Notes from the North

Day 2 — Yellowknife to Gjoa Haven

After a short night in Yellowknife the InMER team prepared for departure to Gjoa Haven. Kyle and Clayton reviewed the weather ahead and gave the green light for departure.

Gjoa Haven is about 600 Nautical Miles to the North East from Yellowknife, about a 3.5 hour flight.

After take off we climbed to our cruising altitude of 20,000 feet. A cloud layer at 8000 feet kept the view of Boreal forest and emerging tundra from view.

We crossed the Arctic Circle at 66 degrees 30 minute North,the land of the great bear, Arctos, the Arctic. InMER 2007 expedition had entered the land of the midnight sun.

The Arctic is defined in many ways, but for us, crossing the Arctic Circle was it. The Arctic Circle is defined as the place farthest south of the North Pole, where you have continuous daylight on the date of the summer solstice. On the summer solstice there is 24 hours of sunlight at 66.5 degrees north. Any further south of this latitude the sun would dip below the horizon (set) at some point. Of course the further North you go, the more days of continuous sun.

Following the footsteps of Amundsen
One hundred a two years ago, on August 13th, Roald Amundsen departed Gjoa Haven. He has been conducting scientific observations on locating the earth magnetic north pole for 18 months in Gjoa Haven. His expedition had both an important social quest, to be the first to sail the entire Northwest Passage. It also had an important science mission of taking magnetic measurements and determining the location of the Magnetic North Pole. His scientific observation did in fact determine that the Magnetic pole drifts. This was an important scientific discovery.

Amazingly 102 years Amundsen was in these waters about to make history. As we emerged from the clouds, I could see Simpson Strait, the Passage between King William Island and the Adelaide Peninsula. This is the very strait that he sailed, through guided by his Inuit friends. As we emerged from the clouds and saw the passage it was immediately clear that the passage was ice free. In fact as far as we could see, west towards Queen Maud Gulf and East towards Rasmussen Basin, no ice. Could we be seeing the realty of a changing planet so dramatically?

After researching the history of the search and eventually successful transit of the Northwest Passage and the profound effects of global warming on the arctic and the rest of the planet my emotions were quite high to arrive in Gjoa Have. To walk the beaches of Gjoa Haven, to gaze at the bay where Amundsen Ship Gjoa was anchored, to meet the people of Gjoa Haven, was profound. What an amazing difference in only 102 years. In many ways this is hallowed ground for all of those who seek the unknown; those who strive to learn and grow with respect for land, sea and the people. Amundsen learned patience here it Gjoa Haven. He learned that in the Arctic, it was the Inuit who were the superior race. He learned to listen and trust those who very lives were intimately connected to an understanding of their natural world. Where other tried, failed and died, Amundsen flourished. It is this spirit we need to channel to take on the issue of global warming. We need to respect the land and sea upon which we depend, we need to live in balance and like his Inuit friends who taught how to succeed in their home, and we needed to connect our human, social world to the natural world.