Lights Out in the High Arctic

The only point of light in a vast stretch of the frozen Arctic Ocean dimmed slightly last night as the Canadian Coast Guard research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen symbolically joined the global movement for the environment.

CCGS Amundsen

For safety reasons, the Coast Guard could only shut off a handful of the ship’s external lights to mark Earth Hour.

Yet the gesture had added significance because the icebreaker is halfway through a 10-month research expedition focused on understanding Arctic climate change. Drawing public attention to the urgency of climate change is the drive behind Earth Hour.

“We’re not a city, but we are doing what we can without compromising our mission or the safety of people on board,” said Captain Lise Marchand.

At 8 p.m. local time, the sun was still shining brightly on the vessel’s location at the 71st parallel of latitude south of Banks Island in the western Arctic.

But when twilight cane shortly before 9 p.m., Coast Guard officers didn’t turn on the spotlight that normally shines on the ship’s funnel, illuminating a maple leaf.

Also left dark were giant spotlights that usually illuminate the ice in front and behind the 98-metre vessel. Some deck lights were dimmed as well but chief engineer Stéphane Dufour said he had to ensure that crew members or scientists didn’t stumble on the extra equipment crammed into every available cranny outside.

Icebreaker at Night

The Amundsen, normally bristling with lights here in the ice, was now more like when it is moving through the water.

One exception was the spotlight that shines on the bottom of the ship’s gangway, to provide warning of any curious polar bears that might try to board.

Some of the 40 researchers said they intended to shut down personal computers and douse their cabin lights.

The ship’s lights are the only ones on the frozen Beaufort Sea for hundreds of kilometers in any direction. On land, the nearest artificially lit human settlement is Sachs Harbour, roughly 50 kilometres to the north on Banks Island.

Arctic Ice

Chief scientist Tim Papakyriakou said Canadians need to be more aware of the valuable research into the Arctic environment made possible by federal funding for the Amundsen and for a network of Arctic scientists.

“Climate change of some kind has been with us for a long time. We need to understand the Arctic system and the natural processes much better if we are going to deal with it,” he said.

Source: Toronto Star, March 30, 2008

The CCGS Amundsen, a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, her crew and scientific entourage returned safely to port last fall after a year of conducting new scientific research in the Northwest Passage of Canada’s Arctic. This icebreaker acted as a floating platform for scientists from around the world in studying the effects of global climate change near the Beaufort Sea.

Year Long Arctic Expedition


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