Just over a week after returning from the incredible journey that was the Students on Ice 2015 Arctic Expedition, it’s still difficult to fully process what I’ve experienced. While I’ve always cared deeply for the environment, especially in the polar regions, there’s an understanding and appreciation for these areas that only truly be gained through hands-on experience. Through this expedition I had the opportunity to make the Arctic personal to me through nature and culture.
On the expedition we saw many examples of Arctic flora and fauna as well as many important abiotic factors. In Ilulissat, Greenland we visited the Jakobshavn Glacier, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To reach out and touch the edge of a glacier bigger than I could ever conceive was an unbelievable experience. We learned soon after that in the past few years the glacier has been retreating at increasing rates, making it one of the most rapidly shrinking glaciers in the world, a terrifying fact considering that it alone contributed 1 mm of sea level rise between 2000 and 2011.
Another nature experience that will stick with me forever was the morning when we made a slight diversion from our route to follow some fin whales. We stood on the deck watching birds flying over us, the land to our right, an iceberg collapsing and whale tales emerging. The beautiful chaos of all of this occurring at once was a humbling reminder of the powerful forces of nature and how small humans are, or should be, in a balanced ecosystem.
Throughout our journey, we had many cultural immersions, however two in particular stood out for me. When we landed in Uummannaq we were greeted by a large group from the community, many wearing traditional clothing, welcoming us to their town and handing out flags. They then brought us up to a local church where a community choir performed music for us in Greenlandic. After this beautiful performance, we were brought to a school where the students involved in the music program performed as a string orchestra and then showcased an amazing selection of traditional Greenlandic songs featuring with drums and dancing. The few hours we spent in the town were incredibly moving. To be in a place so proud of its traditions and heritage really made me appreciate the human beauty of the Arctic as well as the natural beauty.
A few days later, we arrived in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. The community welcomed us with a tour of their beautiful town and an amazing cultural show of traditional games, stories and music. A number of community members then joined us on the ship for the next day. Throughout their time on the ship they shared so much of their culture and history in so many different ways. We were then lucky enough to visit Sirmilik National Park with the residents of Pond Inlet, who hosted an afternoon of cultural workshop including storytelling, drumming and throat singing. The exchange with Pond Inlet was so special that it’s difficult to really describe. It’s was an experience that I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.
These experience are only the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) of what was a life-changing two weeks for me. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have experienced the nature and the culture of what I believe is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and to have learned about the issues that this environment and it’s residents face from the incredible staff and students of Students on Ice.
– Daniel Browne