By John Nightingale, President & CEO, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

For the first time in 20 plus years of coming to Canada’s Arctic – we saw no pack ice. We certainly saw grand icebergs, both in Greenland where they come from the Greenland Ice Cap and in Canadian waters where they break or calf off of glaciers that reach saltwater. But for the first time during any visit, summer or winter, we didn’t even come across one single small floating piece of pack ice.

Pack ice is the ice that forms covering the entire Arctic Ocean during the winter, and then melts partially back during the summer. Normally, there have always been remnants left during my various visits in summer. Some years, there was so much pack ice that we couldn’t even reach the bay or town we were trying to get to. On all previous expedition trips such as the one I am on this August, we relied on the robust hull of this Class B ice rated ship to push through the ice pack at various points on the trip — not this year.

A patch of sea ice during summer in the Arctic in previous years.

A patch of sea ice was common during summer months in the Arctic in previous years – not anymore.

The lack of ice, and the personal experiences everyone on board has had is resulting in a lot of discussion during meals, and in the lounge. The reason trips such as this one are organized, is to give people the opportunity to experience the Arctic for themselves. Lectures are wonderful and videos are great, but nothing really resonates as well as personal experience and being immersed in this amazing landscape. Our trip has worked its magic, everyone here is more observant, is looking outward at the world, and is talking about what we’ve seen and what it means. A lot of that discussion is geared toward an Arctic world with increasingly less and less ice. People are asking how the now non-existent ice pack during the summers will affect ice-dependent species such as the Arctic cod and the polar bear. At this point, we can only guess that these species will adapt, but no one, not even scientists can predict to what degree.

Connecting with the Canadian Arctic and raising awareness and understanding the changes happening in both nature and the communities has been a primary focus of Vancouver Aquarium’s work in Canada’s North since the early 1970s. As we begin to expand our Canada’s Arctic display, we are also expanding our scientific research in several areas, as well as our formal education efforts. After crossing an Arctic without sea ice in sight – I am certain we need to develop these programs in order to call attention to the crucial role this region plays in the world’s ecosystems. We must admit to playing a part in the changes happening in the North and face the implications of events such as diminishing ice cover.

A beautiful sunset over Cambridge Bay.

A beautiful sunset over Cambridge Bay.

We finish our trip tomorrow morning in Cambridge Bay Nunavut. Our explorers will fly to Edmonton and continue on home. Eric Solomon, Vancouver Aquarium’s director of Arctic programs, and I will stay in Cambridge Bay with our research dive team currently working on identifying and mapping out underwater habitats in the area in preparation for the opening of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) next year. This program, in partnership with Polar Knowledge Canada, will help CHARS managers direct research scientists with specific questions and interests in the marine environment.

With global temperatures on the rise, we’re racing against time to gain insight about one of the least scientifically understood regions on the planet: the Arctic. This month, scientists from Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre head north to expand upon innovative Arctic research projects started in 2015, in collaboration with Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR), the federal agency responsible for advancing Canada’s knowledge of the Arctic and for strengthening Canadian leadership in polar science and technology. This blog series chronicles our scientists’ time and research efforts in the Arctic.

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