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Empowering Arctic Youth

Cara and Kayan - "Give me a solar-powered snow mobile and I'll use it" was the young Eskimo's quip in Barrow, Alaska.

Cara and Kayan – “Give me a solar-powered snow mobile and I’ll use it” was the young Eskimo’s quip in Barrow, Alaska,  in 2008.

Back in 2008, the Ice Blog was born when I was on a trip to Alaska reporting on the “Climate Change College”, a joint project by WWF and an ice cream company to interest young people in climate change.  Young climate ambassadors from Europe had won a trip to Arctic Alaska to find out first hand about the impacts of climate change – and to meet with young people in the region. I am still in contact with some of the ex-ambassadors, who are continuing to make contributions to climate and environment protection in their careers and everyday lives. Cara Augustenborg in this photo is a successful academic, entrepreneur and Green Party candidate in Ireland. Kayan, I wonder if you are still in Alaska and if you ever got yourself an environment-friendly means of transport?

Anyway, I have  Elías Thórsson from the Arctic Journal to thank for drawing my attention to a new youth project inside the Arctic: YAC, the Youth Arctic Coalition. It sees itself as  “Youth collaboration to address environmental, economic and social challenges and opportunities in the Arctic”. The latest edition of the Arctic Journal has a story by Elías on the group and the need to include young people in decisions on Arctic issues, headlined “Carpe Arcticum”.

Indeed, the Arctic is one of the fastest changing places on the planet. With countries as far away as China or Japan making their interest(s) plain, what happens in the Arctic today will have a huge impact to the region future generations in the High North will inherit.

Protesters capture media attention

Young Norwegian protesters wait for Norway’s premier, January 2014

During my latest visit to Arctic Norway in January, young protesters in Tromso told me of their fears about the environmental impacts of Arctic oil drilling. During visits to Alaska, I spoke to young Inupiat residents who were more concerned about jobs and hoping to continue to benefit from wealth from the oil industry. In Greenland, some of the youngsters I spoke to were torn between concern about the melting ice and changes to the lifestyle they had grown up with, and the hope that climate change might bring jobs and prosperity to their Arctic island.

The YAC, which held its inaugural conference in February, is trying to bring young people from across the Arctic together to have their say in what is happening. It is not an easy task, as Elías explains in the article. Clearly, views amongst young people will cover as wide a spectrum as those of any other generation. But they will be united in their interest in looking beyond the short-term interests which influence business and politics today.

So good luck to YAC and here’s hoping your organization will attract a lot of interest. And that it will inspire a lot of active participation to shape a sustainable future for the Arctic and represent the interests of coming generations in a region in danger of losing its identity amidst the ever-faster changes caused by a warming climate.




April 25, 2014 | 3:08 pm



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Migratory Bird Day: Remember the Arctic!

Arctic terns in Ny Alesund, Svalbard

This weekend, bird and nature-lovers around the world will be marking “World Migratory Bird Day“. This is a relatively new annual event in the global calendar of “special days”. It has only been celebrated since 2006. You may well be sceptical about the value of yet another day of “xyz”, quite simply because of the sheer number of them. This one was the brainchild of, amongst others, Bert Lenten, who is currently deputy-head of CMS, the Convention on Migratory Species. I have interviewed him on bird-related issues a few times in recent years. CMS, which is part of UNEP, has its headquarters here in Bonn, close to my Deutsche Welle office. The CMS agreement is also known as the Bonn Convention.

When I talked to Bert this week, he told me the idea of having a World Migratory Bird Day came up when bird flu first hit Europe in 2005. There was such a lot of panic and so many negative reactions to migratory birds, wrongly suspected of being a main cause of the outbreak, that Bert and some colleagues had the idea of reminding people once a year that birds are actually something positive.

At Zackenberg, Greenland

Tern chasing off ice blogger, Svalbard!

Migratory birds, from large albatrosses, storks or geese to smaller terns, swallows or tiny sanderlings cover huge distances between their winter quarters and their breeding grounds every year. The Arctic is home to thousands of them every summer, when they fly up to breed. The Arctic tern is actually thought to hold the record for long-distance migration, flying between the Antarctic and the Arctic. I remember being attacked several times on Svalbard in spring when I advertently got too close to some of their nesting sites. No harm done, I hasten to add. I enjoyed watching their antics.

Now, with climate change affecting the Arctic much more drastically than the rest of the world, birds are finding conditions very different from they used to be. Ferdinand Spina is head of Science at Italy’s National Institute for Wildlife Protection and Research ISPRA, in Bologna, Italy. He is also in charge of the Italian bird ringing centre, and currently also Chair of the Scientific Council of CMS. I talked to him last week and he stressed that climate change is becoming one of the greatest threats to migratory birds. The Arctic is one of the most obvious illustrations.

“Birds are a very important component of wildlife in the Arctic. There are different species breeding in the Arctic. The Arctic is subject to huge risks due to global warming. It is crucially important that we conserve such a unique ecosystem in the world. Birds have adapted to living in the Arctic over millions of years of evolution, and it’s a unique physiological and feeding adaptation. And it is our duty to conserve the Arctic as one of the few if not the only ecosystems which is still relatively intact in the world. This is a major duty we have from all possible perspectives, including an ethical and moral duty, ” he says.

Listen to Fernando Spina

I couldn’t agree more, Fernando. We talked about the seasonal mismatch, when birds arrive too early or too late to find the insects they expect to encounter and need to feed their young. When I visited Zackenberg station in eastern Greenland in 2009, Lars Holst Hansen, the deputy station leader, told me the long-tailed skuas were not breeding because they rely on lemmings as prey. The lemmings were scarce because of changes in the snow cover.

Lars Holst Hansen is back in Zackenberg right now. He also takes some great wildlife photos, so I am happy to recommend a look at his site.

Jeroen Reneerkens is another regular visitor to Zackenberg, as he tracks the migration of Sanderlings between Africa and Greenland. A great project and an informative website!

Jeroen with sanderlings at Zackenberg

 Morten Rasch from the Arctic Environment Dept of Aarhus University in Denmark is the coordinator of one of the most ambitious ecological monitoring programmes in the Arctic. The Greenland Environment Monitoring Programme includes 2 stations, Zackenberg, which is in the High Arctic region and Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, in the “Lower” Arctic. Hansen and other members of Rasch’s teams monitor 3,500 different parameters in a cross-disciplinary project, combining biology, geology, glaciology, all aspects of research into the fragile eco-systems of the Arctic. At that time, he told me during an interview,  ten years of monitoring had already come up with worrying results:

“We have experienced that temperature is increasing, we have experienced an increasing amount of extreme flooding events in the river, we have experienced that phenology of different species at the start-up of their growing season or the appearance of different  insects for instance now comes at least 14 days earlier than when we started. And for some species, even one month earlier. And that’s a lot.  You have to realise the entire growing season in these areas is only 3 months. When we start up at Zackenberg in late May, or the beginning of June, the ecosystem is completely covered in snow and more or less frozen, and when we leave, in normal years – or BEFORE climate change took over – then we left around 1st September and the ecosystem actually started to freeze up.  So the entire biological ecosystem only has 3 months to reproduce and so on. And in relation to that, a movement in the start of the system between 14 days and one month – that’s a lot.”

I can’t write about birds and climate change in the Arctic without mentioning George Divoky,  an ornithologist whose bird-monitoring has actually turned into climate-change monitoring on Cooper Island, off the coast of Barrow, Alaska. George looks after a colony of Black Guillemots and spends his summer on the island. In recent years, he has taken to putting up bear-proof nest boxes for the birds, because polar bears increasingly come to visit, as the melting of the sea ice has reduced their hunting options. He has also observed the presence of new types of birds which die not previously come this far north. His website is well worth following.

So, friends of the Arctic. Spare a thought for our feathered friends this weekend. They pollinate plants, control pests and insect populations – and give us that happy feeling of springtime we are enjoying in Bonn this weekend. I am reminded of a young “climate ambassador” in Alaska, flabbergasted to see that the glaciers we had come to observe were no longer visible from the Visitors’ Centre built for that purpose just a few years before. “Everything’s connected”, was his simple statement. Presumably that is why he has spent so much time developing low-carbon solutions for companies around the globe.


May 10, 2013 | 1:46 pm



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Climate change in pictures

Icebergs from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier on ice blog trip 2009

Icebergs from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier on ice blog trip 2009


Gary Braasch is a photographer who decided some time ago to devote the rest of his working life to documenting the effects of climate change in pictures. I met him on a plane on the way to a conservation summit some time ago, when he was presenting a new photography book. Faithful ice blog watchers may remember the story.  One of the pictures was a polar bear on land – I was immediately reminded of a story by George Divoky, ornithologist and climate observer. George monitors black guillemots on Cooper Island, off Barrow, Alaska. He has observed considerable change in the climate in recent years, and has had to take all kinds of measures to protect the birds against hungry bears. He had also told me about an encounter he and a visitor had had with a bear. It turned out the photo and George’s story were one and the same event.

Now I have discovered Gary’s website World View of Global Warming, which is well worth a look. George’s Cooper Island site also has some spectacular pictures.



January 28, 2013 | 11:26 am



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Of birds and bears in a changing Arctic climate

Frozen Waves, Chukchi Sea, Barrow, Alaska

Chukchi Sea, Barrow, Alaska

Living conditions have changed considerably over the last few decades for sea birds who live or breed in the Arctic region.

Ornithologist George Divoky has found that his monitoring of black guillemots on the Arctic Cooper Island off the coast of Barrow, Alaska over the last four decades has turned into observation of the rapidly changing climate in the high north.


February 21, 2012 | 12:19 pm



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From Barrow to Barcelona

The Ice Blog hasn’t been updated for a few days, but only because of technical problems, not a lack of stories, I could have been writing non-stop.
It will take a while to catch up, but I have to start with sharing my “small world” story with you.
I was on the plane (sorry, yes, but for a greater cause…) to Barcelona for the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

(I know this is a boat, not a plane, but it is all related. Bear with me – and see below):

(This is the TARA, a famous Arctic research vessel, far from the Arctic, but still in the service of publicising global warming, open to the public at the IUCN congress in Barcelona).

Meanwhile, back on that plane: I got talking to my neighbour from the USA, who was also heading for the event. He turned out to be Gary Braasch, a nature photographer who is now dedicating almost his entire work to photographically documenting and publishing climate change.
The climate photographer’s global warming website
He told me how he became so concerned about global warming back in the 1990s that he decided to start working on that theme – and has never stopped since.
He got his latest book out of his bag to let me have a look.
Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World (University of California Press).
I am trying to acquire a copy. The photos are great – and the information, as far as I can judge from a skim on the way to Barcelona – is thorough but readable.
“Oh, the inevitable polar bear”, I said.
“I’ve got much more beautiful pics of polar bears” – says Gary.
“But they’ll be on ice, this one’s on land, because his seea ice is melting away” – says IQ.
“Exactly”, says Gary, evidently pleased to be sitting beside a kindred spirit.
His picture reminded me of a segment from an interview I had just been editing, with the ornithologist and indirect climate change monitor George Divoky.
George Divoky and Friends of Cooper Island
George told me in the interview that the sea ice was on the retreat, the permafrost of his island was melting and his campsite was being visited too frequently by polar bears who wouldn’t have touched it with a bear-claw before.
I told Gary the story.
“That’s George’s camp” – he said. “That’s where I took that picture – and we had to call search and rescue because of the bear”.
A small planet indeed.

This is some of the flotilla of sailing boats that brought committed conservationists to Barcelona in Spain for the IUCN congress. Not a bad idea. It drew loads of spectators down to the port for the “Sailing to Barcelona” parade and boat village, where they could visit the research boats and find out about scientific research.
My colleague Nina Haase and I were guests on board the “Garlaban”, which is chartered for marine research by the “Institut Océanographique Paul Ricard”. Thanks again to the Institute’s President Patricia Ricard our skipper “Jacqui” for letting us be on the boat and record interviews with the scientists and crew for our report on “Sailing to Barcelona” for the environment.
All about the marine research of the institute


October 13, 2008 | 2:46 pm



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