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Crashing Into Ice: The Impact of Climate Change, on My Head

Even in the middle of summer, arctic water is cold. Packed sea ice floats as far as the eye can see as evidence of the seawater’s temperature, which is near zero degrees Celsius. The air, however, can be downright balmy. Overhead, a sun that never sets and warm air flowing in from the south means that summer months in the Arctic are surprisingly warm. The atmosphere heats up enough to unlock multiyear pack ice which then flows out of the passage and into the ocean before the long winter sets it in stone once again.

This summer, 10 women gathered for the first leg of a multiyear mission to navigate this pack ice by snorkeling the length of the Northwest Passage. That such a route would even be feasible for snorkelers is a testament to the extent of melting sea ice in recent decades. As for actually snorkeling great distances through icy waters, it was necessary to start with a two week proof-of-concept expedition. In July, the 10 ladies of Team Sedna packed up and flew north to prove that snorkelers could make it through the icy conditions which have thwarted vessels for hundreds of years. Armed with dry suits, cameras, robots, and underwater electric scooters, each woman arrived with a goal to raise climate change awareness, empower young women, and encourage conservation of this rapidly changing ecosystem.

The women of Team Sedna plunge into the water near the arctic circle, and swim across the boundary. The M/V Cape Race becomes a distant backdrop as the current moves the swimmers away from the vessel.  Photo by Jill Heinerth, Courtesy www.SednaEpic.com
The women of Team Sedna plunge into the water and swim across the Arctic Circle. The M/V Cape Race becomes a distant backdrop. All together, we swim home. (Photo by Jill Heinerth, courtesy www.SednaEpic.com)

Sea ice is notoriously dynamic. I imagined it moving on something of a glacial time scale, but no, it rips by. Trying to navigate a surface route through this swiftly moving pack ice is like trying to swim through a river filled with loose concrete. The chunks of ice grazing your shoulders are not smooth little ice cubes, they’re dense, porous, jagged pieces ranging in size from gravel all the way up to a parking lot. I would often put my hand out to push a piece out of the way, but it was like trying to dislodge a boulder as I bicycled into it—which answers a hotly debated question:

What are the immediate affects of climate change?

In my experience, a bruised forehead and a sore back, but it’s worth every second.

To make sufficient headway in ice, we were harnessed to dive propulsion vehicles. Photo by Jill Heinerth - Courtesy of www.SednaEpic.com
To make sufficient headway in ice, we were harnessed to dive propulsion vehicles. (Photo by Jill Heinerth, courtesy of www.SednaEpic.com) 

If you find my journey inspiring, please contribute to my outreach efforts with Team Sedna on OpenExplorer. It will be a digital high five! Thank you! 

Read More by Erika Bergman