That stupid classical music woke us up again; I really need to talk to max about his selection of music, but that’s another story. Regardless, after the obligatory yawns and extra 10 minutes in bed, we all begrudgingly rolled out of our warm covers ready to start the day. The days of showing up to breakfast right at 7 a.m. are long gone; a prompt 7:40 arrival has become the norm. The pancakes, yogurt and eggs tasted delicious none the less.
After a quick change into some clothes that were more or less clean (honestly, we cannot tell at this point, our room looks like a tornado hit it), we met downstairs ready to enter the belly of the beast (and by beast, I mean a tundra buggy). I use the word beast because these things are gargantuan: each tire is at least 2 feet wide, the lower chassis was taken from a firetruck, and then they basically took a double-wide school bus and threw it on top.
It struck me as ironic that we were studying climate change in a vehicle that probably struggled to get a quarter mile to the gallon, but we were allured by the sweet sound of polar bears so our moral dilemma had to wait. The one thing I know for certain, all that weight makes this thing slow: top speed of 20 mph on ideal road surfaces, and we were far from ideal.
We trudged along at a nice 5 mph into the frozen tundra. What it lacked it speed, it made up for in off-roading ability. Remember those ephemeral wetlands we collected stickleback in earlier? Well those are now covered in a nice layer of ice. Yet the great white beast we were riding did not care; we rolled through water, dirt, rocks and just about anything else the tundra could throw our way. The time finally came though; the elusive polar bear was spotted. We crept up about as silently as one can in a 20,000-pound behemoth (which, if you’re wondering, is not that silent). Somehow, “big blue” the polar bear did not move.
We positioned ourselves about 50 feet away from him, hoping he would get curious and approach. I will save you the anticipation; he did not. After marveling at the majestic beast and taking plenty of pictures that you will no doubt see, we decided to move on. Inebriated with happiness over this sighting, the arctic monster truck and her inhabitants trudged forward, optimistic we were moving onto bigger and better things. We were right.
As lunch time drew near, we were all getting hungry, but this hunger could not be satisfied by mere food. We were hungry for an up-close and personal polar bear sighting; the type you see in brochures and travel magazines. You may think this was a naive fantasy that could not possibly occur, well to those who say that, I will have you know it did happen. Joke’s on you. The arctic beast emerged as we rounded the corner at the tip of the cape. The sun was shimmering off its white fur as it inched closer to our vehicle.
Closer and closer it came: 100 feet, 75, 50, 30, 20, 10. It was getting nearer and nearer as we all stuck our heads out the windows, desperate for a picture (or a selfie in Melanie’s case). Before we knew it, the polar bear was almost directly under our outreached heads. Looking back, that’s kind of a terrifying thought, but don’t worry, parents, our safety was never in danger. Words cannot quite describe how amazing it was to see such a voracious beast so close.
We could see its long, sharp teeth as it attempted to bite our massive tires. We could see the blacks of its eyes as it peered curiously at all the small mammal bipeds capturing photo after photo. At one point, it even jumped up and put it paws on the tundra buggy, right next to Ms. Morris, who was luckily taking a video at the time. After a while, the bear moved on to one of the other buggies that had shown up, and we reluctantly moved on from our furry friend.
We then had a quick lunch (all that polar bear watching really works up an appetite). The rest of the day was filled with ptarmigan, short tailed weasel, silver fox and other assorted arctic wildlife sightings, along with a return visit to our boy “big blue.” As we left the tundra buggy, one could not overstate the beauty of the nature we had witnessed, but one could also question the ethics of disturbing this nature for the sake of our own viewing pleasure. These are questions to be pondered later, though, as dinner time was fast approaching. The long promised Thanksgiving dinner of turkey and mashed potatoes was even better than all our other meals (no small feat).
We then found ourselves watching the documentary Chasing Ice as a replacement for our evening lecture. The documentary followed the journey of James Balong and his team at Extreme Ice Survey as they attempt to show climate change in a way we can all understand: pictures. He believes that people will only understand the rapid and immediate effects of climate change if they can see these effects first hand. His mission was to photograph ice, specifically glaciers, as they recede and calve at record rates. We all left the room stunned at the sheer magnitude of the events depicted in the movie: glaciers are receding at hundreds of feet per year, ice chunks the size of lower Manhattan and about 2-3 times as tall as the Empire State Building are breaking off into the ocean, and the Greenland ice sheet is melting at an alarming rate. I will not go into the long-term effects that this can have on the climate and ocean levels, but needless to say, the consequences will not be good if we continue at this rate.
We are all now eagerly anticipating Dr. Fishback’s talk tomorrow morning on what we can do to help. We are playing Rummy Cube now, honestly a pretty fun game, but I guess that’s slightly irrelevant so I will end this update here. The journey home begins tomorrow.