Monday, June 02, 2008

'Global warming' irony alert

Roger at XDA posted on this last week, but I'm just now catching up. A luxury icebreaker full of eco-tourists went for a tour of the Arctic sea ice to get a view of it before it disappears forever due to global warming. In a delicious ironic twist, the ship got stuck in the sea ice, which apparently is unusually thick and solid for May.

From a writer aboard the ship, upon whom the irony wasn't lost:
I am on the bridge of the massive Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov, and the tension is palpable. We have hit ice - thick ice.

The ice master studies the mountains of white packed around the ship while the 24,000-horsepower diesel engines work at full throttle to open a path. The ship rises slowly onto the barrier of ice, crushes it and tosses aside blocks the size of small cars as if they were ice cubes in a glass. It creeps ahead a few metres, then comes to a halt, its bow firmly wedged in the ice. After doing this for two days, the ship can go no farther.

The ice master confers with the captain, who makes a call to the engine room. The engines are shut down. He turns to those of us watching the drama unfold, and we are shocked by his words: “Now, only nature can help this ship.” We are doomed to drift.

What irony. I am a passenger on one of the most powerful icebreakers in the world, travelling through the Northwest Passage - which is supposed to become almost ice-free in a time of global warming, the next shipping route across the top of the world - and here we are, stuck in the ice, engines shut down, bridge deserted. Only time and tide can free us.
I read not long ago a book by Dan Simmons entitled The Terror. It's a work of fiction about the actual ill-fated Northwest Passage exploration by HMSs Erebus and Terror in the mid 19th century. In those days, England actively sought a shorter passage to the Pacific, and it was believed that the Northwest Passage was just the ticket. Years of exploration of the Arctic seas and land masses showed even then that in some years, the summer ice opened up more than enough for the passage of ships, and other summers the ice never relented. The ships Erebus and Terror, along with their crews, were lost when they were locked in the sea ice for two or three straight summers after previous years of easy summer going.

The recent summers of relatively clear Arctic sea ice are nothing new, and are being followed now by a summer of unusually thick summer sea ice, which is also nothing new.

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