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Polar Bears And Rivers Of ice

Published 7 years ago
By Forbes Woman Africa

Africa was regarded the last frontier for adventure and exploration during the colonial rule. Today, it’s the polar seas, the Arctic and the Antarctic, that have not been invaded by mass tourism – yet.

Only a few years ago, it was daunting to travel to its far reaches, but today, for a hefty sum, one can step on the North Pole or South Pole – and proudly proclaim oneself an adventure tourist.

The land of the midnight sun offers some of the most scenic and finest wildlife experiences in the world. The most accessible parts of the Arctic are the seas between northern Canada, Greenland and the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. Thanks to modern travel, one can fly from Oslo to Longyearbyen, the largest settlement in Svalbard in Norway, by commercial jet and then approach 80 degrees N latitude by ice class ships, which offer adventure tourists some of the most magnificent vistas of the polar world.

With glaciers and ice caps covering 24,000 square miles, Svalbard is one of the largest glaciated areas in the Arctic with 2,100 named glaciers. In comparison, the Himalayas only have 380 glaciers. The climate in the Arctic is currently warming at a faster rate than observed elsewhere on earth and future projections suggest that in 60 years, there may be no glaciers left.

Polar travel can be daunting, exhilarating and often disappointing, primarily due to unpredictable weather conditions. Like the weather, spotting wildlife can also be a hit or miss, depending on how lucky you are.

Trekking The Tundra

My polar adventure began the moment I boarded the Russian registered expedition ship, Akademik Sergey Vavilov, in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen. I had traveled on this same ship to Antarctica two years ago. It’s an ice class vessel capable of cutting through loose floes (sheets of floating ice).

The Arctic Ocean is a frozen landmass that extends across six million square miles in winter and drops to 145,000 square miles in summer. There is increasing evidence that it has shrunk over the past few years. The rigid ice cap is sometimes 50 feet thick. When it melts, it creates floes and icebergs that can block shipping lanes – remember how the Titanic sank?

The 70-odd passengers in the vessel with me embarked on daily boat expeditions, 10 per boat, to visit bird cliffs, track polar bears and walruses, land on isolated beaches or enjoy tundra walks of up to three miles. In doing so, we observed polar bears feasting on seals, pods of walruses on the beaches, cliffs with over 500,000 birds and rare arctic foxes. Trekking on the tundra, a frozen, barren land, with only peat and moss growing for months in a year, provided me a unique perspective on the ecology of the arctic lands.

The tundra supports herbivores like reindeers that graze for two months to build enough reserves for the entire winter. There are over 120 species of arctic flowers amongst the 1,700 species of plant life.

Any visit to the Arctic is not complete without spotting a polar bear. The polar bear habitat encompasses the entire circumpolar Arctic region. Their main habitat is on offshore pack ice, and along coasts and islands of the Arctic region. Over 40% of all polar bears live in Northern Canada, on pack ice and along the shores of the many islands there. Bears will remain in this ice pack habitat all year. It is estimated that over 3,400 bears live in the Svalbard area.

The vast tundra, the glacial rivers of ice, animals on the brink of extinction due to global warming, and rich oceans where over 25 humpback whales feed all around the ship, are all experiences one can never forget. The camaraderie of an international group of passengers makes the trip even more enjoyable.

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Related Topics: #Adventure, #Antarctic, #Arctic, #Exploration, #Glaciers, #November 2014, #Tourism, #wildlife.