Polar bears, icebergs highlight Arctic trip

NANAIMO: Student's trip to Arctic this summer an eye opening experience

Polar bears, icebergs and the effects of climate change on the Arctic are three things that will stand out in Isabella Thorsteinsdottir’s memories from a trip to Nunavut and Greenland last month.

The Grade 11 Dover Bay Secondary School student was one of about 80 students aged 14-18 from around the world selected to participate in the ship-based journey July 29-Aug. 13 alongside more than 30 scientists, historians, artists, explorers, educators, leaders, innovators and polar experts.

The expedition, organized by Students On Ice, took the students on a ship journey along the east coast of Baffin Island and to the west side of Greenland.

“The most memorable thing would be the ice – it dominated the whole landscape,” said Thorsteinsdottir. “And each bit of it was so different. Some of it was the deepest blues you could ever imagine. Some of it was like crystal almost.”

While the Nanaimo student is originally from Iceland, this is the first time she’s ever seen ice on that scale, especially the icebergs the ship passed, some of which towered above them.

But even though there was lots of ice around, Thorsteinsdottir learned from educators and Inuit villagers how there is less of it in the Arctic now than in the recent past.

The boat went into some fjords in Greenland and Baffin Island that educators told the students were completely inaccessible not too long ago because they were so packed with ice.

“We could see marks on the mountains where the ice used to be,” said Thorsteinsdottir.

During a visit to a 500-person Inuit village on Baffin Island, she learned that the ice they hunt on is getting thinner and in places can be extremely dangerous to go onto.

Thorsteinsdottir said it is one thing to listen to people talk about climate change here in Nanaimo, but quite another to hear about it in the Arctic.

“They’re actually experiencing it and living it,” she said. “It provided me and so many others with a greater understanding and deeper respect for our planet. I’m going to really use what I learned to shape how I want to live my life. I really want to try to make a positive effect on my fellow classmates, maybe spark some interest in what I learned.”

Her activism will include a presentation to the Dover Bay Eco Club, of which Thorsteinsdottir is an active member.

Besides the environmental message, a highlight of the trip was seeing polar bears floating by the ship on large ice sheets.

“They were just there, in the middle of nowhere,” said Thorsteinsdottir. “We saw them swim from ice sheet to ice sheet.”

The trip also featured glimpses of seals, beluga whales and narwhales.

When visiting a village on Baffin Island, narwhal was one of the delicacies.

“I can’t say it was the best thing I’d ever tasted,” she said.

For more information about Students On Ice, please visit http://studentsonice.com.