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Rowers' Epic Journey Reveals How Climate Change Is Transforming the Arctic
Four modern day explorers from Vancouver, BC, began a world-first expedition on July 1, to row the 3,000 kilometer Northwest Passage in a specially commissioned human-powered boat—a feat only possible now due to the melting ice in the Arctic. Global wind and solar company Mainstream Renewable Power is sponsoring the expedition to bring awareness to the profound effects climate change is having on the environment.
The team of Kevin Vallely, Paul Gleeson, Frank Wolf and Denis Barnett are seasoned adventurers who, between them, have rowed the Atlantic Ocean, canoed across Canada and skied to the South Pole in world record time. They departed from Inuvik in the Northwest Territories in their 25-foot long, specially built rowing boat, The Arctic Joule.
The four men are rowing in continuous shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week as the route will be in constant daylight for the majority of the journey. They hope to arrive at their destination in Pond Inlet, Nunavut on the east coast of Baffin Island in early fall, some 75 to 90 days after their start.
This area once represented a closed door for mariners who attempted to navigate the sea route, due to impassable sea ice. This passage has only become semi-navigable for about three months a year in the summer months when the ice of the Arctic Ocean breaks up and melts before refreezing for the winter. The four men have taken advantage of that short window to row the ice-strewn passage.
“It wasn't long ago that the Northwest Passage was the sole domain of steel-hulled ice-breakers but things have changed,” said Kevin Vallely, lead rower.
“Climate change is transforming the Arctic and the world. By traversing the Northwest Passage completely under human power in a rowboat, without sail or motor, the Mainstream Last First team will be able to demonstrate first-hand the dramatic effects climate change is having on our planet. Something like this has never been done before. It is only now possible due to the increase in seasonal sea ice melt and deterioration due to climate changes.”
The rowers' challenge is of global significance as both a pioneering maritime adventure and an environmental expedition. The team is working with scientific research partners at Vancouver Aquarium, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Rangers on a unique and promising collaboration known as the Canadian Rangers Ocean Watch program (CROW) to collect and deliver environmental data about the Arctic Ocean.
In addition, the team is documenting their journey on their blog and through social media, and have an award-winning documentary videographer to film the trip as well as. They are also engaging with the broader public while away, using their adventure to publicize the melting Arctic and climate change's detrimental impact.
“With atmospheric [carbon dioxide] CO2 concentrations hitting 400 ppm last month for the first time in 2-4 million years, Mainstream is sponsoring this expedition to highlight the immediate disasters of climate change,” said Sherra Zulerons, country manager for Canada at Mainstream Renewable Power. “This expedition will show people around the world a real-life example of what climate change is doing today. It’s real."
The melting ice is only the start of the problem, she explained. As the ice melts, it causes massive amounts of harmful gases to be released into the atmosphere. Enormous amounts of methane hydrate have been trapped in the ice for many thousands of years and now that the ice is melting, the gas is being released, causing a huge knock-on effect.“That is why we are sponsoring this expedition,” said Zulerons.
“In the latest International Energy Agency report it states that if we wait to act until 2020, we will be headed down a path to temperature rises of between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees Celsius before 2100,” continued Zulerons. “Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy will make a big difference in terms of keeping climate change below two degrees.”
“There seems to be a disconnect between what's actually happening with climate change and what's being done about it. We hope that our expedition will show the world through a real-life example of what climate change is doing today," added Vallely.
“We believe, as Barry Lopez echoed in his book Arctic Dreams, that mankind has ‘...the intelligence to grasp what is happening, the composure to not be intimidated by its complexity, and the courage to take steps that may bear no fruit in our lifetimes’,” concluded Vallely.
The sea ice of the arctic has decreased by 50 percent in the last three years alone and in about 15 years this region will be ice-free. According to scientists, this permafrost to perm-melt scenario will trigger numerous feedback loops that will put climate change beyond human control.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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By Carey Gillam
Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant will have to testify in person at a St. Louis-area trial set for January in litigation brought by a cancer-stricken woman who claims her disease was caused by exposure to the company's Roundup herbicide and that Monsanto covered up the risks instead of warning consumers.
A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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