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Northeast Passage: The arctic marine ecosystem

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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.

Tom Arnbom of Sweden was on the ‘Explorer of Sweden’ though the Northeast Passage, as was WWF Arctic Programme Director Neil Hamilton 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 is filing regular stories from the Northwest passage. Come back 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.

By Geoff York

Days are flying by and the nights seem nonexistent as my sleep is now
partitioned to mid-morning and early evening bouts. The seas have picked up
a bit and my berth is in the bow, so any motion is exaggerated. Despite
growing up in the middle of America, I find myself quite comfortable at sea
and I sleep extremely well.

Anders and I relieve Ola and Victor and assume the watch with a fresh pot of
hot water for our morning cocoa and tea. It is just dark as we take the
wheel, though it does not last long. With each day drawing us further to the
East, we gain daylight. As the sun breaks the horizon, it looks like it
should be a spectacular day with the first clear skies in many days of
travel. The winds have also picked up nicely and swung to the southeast.

We are once again in open water, with no land or ice visible an all
directions. The crew has also remarked at the absence of marine mammals or
birds for much of their trip, except when in our near sea ice. One of the
telltale signs of nearby ice, despite dropping water temperatures, has been
the presence of seabirds. There is a reason for this beyond chance

The arctic sea ice, along with being responsible for cooling the planet and
moderating global weather, is also the basis, the substrate, for the arctic
marine ecosystem. It is on the underside of the ice that a thriving
community exists, out of our sight. Algae and phytoplankton grow on the ice
like an inverted garden. Zooplankton thrives on this growth and is in turn
preyed upon by arctic cod. Ringed seal and sea birds chase after the fish
and polar bears complete the chain. So the sea ice is much more than a
simple platform and losing it will have profound implications beyond just
wildlife sightings.

Hannibal and Per Magnus stir below and Anders decides it is time to set the
sails. I am assigned the Genoa and we are soon quietly heeled to port and
cruising along at 8 knots. Time for me to get some rest. We should make our
next destination by dinner time tonight: Bear Island.

I awake to the sound of the engine and a bumpy ride. The winds have swung
around from the east and are now on the bow. Seas are mixed and 3-5 feet
with chop. I feel badly for those trying to sleep now!

At the close of our afternoon watch we have an island in sight and plan to
anchor in the lee for dinner. Our next planned landing will be the town of

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