Rowers’ epic will show Arctic melting

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How the Northwest Passage used to be: A US Coast Guard vessel in 1969 Image: US Coast Guard via Wikimedia Commons

How the Northwest Passage used to be: A US Coast Guard vessel in 1969
Image: US Coast Guard via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Four young oarsmenn have begun an attempt to do what nobody has yet accomplished – to row the length of the Northwest Passge in Canada’s Arctic in a single season.

London, 6 July – Canada’s Northwest Passage was once one of the great challenges of the marine world, its treacherous ice floes navigable only at warmer times of the year by steel-hulled ice breakers. Not any more.

Rapidly rising temperatures in the Arctic mean the 3,000 km-long Passage is increasingly accessible, with shipping companies eyeing the route as a short cut between North America and Asia.

Now a four-man team of Canadian and Irish rowers calling themselves the Mainstream Last First team are attempting the first ever navigation of the seaway by human power alone in a single season.

“Climate change is transforming the Arctic and the world”, says Kevin Vallely, the team’s lead rower. “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 team – which has previously rowed the Atlantic Ocean, canoed across Canada and skied to the South Pole in record time – set off from Inuvik in Canada’s Northwest Territories on 4 July in their 25 foot long boat, The Arctic Joule.

The four are rowing in shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week: the route will be in Arctic daylight for most of the time. They hope to arrive at Pond Inlet, Nunavut, on the east coast of Baffin Island between 75 and 90 days after setting out.

Showing the reality

The Arctic Joule is built of marine plywood, with multiple layers of foam Kevlar and fibreglass for strength and stability. It has two cabins where the team take it in turns to rest: all supplies for the three-month expedition are being carried on board.

“There seems to be a disconnect between what’s actually happening with climate change and what’s being done about it”, says Vallely. “We hope that our expedition will show the world, through a real life example, what climate change is doing today.”

The rowers are working with scientists at Vancouver Aquarium, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Rangers on a project called the Canadian Rangers Ocean Watch programme (CROW), aimed at collecting and analyzing environmental data in the Arctic Ocean.

A wind and solar company, Mainstream Renewable Power, is sponsoring The Arctic Joule expedition.

You can follow the rowers’ progress via a GPS system installed on the expedition website. – Climate News Network