We knew four years ago when we started our planning for the Great Arctic Swim that the Nares Strait would be the best location for an amazing swim adventure. Narrow enough for the possibility of a non stop swim between two continents (continent and island) in the Arctic waters, yet wide enough to make it seem impossible, the location would be epic. What we didn’t know is that the same strait will likely be one of the last habitats for polar bears on earth, as the Arctic ice shelf slowly, and now rapidly, disappears. It will also be the center for disrupting the way of life for the Inuit.
What started out as an adventure has become an “Adventure for Awareness”. When the media and the general public think about the changing conditions in the Arctic it’s on a macro scale. There is little focus on specific regions and how the macro is affecting the micro. Through our planning we couldn’t ignore the message this place was giving us.
The Nares Strait is 320 miles long and 10 miles wide at its narrowest point. Ice from the Arctic Ocean packs into the strait, and during the winter months it usually gets blocked by pack ice that forms an ice dam on both the north and southern ends. This results in an ice bridge between Canada and Greenland. The same ice bridge has brought settlers from North America to Greenland for thousands of years.
The ice bridge has a significant positive impact on the Arctic:
First, the formation of the ice bridge prevents, for roughly six months out of the year, ice flow out of the Arctic Ocean through the Nares Strait. This in turn allows sea ice in the Arctic to stabilize, thicken, and build up to the West.
Second, to the South of the Nares Strait lies Bafin Bay. When the ice bridge forms, it creates a massive open water area that allows the Inuit of the northern regions to sustain themselves with hunting. It is one of the most productive locations in the region
In recent years, the ice bridge collapsed earlier and in the last four years it has failed twice to form at all. In 2019 and now in 2022 the failure to form has brought a massive amount of ice out of the Arctic Ocean. This leads to a massive purging of old thick ice and overall thinning of the Arctic Ocean Ice. Furthermore, when the ice bridge fails to form the Inuit are not able to hunt and sustain for months as the non stop flow of ice makes it dangerous for their boats.
The ice from the Arctic Ocean pushes east and converges at the mount of the Nares Strait and on the Eastern side of Greenland. It will be one of the last places we see ice in the entire Arctic. Alas, it will also be one of the last places polar bears will inhabit. Just as natural habitats are shrinking for the wildlife of Africa due to human activity, here too our activity is shrinking the livelihood of polar bears and wildlife that rely on the ice for their existence
The warming cycles in the Arctic are affecting many regions and the Great Arctic Swim seeks to generate awareness, in partnership with Polar Bears International, to the world for this region, its inhabitants, and the plight of all living things that rely on it to sustain their way of life.