Tag Archives: polar bears

Arctic cruise goes from Bering Strait to New York for first time

The giant luxury liner was anchored just off Nome, too hulking to use the Bering Sea community’s docks on its inaugural Arctic cruise.

Instead, its more than 900 Arctic cruise passengers piled into small transport boats and motored to shore, where they snapped photos of wild musk oxen, lifted glasses in the town’s colorful bars and nibbled blueberry pie while admiring Alaska Native dancers at Nome’s summer celebration.

The Crystal Serenity’s visit to Alaska’s western coast is historic. At nearly three football fields long and 13 stories tall, the cruise ship is the largest ever to traverse the Northwest Passage, where its well-heeled guests glimpsed polar bears, kayaked along Canada’s north shore, landed on pristine beaches and hiked where few have stepped.

Some remote villages along the way are seeing dollar signs, while environmentalists are seeing doom. They say the voyage represents global warming and man’s destruction of the Earth.

The terrible irony with the Crystal Serenity’s voyage is that it’s taking place only because of climate change and the melting Arctic, said Michael Byers, a professor in the political science department at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The Northwest Passage, which connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, has long been choked off by ice. But melting brought on by climate change is allowing passengers to cruise up the Bering Strait and then head east toward Greenland over the Arctic Ocean before docking next week in New York City.

“And yet, by actually taking advantage of climate change, it’s contributing to the problem because the ship has a very large carbon footprint of its own,”Byers said.

The Arctic cruise ship left Seward, on the Kenai Peninsula, Aug. 16 with about 900 guests and 600 crew members on board. During its monthlong journey to New York, it will visit towns and villages in western and northern Alaska, Canada, Greenland and the eastern seaboard.

Smaller cruise ships, those that hold about 200 people, routinely make a port call in Nome and continue through the passage, but this ship is different.

“This is the game changer,”Nome Mayor Richard Beneville said. “This is the one that’s on everyone’s lips.’’

Nome spared nothing to make sure tourists off the high-end Arctic cruise liner — tickets cost more than $20,000 per person, with a penthouse starting at about six times that — felt at home.

The guests came to town in waves so they didn’t overwhelm the available services in Nome, population about 3,800.

They arrived at the small harbor dock and loaded into vans or school buses for their adventures, which included getting a gander at a herd of wild musk oxen that had taken up residence just outside town.

Other activities arranged for the Arctic cruise ship passengers were hiking and birding tours and helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft flights. Organizers even rescheduled the annual Blueberry Festival so visitors could enjoy a $5 piece of pie while watching traditional Eskimo dancers or browsing tables of seal skin gloves and wallets made by Alaska Native artists. The event took place a block from where the world’s most famous sled-dog race, the Iditarod, ends every March.

“Being at this festival here, the indigenous families that are here, I mean they are so proud of what they have, their handcrafts, their dancing, their music. They just love it, even with the hardships they have to endure, the prices they have to endure,”said Floridian Bob Lentz, who was traveling with his wife, Linda.

Charlie and Joan Davis of San Francisco signed up for the cruise within the first hour it was offered three years ago.

“We’ve been around the world many times, and this is someplace we’ve never been to, that’s somewhat unknown,”Charlie Davis said. “You know, just an adventure.’’

They weren’t alone in wanting to be part of the historic cruise.

“This is the longest single cruise we have ever made, and it is the most expensive cruise we’ve ever made because it’s many days, and it’s very expensive to operate up here,”said the ship’s captain, Birger Vorland. “And it’s the one that sold out the fastest; 48 hours, it was basically gone.’’

This cruise was three years in the making, and just about everything is unique to the trip, said John Stoll, a Crystal vice president who organized it.

The Serenity was fitted with special equipment to operate in the Arctic, including an ice navigation satellite system. Its operators even chartered cargo flights to northern communities to gather fresh perishables for the vessel’s five-star restaurants.

“The planning and the logistics that has gone into this ship has been nothing short of amazing,”Stoll said.

The cruise company is planning another Alaska-to-New York City voyage next August, catering to travelers like the Lentzes.

“We’re going off on a wildlife adventure right now, and that, to me, is what it’s all about in our twilight years — kind of experiencing things before crazy humans destroy it,”Bob Lentz said.

 

Report: Polar bears in grave danger due to global warming

Polar bears are at risk of dying off if humans don’t reverse the trend of global warming, according to a blunt U.S. government report.

“The single most important step for polar bear conservation is decisive action to address Arctic warming,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a draft recovery plan, part of the process after the agency listed the species as threatened in 2008.

“Short of action that effectively addresses the primary cause of diminishing sea ice, it is unlikely that polar bears will be recovered.”

Halting Arctic warming will require a global commitment, said Jenifer Kohout, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional program manager and a co-chair of the polar bear recovery team.

“In the meantime, the Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners are committed to doing everything within our control to give the bears a chance to survive while we await global action,” she said during a teleconference.

Greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, which is reducing the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic. Polar bears use sea ice for feeding, mating and giving birth. The Office of Naval Research said the past eight years have had the eight lowest amounts of summer sea ice on record.

The worldwide population of polar bears is estimated to be between 20,000 and 25,000 animals, and they live in five Arctic nations. Alaska is the only U.S. state with the iconic white bears.

Authorities with the U.S. Geological Survey, the scientific division of the Department of Interior, this week outlined two scenarios for polar bears through the end of the century: one in which greenhouse gas emissions stabilize, and the other in which they continue unabated.

The polar bear group that Alaska shares with Russia and Norway faces the first threat. This group makes up about a third of the world’s population. Under either scenario, it could begin seeing global warming’s ill effects as soon as 2025 because of the dramatic loss of sea ice in this part of the Arctic.

Other bears that make up population groups in Canada and Greenland would be affected about 25 years later.

The recovery plan identifies a “suite of high-priority actions to be taken in the near- and mid-term in the United States that will contribute to the survival of polar bears, so they are in a position to recover once Arctic warming has been abated,” Kohout said.

Those goals include better management of not only subsistence harvests, but deadly interactions with humans, which could increase as people move farther north in the Arctic. They also include protecting the animals’ dens from humans and minimizing the risk to polar bears from oil spills.

Written comments on the plan will be accepted through Aug. 20.

Study blames humans for most of melting glaciers

More than two-thirds of the recent rapid melting of the world’s glaciers can be blamed on humans, a new study finds.

Scientists looking at glacier melt since 1851 didn’t see a human fingerprint until about the middle of the 20th century. Even then only one-quarter of the warming wasn’t from natural causes.

But since 1991, about 69 percent of the rapidly increasing melt was man-made, said Ben Marzeion, a climate scientist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

“Glaciers are really shrinking rapidly now,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say most of it is man-made.”

Scientists fault global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas as well as changes in land use near glaciers and soot pollution. Glaciers in Alaska and the Alps in general have more human-caused melting than the global average, Marzeion said.

The study was published this month in the journal Science.

The research is the first to calculate just how much of the glacial melting can be attributed to people and “the jump from about a quarter to roughly 70 percent of total glacier mass loss is significant and concerning,” said University of Alaska Fairbanks geophysicist Regine Hock, who wasn’t part of the study.

Over the last two decades, about 295 billion tons (269 billion metric tons) of ice is melting each year on average due to human causes and about 130 billion tons (121 million metric tons) a year are melting because of natural causes, Marzeion calculated.

Glaciers alone add to about four-tenths of an inch of sea level rise every decade, along with even bigger increases from melting ice sheets – which are different than glaciers – and the expansion of water with warmer temperatures.

Marzeion and colleagues ran multiple computer simulations to see how much melting there would be from all causes and then did it again to see how much melting there would be if only natural causes were included. The difference is what was caused by humans.

Scientists aren’t quite certain what natural causes started glaciers shrinking after the end of the Little Ice Age in the middle of the 19th century, but do know what are human-causes: climate change, soot, and local changes in land use.

There is a sizable margin of error so the 69 percent human caused can be as low as 45 percent or as high as 93 percent, but likely in the middle.

“This study makes perfect sense,” said Pennsylvania State University glacier expert Richard Alley, who wasn’t part of the research. “The authors have quantified what I believe most scientists would have expected.”

Not all of the human-caused melting is from global warming from the burning of fossil fuels, but climate change is the biggest factor, said Ted Scambos, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The study showed that it took time for global warming and other factors to build up and cause melting. That lag effect means the world is already locked into more rapid melting from the warming that has already occurred, Marzeion and Alley said.

On the Web…

Science: http://www.sciencemag.org