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People & Culture

New Land Expedition: All about ice

  • May 20, 2013
  • 428 words
  • 2 minutes
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When the explorers took this photo, they believed this cairn had been built by Otto Sverdrup in 1902. They have since learned that the cairn was built by American Robert Peary in 1906.

The New Land 2013 expedition is following the route of Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup across Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. This blog was written by Toby Thorleifsson.

We are now about midway across the big Nansen Sound, and we are camping directly on the sea ice tonight. Let me tell you a little bit about the sea ice we’ve spent so much time on up here.

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The New Land 2013 expedition’s camp.
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Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup’s camp in 1902.

Sea ice can be roughly divided into two types: yearly ice, that is ice from the current winter, and multiyear ice, that is ice that can be anywhere from about two to six, seven or even eight years old. A lot of the ice that we’ve travelled on so far on this trip has been yearly ice, or ice from this year.

In the fjords and sounds of Ellesmere Island, the ice is almost flat like the ice on a lake in the interior in the winter. The multiyear ice, on the other hand, is a lot thicker and a bit wavy. It also has small valleys that are remnants of meltdowns from the year before.

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Multiyear ice appears wavy, rather than flat.

Now, when we’re on the sea ice, obviously we need to drink, and we usually have two options for getting water: one is to collect snow that is in drifts on the ice, and the other is to find old sea ice that we can chop the top layer off of and melt. The old sea ice is beautiful; it’s full of air, and it’s a very effective way for us to get water.

One of the big changes on the polar ocean and in the Arctic over the past 20 years is that the multiyear ice, this old generational sea ice, has been very, very much reduced. So about two-thirds of this old ice has disappeared since around 1980, with obvious consequences.

We are now on our way to Axel Heiberg Island, a Norwegian island. On a side note, John’s beard is getting even longer. We’re all still very happy about that and impressed about the progress. Okay, that’s all from ice today.

This blog was originally published on Read more blog posts from New Land 2013.


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