For three weeks in August, Rachael Tovar '18 sailed through the Canadian high Arctic with the 2017 "Students on Ice" Arctic expedition. The program selects roughly 100 high school and college students from around the world to explore arctic communities and wildlife, participate in hands-on research and learn about climate change research and policy.
The trip began in early August in Ottawa and continued along the Canadian coast to the western coast of Greenland. Upon their first adventure exploring the bird cliffs on Prince Leopold island in Nunavut, Canada, Tovar described the landscape as breathtaking. "Mountains of dirt and rock and water collecting between them, it made me feel so small and so lucky that I, not even reaching five feet tall, could see this amazing and powerful land that is the Arctic."
The ship-based expedition allowed students to work alongside scientists and educators to witness and acquire first-hand knowledge into the dynamics of climate change. Tovar blogged about the experience and shared the realities of the changing circumpolar world.
"In the 1970s, the Arctic was 3 million square miles of ice, snow. Today, there is half of that. The impacts of that in the world are devastating, and in the Arctic as well. The People of the Arctic depend on ice as a way of transportation, an extension to the land. Now that the ice is melting, they are hindered. In a couple decades, we will have just one-eighth of the summer sea ice that was there in 1978."
Each day on the research vessel, Tovar explored a new arctic landmark including Devon Island, which is known as "the largest uninhabited island on Earth," the Sirmilik National Park, a small fishing village named Itilleq Village, and the Greenland Ice Cap, among other destinations. On top of lectures and presentations led by the University of Ottawa and the Canadian Museum of Nature, Tovar also learned about cultural activities and met with local community members including the Inuit elders in Sirmilik, or "place of glaciers."
"We went on land to Pond Inlet which was a really good experience and got to see people from the region and their homes," blogged Tovar. "We saw Inuit perform their beautiful songs; throat singing is so beautiful and I never knew about it until this trip."
To reflect on their experience, students also spent time on the ship in small discussion groups and engaged in hands-on science, art, and songwriting workshops.
"To be here in the Arctic, even if it is only for two weeks, is an opportunity that I am so lucky and appreciative to have," she blogged. "It has irreplaceable lands, wildlife, and an amazing history. It is almost like a fairy tale being here. The land is so beautiful that it looks like a different planet."