September 4, 2013
The Northwest Passage in 2013
The two Arctic voyages we've been following closely this summer have both come to a premature conclusion. Discussions about that have spawned a debate about how much ice there actually is in the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago this year, and whether the passage is or will be navigable this year without the assistance of an icebreaker. The main route through the Parry Channel and McClure Strait certainly looks as though it will remain impassable, but what of the southern route? A few days ago I found myself engaged in a heated discussion on Facebook (now sadly consigned to the great memory hole in the sky) with someone who insisted there was lots of ice in Dease Strait because RadarSat showed it to be there! To start with today, here's how the AMSR2 sensor sees things from space at the moment, courtesy of the University of Hamburg:
The reality is that Dease Strait is still ice free. The rowers of the Arctic Joule heading from west to east made it past the sea ice at Cape Bathurst unaided. Having subsequently made it through Dease Strait without noticing lots of ice they have now decided to finish their journey in the safe haven of Cambridge Bay without continuing on to brave the tricky currents of Bellot Strait. Moving on to vessels equipped with sails and engines, travelling from east to west the catamaran Libellule and the steel hulled Traversay III made it through some ice at the western entrance to Bellot Strait a few days ago, albeit with a modicum of assistance from the CCGS Henry Larsen. Both have now made it unaided past Cape Bathurst travelling west, and safely reached Tuktoyaktuk.
Will anyone cover the entire Northwest Passage unaided this year? Well, there is at least one candidate still. David Scott Cowper in Polar Bound does have considerable experience in these matters. Last year he succeeded in navigating Polar Bound through McClure Strait! This year he negotiated Cape Bathurst travelling west to east on August 25th, accompanied by Jane Maufe rather than solo:
and has now passed through Bellot Strait:
At this juncture, however, it is still unclear whether David received any direct or indirect assistance from an icebreaker. It seems that the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier was in the vicinity at the time, assisting a party of jet skiers! The next obvious question is where will David head next? We last took a close look at ice conditions in the area on September 1st when the route north looked to be impassable. Here is how the Canadian Ice Service forecast for the Resolute area of the Northwest Passage looks today:
If David, Jane and Polar Bound can thread their way through the stretch of 2/10 concentration ice to the west of Baffin Island there seems to be every chance of a successful conclusion to another epic journey.
Getting back to Arctic adventurers without sails or engines, the kayakers of Rêve de Glace have pressed on eastwards past Cambridge Bay, and are currently approaching Perry Island:
and Charles Hedrich is currently rowing west to east, and towards the ice around Cape Bathurst, which you will note is invisible in the satellite image at the start of this article:
What with one thing and another there's still plenty of interesting things to watch out for as the 2013 Arctic sea ice melting season draws to its ultimate conclusion!
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