The demise of an entire ocean is almost too enormous to grasp, but as the expedition sails deeper into the Arctic, the colossal processes of breakdown are increasingly evident.
The first fragment of ice appears off the starboard bow a few miles before the 79th parallel in the Fram strait, which lies between Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The solitary floe is soon followed by another, then another, then clusters, then swarms, then entire fields of white crazy paving that stretch to the horizon.
From deck level it is a stunning sight. But from high above, drones and helicopters capture the bigger, more alarming picture: a slow-motion blast pattern of frozen shrapnel radiating from the high Arctic southwards through this strait, which is the interchange of 80% of the water between the ice cap and the world’s oceans.
This is where ice floes come to die, and the cemetery is filling faster each year, according to the leader of this scientific expedition, Till Wagner, of the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). One of the objectives of the expedition is to investigate why the collapse of Arctic ice is happening faster than climate computer models predict and to understand what this augurs for the rest of the planet. [Continue reading…]