Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hot Fun In The Summertime

Crystal Serenity 
Whether or not you believe the earth is warming and whether or not that's a good or a bad thing, there's no denying the ice has been melting enough lately to allow ships to transit the Northwest Passage and this summer saw the largest ship yet to make the journey. Following a route that would have made Sir John Franklin green with envy, not to mention this writer, the Crystal Serenity took 900 passengers from Seward, Alaska all the way to New York City with stops along the way in Greenland and Baffin Island and other Canadian outposts. Though the price started at $20,000.00 per person it was by all accounts a stunning success with unbelievable scenery, wildlife encounters and a cultural experience all rolled into the 32 day cruise.

Of course as any dinosaur fan would know the earth was much warmer in the old days (colder as well) and, during the Jurassic period, some 150 million years ago, most of the earth was covered in a lush rain forest. Times were certainly changing in those days with the single land mass known as Pangaea splitting into Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south. There were no polar ice caps at either end and ships would have been free to transit the north without worrying about encountering any icebergs. Of course the passengers wouldn't have seen any polar bears either.

Continental formations prior to the Jurassic period

Nelson & the dinosaurs at the ROM
Whether the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid hitting the earth, or the volcanic eruptions that were creating havoc everywhere, they certainly wouldn't have survived either the ice age that preceded them or the last one that came along afterwards and only ended 11,000 years ago. The earth's climate has been undergoing some very severe fluctuations over the ages and, as the sun continues to brighten, it will probably continue to do so.

Since the last ice age the planet has gone through half a dozen periods of warming and cooling and, if Franklin would have timed things better, he too might have been able to get through. During the.Medieval "warm period" Vikings under Eric the Red came to Greenland and established settlements that lasted until the 15th century and the onset of the "little ice age". Trees and various herbaceous plants flourished there and the Norsemen were even able to grow barley.and raise livestock. They shared the land with the Dorset who were the original inhabitants and then later the Thule Inuit who settled all of what is now Alaska and Northern Canada.

Norse ruins in Greenland
Until the start of the "little ice age" the waters of the high arctic were free of pack ice in the summer months which made it possible to hunt whales, particularly the bowhead whale, a slow swimming animal that sleeps near the water's surface. Fish, other sea mammals and caribou were also important food sources for the Thule but it was the bowhead whale whose summer range expanded from the Bering Sea to the Beaufort Sea and the Canadian Archipelago that really provided the most bang for the buck. With global cooling this all changed and the Thule communities were broken up as people were forced further south and had to rely on other hunting strategies.

Revival of the bowhead whale hunt for Inuit people
Commercial whaling in the 19th century nearly wiped out the bowhead whale population but, since 1972 when all commercial whaling was outlawed, the species has since recovered and the Inuit are now permitted to have a limited hunt as part of their traditional culture. Melting ice may or may not make things more difficult for the polar bear but it might also help revive the Inuit way of life and improve things for other creatures that cruise the arctic waters. Slightly warmer waters may also improve fish stocks such as cod and herring.

Polar bear on an ice flow off Baffin Island
The dead dinosaurs and vegetation lying buried in the Canadian soil are what formed our oil sands, and have since been identified as one of the world's largest petroleum reserves. With the retreat of the glaciers and the end of the ice age, these oil sands are now able to be exploited and they form the basis of our oil & gas industry. In addition to being able to navigate our northern waters there's another potential upside to global warming for Canadians as this could make more of the country available for agriculture and habitation. As the world's second largest country but also having one of the lowest population densities, we certainly have plenty of room for all those fleeing the tropics.

Air & sea temperatures in Cambridge Bay
For all the talk about global warming we need to remember that for 9 months of the year the area around the Northwest Passage is frozen solid. Birds fly south, bears hibernate and everyone else does their best to just try and keep warm. It's dark all day and night and the only way to get around is by ski-do, snowshoe or airplane. But come summertime things change radically as things heat up, the ice starts to melt and it becomes the land of the midnight sun. With the open water beckoning it's hot fun in the summertime once again and a chance for others to check out life in the true north.

Canadian icebreaker


  1. Once again, excellent article full of information - Well done. Lot's of research in this one.

  2. Though seasoned hunters would love to go after bears, they do realize that it is a dangerous sport as well! Guides accompanying a hunter on these trips is a common sight, but are you aware that there are dogs specially trained to attack bears too?