I am traveling from Toronto to Ottawa and the train has just started moving. I'm passing a familiar skyline of the CN Tower, downtown, the Don Valley, and hopefully soon I'll see Lake Ontario on my right. I lived in Toronto for 5 years and though I haven't been back often, the scenery remains a home from home.
Ottawa will be all new to me, and I'm glad to have grounded myself in the familiar for my first jet-lagged evening. I will be met by someone from Students On Ice at the train station, and presumably a handful of soon-to-be-friends also arriving on this route. (The heavens have opened, so much for my scenic train journey.)
How do I feel? Excited, apprehensive, confident, intrigued, honoured, calm. I love the feeling before an adventure. That space which occurs after the last minute frenzy and packing of bags, and before the Next Thing on the Agenda. In this case, an IPY Arctic expedition with Students on Ice. But right now is magic time: no-one knows where I am, how to find me, what I'm doing, where I'm going, what I'm thinking. Whatever is in my bags will have to make do, whichever letters never got sent will have to wait until I return home, whatever I shall need to prepare has yet to be finalised. I can float.
I first heard about Students on Ice and their expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic in 2005, on the Isle of South Georgia, as I was returning from Antarctica. Not long after, I wrote to the Executive Director asking for a job. He didn't have one, but we kept in touch. A year after that I started working for IPY, and two more years on, here I am. Not working for them, but with them, as part of the Education Team. I am therefore really looking forward to this — a dream combination of polar regions, education, science, art, and landings. Plus, this being the Arctic rather than Antarctic, a number of students and leaders from northern communities will be joining the trip and we will be learning lots about life in the North. Having spent considerably more time in the Antarctic than the Arctic, this is for me one of the most interesting aspects of the trip... and one of the most important differences between the two Polar Regions.
We spend a lot of time in IPY "raising awareness about the Polar Regions" and can rattle off the key issues as "Melting snow and ice, Global-local linkages, Neighbours in the North, New frontiers of science, and Making science accessible". Each of these can be expanded on in at least a 45 minute lecture, but you get the gist from the catch-phrase. Perhaps we should also be highlighting the differences between the polar regions under each topic — the Arctic is an ocean, has polar bears, has been populated by self-sustaining communities for thousands of years, and is currently experiencing incredibly rapid change in the form of melting sea ice, permafrost, and glaciers that in turn have a huge impact on the local people and ecosystems. The Antarctic is land mostly covered by ice, has penguins, has had small, highly dependent scientific communities living there temporarily for about 50 years, and is currently warming a lot around the peninsula and experiencing many other changes to the physical environment across the continent. 90% of all the world’s ice, and 70% of all the world’s fresh water is locked up in the Antarctic ice sheets and if they melted the world, or at least humans, would experience catastrophic change. Still, the Greenland ice sheet represents one eighth of the Earth’s total ice-mass and, if it were to break up and melt, which it appears to be doing, sea levela would increase by more than seven meters. Plenty of food for thought.
In order to tackle these issues we need to understand the concepts of Change in the Polar Regions, we need to appreciate the implications physically, culturally, economically, and we need to develop ways to both mitigate and adapt. This takes hard work and commitment now, but also will take time. And time means educating, preparing, and equipping the next generation to the absolutely best of our ability to take these ideas further, and beyond our current capacity. It is my understanding that this is the principle at the core of Students on Ice.. so I'm both interested, intrigued, and excited to see what the reality will be like.
What is IPY
Sunday, 03 August 2008 01:51
Into the Arctic with Students On IceWritten by Rhian Salmon
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