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Sea ice stories

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Students on Ice, checking out ice. Photo: Sue Novotny / WWFStudents on Ice, checking out ice. Photo: Sue Novotny / WWF

WWF was part of a “Students on Ice” expedition from Arctic Canada to Greenland, both sponsoring students, and helping give the students useful skills. WWF staff member Sue Novotny is blogging from the expedition.

While talking with the students about climate change and the future of sea ice, I asked them to raise their hands if they saw sea ice for the first time on this expedition. Over half of the 85  students were new to sea ice, and to the Arctic.

Along with them, I saw sea ice for the first time last week – hundreds of bergy bits at dusk. We’ve since encountered much more ice, from enormous icebergs to calving glaciers to a thin stip of fast ice under the water at high tide, seeming to glow like a modern art installation.

Then I asked who lived in a place where the sea freezes up every winter – 25 more hands. These students from northern Canada and Greenland shared their stories about life with sea ice.

One student said it’s a difficult time to be away from home, because it’s when his family goes out to the floe edge to hunt.

Another talked about jumping a snowmobile across cracks in the ice during the summer breakup. (I asked if this was dangerous. The answer: it’s fun!)

And another said moving his snowmobile from the ice onto the land is a sign that spring is coming.

Sea ice is clearly part of life and full of life. And viewed from satellites over time, it almost looks like a living thing.

This video elicited some gasps from the audience. Within their lifetimes, both the extent of the ice and the amount of multi-year ice has shrunk dramatically. What ice is left is pushed by prevailing currents to northern Greenland and Canada – the “Last Ice Area“. Ice models project that this will be the only place sea ice remains in the summer by 2040.

Many of these students will go on to be scientists, advocates, and leaders in Greenland and Canada. They’ll be making decisions on the Arctic’s future. If they want to focus on regions that will be important to the Arctic in the decades to come and beyond, the Last Ice Area is a good place to start.

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