Cold Irony: Arctic Sea Ice Traps Climate Tour Icebreaker

Stuck in the arctic ice that doesn’t exist. (file photo: EcoPhotoExplorers)

Last year as arctic sea ice melted to record levels, panic set in for many. But then, as the sea ice rebounded and froze again quickly in the 2007/2008 winter, making up for that record loss and reaching heights not seen for several years, many exclaimed that even though the ice areal extent had recovered, this new ice was “thin” and would likely melt again quickly. There were also many news stories about how the Northwest Passage was ice free for the first time “ever”. For example, Backpacker Magazine ran a story saying “The ice is so low that the photos clearly show a viable northwest passage sea route along the coasts of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska.”

Cashing in on the panic that has set in with the help of some climate alarmists, tour operators like Quark Expeditions of Norwalk Connecticut are offering polar expeditions catering to that “see it before it’s gone” travel worry. One of them is in fact a trip though the Northwest Passage on a former Soviet Icebreaker called the Kapitan Khlebnikov which is a massive 24,000 horsepower Polar Class icebreaker capable of carrying 108 passengers in relative luxury through the arctic wilderness. Here is some background on this icebreaker:

Kapitan Khlebnikov – The Kapitan Khlebnikov was built in Finland in 1981 and is one of three vessels of this class. Not simply an ice-reinforced ship, the Kapitan Khlebnikov is a powerful polar class icebreaker, which has sailed to extremely remote corners of the globe with adventurous travelers since 1992. It was the first ship ever to circumnavigate Antarctica with passengers in 1996-97. See more on this vessel at Wikipedia

According to Quark Expeditions, they’ve even fitted this icebreaker with a heated indoor swimming pool, exercise room and sauna, and a theater-style auditorium for “Expedition Team presentations” ( presumably so you can watch Gore’s AIT polar bear tears while in situ ). It is quite a difference from the travel conditions that Robert Peary experienced just 99 years ago when he reached the North Pole.

One of my alert readers, Walt from Canada, pointed out this story in the Globe and Mail on may 24th in the travel section. It seems the irony of a polar expedition to see such things as record sea ice loss being stopped cold by the very ice that doesn’t exist was not lost on the editors.

From the Globe and Mail article:

I am on the bridge of the massive Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov, and the tension is palpable. We have hit ice – thick ice.

The ice master studies the mountains of white packed around the ship while the 24,000-horsepower diesel engines work at full throttle to open a path. The ship rises slowly onto the barrier of ice, crushes it and tosses aside blocks the size of small cars as if they were ice cubes in a glass. It creeps ahead a few metres, then comes to a halt, its bow firmly wedged in the ice. After doing this for two days, the ship can go no farther.

The ice master confers with the captain, who makes a call to the engine room. The engines are shut down. He turns to those of us watching the drama unfold, and we are shocked by his words: “Now, only nature can help this ship.” We are doomed to drift.

What irony. I am a passenger on one of the most powerful icebreakers in the world, travelling through the Northwest Passage – which is supposed to become almost ice-free in a time of global warming, the next shipping route across the top of the world – and here we are, stuck in the ice, engines shut down, bridge deserted. Only time and tide can free us.

What irony indeed.

They eventually had nature on their side, and on the seventh day of being trapped in the ice, winds and tide moved the ice pack enough that they could continue. But, I have to wonder, will the pampered eco-tourists on this trip see the irony that we do?