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.
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