Wednesday, August 26, 2020

In Memory of The Milne Ice Shelf

“Look up, young ones.”

Their eyes popped open at the urgency in old Mr. Drybones’ voice.

Over their heads the aurora danced and shed its magical light, this time a dazzling curtain of red, green and yellow. It seemed to blow gently in an unseen wind. It was so quiet—not a sound, just the faint sighs and crackles of the dying fire. 

Spirits are walking...



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Ellesmere Island, part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region in Nunuvut, is about as far north as you can go in Canada. The Island provided the stony shoulders upon which a Pleistocene glacier rested. The Milne Ice Shelf--and once upon a time, many others--extended from the island into the Arctic Ocean.  These ice barrens were once hunting grounds for polar bear, resting places for seals and birds, and traversed by foxes and men, locked in an endless search for the next meal.

The Milne Ice Shelf contained a rarity too, the northern hemisphere's only Epishelf lake--a freshwater lake that floats atop and exists behind a dam of  sea ice. As such, it contained it's own precious world of plants and animals--creatures who lived in the freshwater trenches--had only recently begun to be studied by scientists.




The Inuktitut People had a descriptive name for the area long before Europeans came. Their name, "Tuvaijuittuq" means "The place which never melts." 

Ellesmere Island hasn't been this hot for 115,000 years, centuries before the Inuktitut arrived. Today the Canadian Arctic temperature is a distressing 9 F (5 C) above the thirty year average. Sea ice this year was the lowest it's been since records have been kept. 

2020 summer brought even higher temperatures, resulting in more open, warmer water. The Milne no longer had the thick buffer of sea ice it had once possessed. In August, strong off-shore winds began to blow. Satellite images showed startled scientists that forty percent of the ice shelf had broken up in just two days.  




Due to the pandemic, the scientists who are usually on the ice at this time of year were absent. They kept their lives, but lost $90,000 worth of monitoring equipment when their base camp went into the sea. All those unique freshwater worlds so recently discovered by scientists have probably vanished as well.


...The Milne Ice Shelf--and once upon a time, many others--extended from the island into the Arctic Ocean.  These ice barrens were once hunting grounds for polar bear, resting places for seal and bird, and traversed by fox and man, all in an endless struggle for survival...



Juliet Waldron




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