STAVANGER, NORWAY – A 112-day sail up and back along the Norwegian west coast – and to and around the distant archipelago of Svalbard (formerly Spitsbergen) – offers an exceptional opportunity for citizen science observations of the changing Arctic.
Departing from Stavanger in southern Norway on June 20 aboard the 37-foot-long Barba sail boat is a multinational crew planning for a 3,400-nautical-mile trip. They’ll be powered, they say, “by nature” (presumably good tail winds).
The fiberglass boat is owned and skippered by Norwegian marine biologist Andreas Backer Heide, a veteran of such cold-water sailing expeditions.
With a crew consisting of two Norwegians, a Russian, a German, an American (bylined here), and at times a Welshman, the group envisions holding interviews with long-time area residents who have fished the remote fjords and hunted in forest areas few outsiders ever visit. They say they expect their fluency in a half-dozen different languages will open communication channels otherwise impenetrable to the few visitors to one of the Arctic’s most rapidly changing regions.
The group’s sailing plans call for the 2005 Jeanneau SunFast boat to arrive in Longyearbyen, the municipality capital of Svalbard, around July 16. From there they plan to circumnavigate the Scotland-sized archipelago, with its more than 2,000 glaciers. Before arriving back in mainland Norway in early October, they plan to stop at Bjørnøya (Bear Island), a remote island between mainland Norway and Svalbard that’s home to the University Centre in Svalbard, UNIS, and its Svalbard Science Centre and Arctic research activities.
“The Arctic is a kind of a canary in the mines in terms of global warming impacts, with early and dramatic changes” already being observed, says Heide, who has captained previous small-boat expeditions to Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. “The area and its wildlife are of course also subject to airborne pollution originating in distant lands.”
A still-viral 2013 image of a starved polar bear in Svalbard, widely dubbed “the polar bear who died of climate change,” is seen by some as an iconic reminder of the region’s changing climate.
But the crew say there are new and evolving stories they expect to tell through their travels and conversations with those they encounter along the way.
Among those they plan to interview are researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Ny-Ålesund, a small outpost on Svalbard, and Arctic experts in Tromsø – the northern Norway city known by some as the “Paris of the North” and a long-standing departure point for many Arctic research expeditions.
What changes has the region experienced? How are those changes affecting local livelihoods and traditional cultures in the Arctic? Those questions and more will be addressed in the Barba expedition group’s upcoming posts to this site.
Editor’s note: Terry Ward, for more than 15 years a professional free-lance travel writer, is the daughter of the Yale Climate Connections editor.