From July 14 - 28, Erin Gear of North West River participated in the program ‘Students on Ice Arctic Youth Expedition.’ The expedition represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for youth from around the world to expand their knowledge about the circumpolar world, and to gain a new global perspective on the planet, its wonders, and its present and future challenges. It also brings together environmental and civic education, cultural immersion, personal leadership development, and plenty of polar adventure. The following is Erin’s own experience with the program, in her own words.
It's been four weeks since I've returned home from my amazing, unforgettable trip to the Arctic and I'm still finding it hard to digest my feelings and tear my thoughts away from the North, and to return to my “regular” life down here.
Before I left (for my trip), I really didn't know what to expect. I was nervous, but excited at the same time. I had many mixed emotions. I was told it would be “amazing,” “inspiring” and “life changing.” Not one of these words or phrases actually described how powerful this trip has been for me. I really don't think words can describe how this experience changed my perspective on climate change.
Let me take you on my adventure.
While visiting the Torngat National Park in the summer of 2012, I did a photography workshop with a man who visits the Arctic from time to time with a program called “Students on Ice.” I applied and was accepted.
I was walking through the Avalon Mall in St. John’s, when I get this unfamiliar number show up on my cell phone. So I answered.
“Good day, am I speaking with Erin?”
“Yes, this is Erin.”
“This is Shirley from the ‘Students on Ice’ office. I would like to congratulate you on getting accepted for the Students on Ice expedition to the Arctic. I will be contacting you within the next few weeks to get started.”
Through months and months and months of waiting, July 14th finally arrived and Samantha Groves and myself hopped on a plane in Happy-Valley Goose Bay and took off to Ottawa, the gateway city for the expedition. Now you can only imagine how excited we were to get to Ottawa. When we finally arrived, we saw a man holding a sign with ‘Students on Ice.’ I felt so special!
We got our bags, and headed to the Carlton University campus, where we stayed for three days prior to departing for the Arctic.
My amazing trip
We started our journey in Ottawa. We then flew to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and traveled to the Greenlandic towns of Itilleq, Ilulissat and Uummannaq by icebreaker. Next, we sailed across the Davis Strait, visiting Pangnirtung, Kingnait Harbour, Lady Franklin Island, Monumental Island and Iqaluit.
I experienced a lot of “firsts” on this trip.
It was the first time I've ever been that far away from home, and my first time being that far outside of my comfort zone; I saw my first walrus, my first whale (throughout the course of our trip, we saw four whale species); I got to stand near my first glacier, iceberg and ice fjord; and I visited communities in Greenland and Nunavut for the first time.
One of my favourite experiences was our visit to the Greenlandic town of Ilulissat, home to the Jakobshavn Icefjord. While we were there, we were being swarmed by huge amounts of mosquitoes but we hardly took notice of them as we looked at the gigantic icefjord in awe. I was able to stand right next to this icefjord and experience just how massive it is. It was such an amazing feeling! The ice towered above me, making me feel so small.
Massive amounts of ice are spewed out of this fjord and end up in Disko Bay. The expedition leader gave us the chance to ride in zodiac around Disko Bay to see the icebergs up close.
After Ilulissat, we visited Uummannaq, which was probably the most beautiful community I have ever been to. We did many things there on the 250th anniversary of the town, including meeting the Prime Minister of Greenland and participating in the town's anniversary festivities.
One thing that stuck out for me was a conversation I had with a local fisherman. He told me that the people of Uummannaq used to fish on ice that was once thick and strong, but now sometimes the water does not even completely freeze, meaning that the people of Uummannaq cannot fish. Fishing is the main industry in the community and without it, the locals have no means of making an income. For me, this really hammered in just how pressing the issue of climate change really is. Sometimes, those of us living in the south may feel far removed from the issues facing the people of the north, but speaking to this man made me realize that there are people, just like you and I, who are being affected by climate change in devastating ways.
Not only did I spend my two weeks visiting communities in the north, seeing Arctic wildlife and learning about climate change, I also spent those two weeks talking to some of the most passionate youth, scientists, educators and artists I have ever met. I was able to become good friends with incredible people like Geoff Green (Order of Canada recipient and SOI founder); Stephane Dion (former Minister of the Environment and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada), Ian Tamblyn (Canadian Folk Music Award's 2010 English Songwriter of the Year), Daniele Bianchi (oceanographer published in Nature), John Crump (former Executive Director of the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee), Meg Beckel (President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature) and so many other amazing people who I could just sit down with at a meal or during a workshop on the expedition and talk to. My experience in the Arctic wouldn't have been so awesome if it weren't for the wonderful people I was travelling with. I have made friendships that I am sure will last a lifetime.
At the end of our expedition, we flew back to Ottawa for a welcome-home reception at the Canadian Museum of Nature, marking the end of our Arctic adventure.
So what’s next for me? It's only been four weeks and I'm absolutely craving another adventure. It could be anything from a hike to crossing a desert on a camel. I'm currently trying to find more expeditions similar to this one. I love to expand my knowledge of the world and its cultures, and Students on Ice was just the beginning for me.
Students return from learning journey
Two-week trip featured variety of workshops and activities
Myles Dolphin, Northern News Services
August 12, 2013
Two Grise Fiord teenagers recently returned from a once-in-a-lifetime trip that took them to Greenland, Pangnirtung and Iqaluit, among other places.
Grise Fiord resident Jennifer Ningiuk, who participated in the Students on Ice Arctic Youth Expedition this summer, stands on the shoreline in front of a ship in Pangnirtung on July 22. The Grade 10 student said exploring Greenland was her favourite part of the trip with 83 other high school students from around the world. - photo courtesy of Jennifer Ningiuk
Part of the Students on Ice Arctic Youth Expedition 2013, Olaf Christensen and Jennifer Ningiuk travelled with 83 other high school students from around the world for two weeks. The group was joined by scientists, historians, artists and polar bear experts.
The trip allows students to "explore how human and natural systems are inextricably connected and consider how each of us personally relates to the natural world," according to the SOI website.
Ningiuk, a Grade 10 student at Umimmak School, said she really enjoyed the experience of meeting interesting people and getting to see new places.
"Exploring Greenland was my favourite part," she said.
"I met a lot of interesting people and learned about global warming, the environment and other interesting things through workshops that were held. Being on the ship was exciting because I had never been on one before."
Activities also included day-excursions and visits to communities and archeological sites. Among the wildlife spotted by the group were polar bears, walruses, seals and a variety of seabirds.
Christensen, whose hobbies include hunting, fishing and camping, is also a Grade 10 student at Umimmak School.
Umimmak School teacher Tanya Cross, who has had both students in her homeroom class for the past two years, said they're both a pleasure to teach.
"I've enjoyed getting to know them as individuals both inside and outside of school, they're both very outgoing, outspoken and mature," she said.
"They love learning, travelling, and meeting new people, so I was so excited to nominate and recommend these two students for the program.
They both really enjoy science, being outside, and learning about the environment, so I knew that the Students on Ice program would be something that they would really embrace and I knew that the program would provide them with an opportunity that they both deserve and have earned."
Cross said she hopes to nominate more students from Grise Fiord for next year's excursion, which she believes is a wonderful opportunity for students to experience.
Welland teen has trip of lifetime
Vinay Sharma stands on the deck of the Sea Adventurer, sailing through Davis Strait amongst the icebergs during a two-week expedition with Students on Ice in late July.
WELLAND - It was hard to sleep.
The sound of icebergs scrapping against the reinforced hull of the Sea Adventurer kept him awake as the ship sailed through the frigid Arctic waters of the Davis Strait.
Although Vinay Sharma knew the ship was designed to withstand collisions with smaller icebergs, the sound was still unsettling.
But thoughts of the Titanic weren’t the only factor contributing to his insomnia.
The sleepless nights were also the result of the excitement he felt. After all, he was on an adventure of a lifetime.
The 15-year-old Centennial Secondary School student was one of about 130 young people from all over the world chosen to participate in expeditions offered by Students on Ice — a Gatineau, Quebec-based organization that brings students together with leading environmental scientists for educational trips to either the Arctic or Antarctic.
During Sharma’s Arctic expedition, he shared a cabin with students from Norway, Yukon, Nunavat, Washington, D.C. and Greenland, chosen for their “passion for the environment,” he said.
Sharma, who is considering a career working in environmental science, said the expedition gave him an early opportunity to witness firsthand the problems created by rising global temperatures.
“Global warming is happening somewhere. But where do you see it in Welland? You don’t actually see it happening,” he said. “You go (to the Arctic) and see it happening right in front of your eyes.”
He left home July 14 and spent the first three days in the comfort of Ottawa and Gatineau attending briefings about the trip to come while visiting some of the sites in the nation’s capital.
From there, he flew to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and boarded the Sea Adventurer — a 101-metre ship that would be his home until July 28 as it sailed along the coasts of Greenland and Baffin Island.
While sailing along the coast of Greenland near Disko Bay, an inlet a few hundred kilometres north of Kangerlussuaq, the students had their first close-up look at one of many icebergs they’d encounter during the voyage.
“Everyone just ran outside and started taking pictures. They’d never seen icebergs before,” Sharma said, excitement still evident in his voice. “It was really cool to see icebergs. It’s not just a TV screen, it’s right in front of you.”
Sharma and some of the students climbed aboard one of the ship’s small Zodiac boats and sailed out for a closer look — close enough to touch the ancient blue ice.
“The iceberg melt rate is faster than ever now,” Sharma said. “It takes about 30 years for a football field-sized iceberg to melt. It used to take hundreds of years for an iceberg to melt, if it melts at all.”
He also saw 12 polar bears during his trip, including one swimming far out to sea trying to make it to its seal hunting ground on the receding pack ice.
In one community they visited, he said the ice used to freeze four or five metres thick every winter. People in the community relied on that sea ice for fishing, allowing them to earn an income.
“Now the ice doesn’t even freeze,” Sharma added.
And at one point, Sharma and his fellow students did something that would not have been possible a few years ago.
“We went swimming in the Arctic,” Sharma said, referring the dip he took in a frigid pond of melting glacial water. “It was cool.”
A team of scientists, historians, business leaders, and politicians, like former federal Liberal leader Stephane Dione, joined the students during the expedition, leading lectures and workshops about the impact the changing climate is having on the people and wildlife in the seaside communities. The students then travelled to those same communities aboard the Zodiacs.
During one of those lectures, Sharma learned that the average global temperature is now 14 C, two degrees warmer than it used to be.
“If it gets to 17 C, it’ll be really hard to reverse,” he said.
Scientists, Sharma added, believe the world will reach that critical temperature by 2017. World leaders, however, are targeting 2020 as a date to take action and stop the rising global temperature.
“It’ll be too late,” he warned.
Sharma said the warming climate was apparent to him as soon as he walked outside. On most days, he said wearing a sweater or a light jacket was enough to stave off the cold.
“In Iqaluit, on our last day, it was 22 C which was really warm,” he said.
Normally, he said “it’s way colder,” adding the temperature there doesn’t usual rise above 15 C in the summer.
“All the townspeople were talking, the elders especially, about not being able to continue their traditions like hunting. It’s really affecting them,” Sharma said.
Sharma first began working to make the trip a reality in April 2012. It was then that he started raising money to put towards the $10,000 cost of the trip aboard the Sea Adventurer.
He initially hoped to participate in the expedition that summer, but reaching his goal proved harder than he’d hoped.
Sharma’s plans were changed completely a few months later, when he broke his ankle while playing soccer. But recuperating from that injury gave him the time he needed to raise money.
And he continued working to raise the money he needed until almost the last minute.
Rajeev Sharma, Vanay’s father, said his son “was not sure until a week before he left, if he would be able to raise the entire amount or not.”
But his efforts finally paid off, thanks to the generosity of the community, Rajeev added.
The Sharma family has organized an invitation-only event next week to thank the people who pitched in to help make Vinay Sharma’s adventure possible. He is currently preparing a presentation for that event, sharing the knowledge he learned during the expedition.
It was an experience he will never forget. It made him far more sensitive about the impact his own actions can have on the environment.
Sharma said he used to ask his mother for a ride to school everyday, although it’s only a few minutes away from home. He won’t be doing that again.
Vinay Sharma’s itinerary, July 14 to 28
Day 1-3: Ottawa/Gatineau
Day 4: Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to board the Sea Adventurer
Day 5: Itilleq
Day 6: Illulisst
Day 7: Uummannaq
Day 8-9: Crossing the Davis Straight
Day 10: Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island
Day 11: Auyuiyyuq National Park
Day 12: Kingnait Harbour
Day 13: Monumental Island, and Lady Franklin Island
Day 14: Iqaluit
Day 15: Ottawa/Gatineau