Each Cape Farewell expedition has a cultural subtext. In 2008, it was music; in 2010 it is ‘The Word.’ Sailing along the nautical border of Russia only 580 miles from the North Pole, we have five Russians on board. This trip is named for the cultural currency of Russia: storytelling, plays, brilliant prose – words.
We knew this from the onset of planning for the 2010 expedition, which informed our assembly of the cultural ‘team,’ playwrights from the UK, DJ’s and performers from New York, writers and novelists from Russia and Canada. Words are our common currency, words mutate between the five languages spoken on board. Our common challenge is to identify the miss-connect of climate change, why we as a human collective are unable to engage in this real physical threat, this future truth that will affect all of us profoundly.
What always surprises me is the speed of the dialogue/engagement on Cape Farewell expeditions, the helter-skelter exchange of ideas, science to art to fun and awe to geopolitics to struggle, always against the physical backdrop of sailing and this fast changing and cold arctic wilderness.
We have visited science stations, had presentations by our onboard scientists. The first was by Deborah Inglasis Rodregas and her fascination of the invisibly small coccolithophores as they try to munch up the excess CO2 spewed our by the six billion greedy Homo sapiens, all of whom are, at this moment in time, to the south of us. How will the more acidic seas influence their effectiveness, will they be found in the cold of the high arctic, what chance have our oceans have in maintaining their position as the major carbon sink?
Dr Simon Boxall’s presentation underlined the importance of the seas in nature’s global regulation, how can the massive ocean currents continue to regulate global temperatures and how would the loss of the Arctic ice cap affect the driving mechanisms of ocean circulation? His broad summary of the state of the science describes how these arctic seas hold the key as to how the current natural balance, if unhinged, is poised to bite back on our human profligation. His underlying message: be worried, be very worried, as many climate scientists fear, with rational clarity, for all our existence.
It is sobering that this message is delivered by the most reasoned among us, the rigor of science eclipsing even the best of the professional imaginations on board, as we struggle to grasp the trouble we are in. Paul, DJ Spooky, has world-winded us through his DJ free associations and his Antarctic/Arctic travels and Hip Hop concern for our habitat. It reminds me of the powerful words of a Cape Farewell alumnus, poet Lemn Sissay, that climate is a race issue: those who will suffer most are not from the Western and expanding economies responsible for the disproportionate release of CO2 gases, but from the third world.
In between, we observe this cold place, marvel as blue whales dive by the Noorderlicht, as a mother polar bear dives to retrieve the blubber of a submerged whale carcass to feed her cub, as walruses and seals gaze back at this odd human species, perhaps for the first time. We measure the oceans to understand the secrets that lie below the surface; secrets hidden from satellites necessitate our human probing with ultra-modern technology and cutting-edge science. We write, we photograph and we film our observations, our creative interventions and the science. This dialogue and actions are communicated almost live via our Iridium satellite, daily blogs and videos transmitted to the concerned and curious people around the world through the World Wide Web.
We have spent the day battling ice flows to reach 80 degrees, 47 minutes north, the most northerly point reached on any Cape Farewell expedition. This year the polar icecap has been reduced to the second smallest amount of arctic ice on record – 2007 holds the dubious record for this. In 2007, and 2010 the Cape Farewell expeditions encountered ice flows blown south by northerly winds into the path of the Noorderlicht. It is a warped parody that we encounter more ice when the ice cap itself is actually receding.
Each evening our talks continue, tonight Matthew Clark of United Visual Artists talked us through the work of this skilled digital art collective. UVA has been commissioned by the National Maritime Museum to stage the initial exhibition at their new digital gallery, to open in June 2011. Exciting work and we are all keen to see how Matt and his team will be inspired from the video, photography and sounds he is recording during this high arctic Cape Farewell expedition.
Tomorrow we venture towards Kenvika, a vacated 1953 research station briefly re-occupied for the International Polar year in 2008.BACK TO TOP