Saturday, August 22, 2009

On Board the Arctic Sunrise off the coast of Greenland

The Arctic Sunrise! From the six seater Air Greenland helicopter I saw the ship at the Tasiilaq harbour on the east coast of Greenland. I had flown from New Delhi to Helsinki (Finland) then to Reyjkavik (Iceland) and then another two hours across the Atlantic Ocean to Greenland's Kulusuk airport.
From Kulusuk I took the Air Greenland helicopter to Tasiilaq....flew almost 9,000 kilometres for one and a half days across multiple time zones. Finally I saw the Greenpeace ship. I was tired and sleepy so far but not any more. The ship is to be my home for the next one week as we move along Greenland's east coast...with several scientists on board trying to gauge the extent of damage to the arctic ice sheet, to try and find out why the glaciers are melting so fast and to calculate the extent of rise in sea level.
There is hectic activity on board the ship. Marine biologists, oceanologists, glaciologist are all on board checking and re checking their instruments and equipment. The five seater Greenpeace helicopter stands majestically on the deck - the pilot going through the drill with the ship's crew. I find my bunk not far from the mess (dining hall) and rush back to the deck.
Tasillaq on Greenland's east coast is a sleepy little village. 1,800 residents, colourful houses and a small pizzaria. They flock to see the Greenpeace ship and the sudden flurry of activity. Some reports describe Tasillaq as the last village before North pole. Residents say there are a couple of other villagers up north but this is the last big one with a school, church and a sizable habitation.
The water is icy. There are many ice bergs in the ocean - some small and some very big. they are pretty but very scary. Scientists are alarmed by the sheer number and size of ice bergs floating in these waters. This is a sign that the glacier is not only melting and fast but also that it is calving - chunks of ice falling into the ocean. Why is it so alarming ? Well imagine Gin and tonic in a glass. Add a couple of ice cubes. What happens ? The volume increases. And that is exactly what is happening. Large chunks of ice are falling into the water....the water level in the oceans and seas is rising and eating into the land from New York to Sydney and from Mumbai to the Sundarbans on India's east coast.
So what is happening and will happen in the years to come is that the sea will eat more and more into the land. And scientists say land under cultivation and land we live on will be devoured by the sea resulting in large scale migration of people from these areas to safer areas - from Bangladesh to India - and this will led to violence and tension. Greenpeace warns climate change will become an international security issue from an environment issue if we do not wake up and now.
At the crack of dawn we set sail from the Tasiilaq harbour to the Sermalik Fjord. It is a five hour long journey across difficult waters. The captain and the crew navigate through hundreds - literally hundreds of ice bergs of all shapes and sizes. The Arctic Sunrise has no keel - so that it can navigate through ice better and faster. But this also mans that the ship pitches and rolls much more than other ships. Early in the morning I am a little sea sick but a little fresh air and a sea sick pill later I feel much better. thankfully I have not thrown least not yet.
The clothes I brought from India with me are woefully inadequate for the Arctic weather conditions and despite of multi layered thermal clothing, sweaters, jackets and headgear I am cold. The crew immediately take care of that . Moments later I am 'kitted up' in Arctic clothing and work begins. ... (more to follow in the next blog)

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