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Final Journal Entry

We arrived back in Kirkenes on Friday ahead of schedule. While many of the scientists stayed to help unload gear from the ship, the rest of us loaded our luggage into a giant taxi van and trailer and went to our various hotels. After checking in at the hotel, Timo and I hiked to the tundra above town to see how much had changed during the month we were gone.

Tundra rock and red plantsAs we hiked, we could see that fall had arrived in Norway during our absence. The hillsides were ablaze in the yellow of autumn birch and the tundra was spectacular in the late afternoon sun, with shades of gold, scarlet red, green and yellow. Timo and I spent hours walking and gazing at the endless scenery of rolling tundra, color and rocks. We sometimes kneeled to get closer looks at the intricate details of the rocks and low-growing plants. We were joined only by flocks of birds that were eating the abundant blueberries, an Arctic Hare and an occasional hiker. The time I spent enjoying the beauty of the landscape with my friend was the perfect way to conclude my experience.

Back at the hotel, I sat and thought about how to summarize the expedition. What could I say to help everyone understand how different the Arctic Ocean is and why we should care about what is happening there? How could I adequately relay the difficulty of doing research in such a distant and harsh environment, the importance of international cooperation to this research and the dedication of the people involved? As I composed my thoughts, I realized that all I can do is share my images, experiences and impressions and hope that these are eloquent enough to characterize the amazing people and landscape it has been my fortune to discover.

The expedition’s scientific and educational goals could not have been met without the dedication, skill and enthusiasm of everyone onboard. From Doug, Rob and Ian recovering moorings at all hours in unbelievably cold conditions to the CTD rosette team collecting literally hundreds of water samples from depths of over 2,000 meters, the hard work of conducting research was performed efficiently and without fail. To give everyone a framework of why the expedition’s research was important, scientists such as Peter and Martin explained the complexities of the Arctic ecosystem and offered profound thoughts on what we may be doing to our planet. Even the Kapitan Dranitsyn’s crew found time in their own busy schedules to help the scientists accomplish work on a ship not designed specifically to accommodate research activities.

Scattered throughout the seemingly endless hours of scientific chores were the happenings of daily life — meals, laundry and notes from home. Things that I associated with life back in North Carolina such as laughter at meal time and movie nights blended well with the unusual such as hearing three different languages at breakfast and going to a barbecue party on the helicopter pad. After spending hours on deck with fellow nature watchers marveling over the harshness and beauty of the Arctic environment, it was always a bit odd to return to the comfort and relative luxury of the ship — we certainly did not encounter the hardships that early explorers had to endure.

ice boulders at sunsetAlthough I will always remember the people I met and the research I witnessed, the ice is what I will recall with the most fascination. For days the ice held me spellbound as I watched lightning bolt cracks speed ahead of the icebreaker’s bow. I never tired of the humbling silence of the ice at ice stations or of the different sounds the ice made as it crushed against itself or against the metal of the ship. It was the ice that caught any hint of light and made that light dazzling. (A phenomenon that I would not have been able to capture on “film” had it not been for Art’s generosity in loaning me his camera after mine died a few days into the trip.)

In his classic prose on the Far North, “Arctic Dreams,” Barry Lopez provides an eloquent summary of the significance of sea ice to the entire Arctic ecosystem:

It is the ice that holds this life together. For ice-associated seals, vulnerable on a beach, it is a place offshore to rest, directly over their feeding grounds. It shelters Arctic cod from hunting sea birds and herds of narwhals, and it shelters the narwhal from the predatory orca. It is the bears’ highway over the sea. And it gives me a place to stand on the ocean, and wonder.

The ice has given me a place to wonder as well. To wonder how these creatures I have seen survive in the harshness of winter. To wonder what being in a place so different, so vast, does to our notion of landscape and our connection to it. And to wonder if the Arctic ice is indeed the canary in the mine, and whether our lifestyles and policies will irreparably alter this incredible natural treasure with unknown consequences for us all.

—Mike Dunn

 

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Kapitan Dranitsyn