springing!). On my way home, I opened up my in-flight magazine to find this interesting article on the climate change research currently going on in Svalbard, Norway's high arctic archipelago.
The article details some of the research going on in Svalbard.
For this Arctic outpost, all the science is about looking ahead. After a century wresting coal from its stratified geology, near-pristine Svalbard is seeing a new light at the end of the mineshaft. Old reptile knuckles form part of that vision. Sure, commercial mining is still the breadwinner for the islands’ 2,100 inhabitants, and Longyearbyen, the archipelago’s “capital,” is heated with coal scooped out from Mine 7 at the end of the road just east of town. But scientific sleuthing (like fossil hunts, research into CO2 capture and storage and university courses in polar ecology) accounts for an ever-larger chunk of Svalbard’s revamped economy, along with welcoming tourists hoping to immortalize a member of the 3,000-strong polar bear family. Longyearbyen made front-page news two years ago when the Svalbard Global Seed Vaultswung open its brushed steel door to 4.5 million food-crop seed samples. And in September, Ny-Ålesund, an international research base some 100 kilometres northwest of Longyearbyen, stole the spotlight when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dropped in to see the effects of climate change and to hear from the climate detectives working there. With all this science, Svalbard is a living lab.
The Arctic is home to some cutting-edge science, particularly on the subject of climate change. In Svalbard, some researchers are even exploring the possibility of preserving the Arctic utilizing ice-making bacteria, which can create ice at temperatures slightly above freezing. Here, in one the areas most threatened by global warming, scientists are working towards solutions that could salvage not only the Arctic, but the global climate at large. Writer Susan Nerberg explains:
When we reach the atmospheric research station close to the summit, the microbiologists from the University of East London check their equipment: a vacuum cleaner and a strip of tape mounted to capture airborne particles that might contain ice-making bacteria. “Pure water doesn’t freeze until the temperature drops to -36.5ºC,” says Moffett. (I wonder if my old science teacher knows that.) “But some micro-organisms can produce ice at temperatures as high as -1ºC.” While this discovery is already used to create artificial snow and to preserve food, the two scientists’ main interest is the potential for weather modification. The idea is that you sprinkle bacterial protein (not live bacteria) into the air, creating ice crystals and, subsequently, clouds and rain. As Henderson-Begg explains it, “Clouds high in the atmosphere trap solar radiation, warming the planet. Low clouds reflect solar heat, keeping the planet cool. If we could modify clouds, we could prevent global warming.”
The next day, I head out with University of Sheffield plant ecologist Gareth Phoenix to collect moss campion. We hike across a delta created by glacial runoff, hopping from stone to stone in a futile attempt not to dunk our feet, until we reach a spot where the wildflower grows. The moss campion and other plants, like the polar willow, which reaches a grand height of three centimetres, will shed light on how the Arctic copes with pollution carried here from Europe. On our way back, a chubby Svalbard reindeer jogging across the moraine makes me think about the potential of the sci-fi ice bugs. It’s almost as if Phoenix had read my mind. “Svalbard is so spectacular, it makes you feel really insignificant as a human being and even more desperate to protect such a place,” he tells me. “Planet Earth has only one Arctic. It would be nice to keep it as it is.”