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A tale of two passages

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This summer, WWF is helping support two expeditions that will take on some of the world’s most difficult waters, to see first-hand the effects of Arctic climate change.

One expedition is sailing across the top of Russia, a journey of 6000 nautical miles through the Northeast Passage, while another is attempting a west to east transit of the Northwest Passage, also by sailing boat, a journey of about 7,000 nautical miles.

WWF Arctic Programme Director Neil Hamilton will be on the ‘Explorer of Sweden’ though the Northeast Passage for much of the trip, replaced near the end by WWF polar bear coordinator Geoff York. On the ‘Silent Sound’ Cameron Dueck of the Open Passage Expedition will be filing regular stories from the Northwest passage.

The expeditions are expecting to see and document evidence of the effects of decreasing ice. Displaced walrus are already dotting the Russian Arctic coast, forced to move to dangerous haul outs on land rather than their preferred ice floes. The little-studied and little-visited Arctic coastline is likely to offer up all manner of surprises.

Come back to this spot for photos and stories throughout the summer, and follow the progress of the boats as they follow in the wake of some of history’s most intrepid explorers.

First blog from the Open Passage Expedition: Ice report

The Canadian Ice Service issued their July ice report last week, and it
shows a faster than normal breakup in many parts of the Arctic even though
temperatures were normal in late June. Some parts are opening up a bit
slower than normal, but from our position aboard the Silent Sound the key
ice choke points in the Western Arctic appear to be opening up well on time.
As we’re attempting a West to East transit, we’re most interested in the
areas around Pt Barrow and the Amundsen Gulf at the moment.

The report says that the breakup for the Western Arctic is running one to
three weeks ahead of schedule in many areas, and as much as a month fast in
isolated regions. Point Barrow, normally a key point holding back traffic
from the Bering Sea, sounds like it is mostly open, so we’re rushing to get
North as we expected we’d have to wait for that.

In Amundsen Gulf the fast ice fractured more than a week early. “A 60 to
100-mile wide area containing very little ice developed along the southern
Beaufort Sea west of Banks Island all the way to just east of Point Barrow,”
the report says. Music to a sailor’s ears, but alarming for those that
depend on the ice platform for spring hunting or migration.

The ice service predicts that the Bering Strait ice pack will remain well
offshore, allowing us easy sailing to Point Barrow. By late July all the ice
will have fractured in the southern route of the Northwest Passage from
western Barrow Strait through Peel Sound, across Victoria Strait, Queen Maud
and Coronation Gulfs. It sounds like it could be another year of clear
sailing for pleasure yachts.

Elsewhere in the Arctic, breakup is about a week behind schedule in Hudson
Bay and about normal in Davis Strait.

The breakup pattern for the west Greenland Coast, Nares Strait, northern
Baffin Bay, eastern Barrow Strait and Cumberland Sound is three to four
weeks ahead of normal with only isolated patches of broken fast ice showing
in those areas. Elsewhere, the breakup pattern is normal.

Find out more about the expeditions

Official site: Northeast Passage 2009

Official site: Open Passage Expedition

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