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Country Gentleman: Seeing the impact of global warming first-hand

While I was in the Arctic this summer, and also since I returned to Nagano in August, we have been experiencing frequent and heavy rains, but nothing in comparison to the rains and floods caused by the huge hurricane experienced by Texas and Louisiana. It makes me wonder how many Americans, like their president, still are in denial over climate change, and how it will drastically alter human and other life on this planet.

    In 1961 I went on the Arctic Institute of North America's Devon Island Expedition, and was one of the five over-wintering members. It was after the end of that expedition, in September of 1962, that I came to Japan for the first time.

    Although I have been to the Arctic many times since then, it was this year, 2017, that I returned to Devon Island for the first time after 55 years.

    In the summer of 1961 the sea ice was so thick in Jones Sound, on the northerly coast of Devon Island, that the Canadian government icebreaker was unable to reach our base camp with supplies of fuel and food. We five over-wintering members just had to "make do" with what we had.

    One simple way to save energy in the winter would be to not melt snow or ice to get water. There was a lake twelve metres deep right by our base camp. Even at the depth of winter the lake ice would be no more than two and a half metres thick. As soon as it froze thick enough for a man to walk on it, I cut a hole in the ice over the deepest part of the lake.

    During that first summer of 1961 I had taken it upon myself to do a study of the lake and of its many landlocked arctic char. The need to haul water and not ice would give me the chance to go on through measurements and sampling of fish throughout the winter.

    Every day we took turns to haul a sled loaded with a twenty-gallon drum, wrapped in blankets, out to the hole in the ice, fill it with water and haul it back. Every day we had to use long steel ice chisels to keep the hole open. When it was my turn I would also take a lure and jig for char, easily catching enough for dinner. When the sun slipped below the horizon, not to come back until February, I built an igloo over the hole, shielding it from the wind and making the inside of the igloo just a bit warmer than the ambient temperature. We had to take a hurricane lamp out with us when we chopped to keep the hole open, and the light from the lamp in the igloo attracted lots of fish to the hole. We had fresh fish for dinner at least twice a week all through the winter!

    Saving energy was a life or death urgency during that long winter of 1961 to 1962, one that I have never forgotten.

    During this summer of 2017, aboard the cruise ship Ocean Endeavor, chartered by Adventure Canada, we were able to sail from Greenland, through Lancaster Sound, past Devon Island and onto Resolute, on Cornwallis Island. Although there are still some problems with shifting pack ice, which moves with wind and current, for a few months in summer ships can now pass through the infamous Northwest Passage linking the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans.

    There is absolutely no doubt that the arctic ice is receding and decreasing, whether it is in sea ice cover or in melting ice caps and glaciers. I was very happy this year that I was accompanied by Japanese friends who could see what is happening in the arctic for themselves. ("Country Gentleman" is a regular column by author and conservationist C.W. Nicol.)

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