The 2022 Season Ahead

This image represents satellite measurements of sea surface temperatures (courtesy of earth.nullschool.net)

How does BLUE become YELLOW? Changing colors reveal stories. The cool deep BLUES of the Northwest Atlantic are the home waters of the s/v ArcticEarth. They are surrounded by the warmer YELLOWS and the hotter REDS.  ArcticEarth’s winter port is in Maine, at the thermal edge, in the midst of severe and dramatic change. Just a few months ago (Sept, Oct, and Nov), this water temperature averaged 59.9°F, the hottest autumn in recorded history, more than 4°F above the long-term average.

A diver’s perspective of the ladder leading up to the s/v ArcticEarth. Sea surface temperature is 59°F, strangely warm for November.

We are a bit past mid-winter, heading to spring. The boat’s Captain, Magnus Day, returns to the s/v ArcticEarth, after completing a southern hemisphere expedition to the Antarctica Peninsula on another vessel, and consultations in the Netherlands on a third. I have been busy lining up expeditions for the fast-approaching 2022 season and productions for the team at Compass Light. The 2022 season promises to be a solid summer north, both on -and off- the boat. We have both media and research expeditions booked.

Open slots remain for private group full vessel charters: one particularly amazing 10-day expedition in Greenland will start August 11th in Ummannaq and travel south through the icebergs of Disko Bay and the archipelago outside Attu to Sismuit…. and another expedition starts August 27th with coastal sailing along South Baffin island, then an offshore crossing of Hudson Strait, before arrival in the legendary hiking landscape of the Torngat Mountains in Labrador.

Word of our ArcticEarth initiative is starting to spread. In the March/April issue of Ocean Navigator, the vessel has its own two-page spread in the BOAT FOCUS column. The magazine Maine Boats, Homes & Harbor will also note ArcticEarth as a new link among Maine and areas further north.

Meanwhile, in the last few months, the climatic connections between the Arctic and the rest of the planet have only intensified. More than 110 scientists from 12 nations presented a “report card” in December to the American Geophysical Union. The New York Times reports: “Trends in Arctic Report Card: ‘Consistent, Alarming and Undeniable:’ The changes happening at the top of the planet could unfold elsewhere in the years to come, scientists report.”explore

Blue circles show the flow rates from the Greenland Ice Sheet meltwater as measured by satellite in 2012 (courtesy New York Times).

We are tracking these stories closely.  Off the boat, Compass Light Productions has been commissioned to produce two original productions in Svalbard, and two more in Iceland, part of our 2022 ReelEarth Collection work with Overseas Adventure Travel. We hope to eventually add a Greenland film to this collection.

I am pleased to pass along the news of Arctic fishery scientist Hunter Snyder, a former Compass Light filmmaker and a current National Geographic Explorer. Hunter successfully defended his doctoral thesis on the fisheries of Greenland in August. He is currently a postdoc fellow at Dartmouth, working with Mary Albert at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering. Over the next four years, Mary’s team is taking a convergence research approach, combining materials science with policy.  The team is partnering with residents in several northern Greenland communities as they transition away from expensive and unsustainable diesel and fossil fuels, and towards renewable energy.   The grant-funded work is part of the National Science Foundation’s 10 Big Ideas program, which identifies and invests in research areas at the frontiers of science and engineering. One of those ideas is Navigating the New Arctic, a recognition that the fate of the Arctic and that of Earth are profoundly intertwined; “…the  biological, physical, chemical, and social changes in the Arctic will fundamentally alter climate, weather, and ecosystems globally with profound impacts on the world’s economy and security.” (link in Discoveries & Arrivals below)

Regarding the preparation of the s/v ArcticEarth, kudos this month to my neighbor, the very thoughtful and skilled boatbuilder Bill Buchholz. Bill has been renovating the starboard midship cabin.  

Bill Buchholz plans his next move, installing a single berth that pulls out to a double berth (or converts to a workstation).

This multi-use space will serve as a simple staging bench or work station. It can also convert to a sleeping cabin for one or for two. A big thanks also to my old friend Avery Larned, who is completing the vessel’s new upholstery. This spruces up all the cushions for berths and settees below and in the cockpit. ArcticEarth’s Mate Julia Prinselaar is underway with her 2022 certification as RYA Yachtmaster Offshore. She will be joining Captain Magnus in June, for the season north (more from -and about- Julia in months to come). Lastly, we are grateful to Tyler Eads, Drew Lyman, and the very able team at Lyman Morse, our winter home and support here in Camden.

Pass the Mic

I first met the talented filmmaker Josh Povec 18 years ago, when he left Chedd-Angier Production company in Boston and moved to Maine. Since then, he has worked with us at Compass Light for 14 years, before and after a 4-year stint at the innovative ROAM Adventure Media in Colorado. In the 2000’s, Josh was the senior editor on all 5 seasons of Sunrise Earth, and he is currently Senior Producer for the ReelEarth Collection.

Compass Light Producer Eli Kao spoke with Josh about a recent character film he made on a Maine Island in the winter.

Josh Povec on a Sunrise Earth shoot.

Eli: I’ve seen the film that you made on one of the outer Islands of the Gulf of Maine, in an incredible landscape. What a moving portrait of your friend Charlie, who tracks animals! Set the scene for us. Josh: You’re on the outer edge of what we consider the coast of Maine and also on the outer edge of the Northwest Atlantic. You’re at the convergence between a frontier of land and a frontier of a wide open sea. You can feel that, especially with a winter storm. The whole place feels really powerful. Very loud.  Winter storms are loud in this place. Then after the storm, everything is very quiet, just my friend Charlie and me. He is someone who really values his alone time out there. Whenever there is a forecasted winter storm, he leaves his home in southern Maine where he lives as a retired physician and slips out to this island in a small plane, in advance of the storm.  When I asked him if I could join him, this time, he did not hesitate before saying yes. I felt honored to be there.

Can you talk more about your trip to this place? It was a powerful trip. I’d never been there in early February. This is the farthest offshore inhabited island on the East Coast. Remote and rugged. During COVID, I haven’t gotten an airplane or traveled anywhere with my unvaccinated four year old. That first day Charlie went one way and I decided to give him some space on his own.  I took off for the eastern end of the island with my goggles on and tried to capture the full brunt of the winds coming in with my camera -and stay upright!  As well as some of the tranquil waters on the leeward side. It was good to be alone out there for that day and then to meet up with him for dinner.

And then the next day was when you followed him as he was tracking, looking for animal tracks around the island. Was there anything unexpected about that tracking process with him? Tracks in the snow tell a story. It became clear right away that Charlie was looking for stories.  What happened here?  Who was here? And he’d have hunches and guesses, and be humble about what might actually have happened,.. and then Charlie saw some other story clue, and he would update his narrative. Throughout, I saw how much joy he felt in this type of activity, and how meaningful walking about this place was for him.

I’m just curious, what tracks did you see? What animals are out there, what kind of wildlife might be there in the winter? The first tracks were those of a Snowshoe Hare, which are everywhere. And they’re one of the reasons why there’s no new pine trees growing on that island, because every time a new one tries to grow, it’s a perfect meal for that population. The other big characters out there are the Raven, the Bald Eagle, the Muskrat.  They build tunnels through the snow.  You’ll see Muskrat tracks going along and all of a sudden they just disappear down into a hole, where they are presumably burrowing under the snow.  In recent years, Charlie has photographed and witnessed the Snowy Owl. So that was sort of the prize, but we never saw one. A month later, he went back out and sure enough, he ran into a Snowy Owl.  There are seals out there in the winter. Ducks, Gulls, but fewer Gulls in the winter. Right in his door yard we watched the Harrier Hawk.

Does being on this outer island in the winter give you a feeling of Maine as a gateway to the sub-arctic and Arctic?  When you’re on that island and you look out, you’re looking out at the Northwest Atlantic, and yes, you do have the feeling that the next stop could very well be the Canadian Maritimes or Greenland or Iceland, and you feel the creatures that just coast along our outer shores going to or from those more distant places -without ever coming to mainland Maine. Charlie loves being out with some wind in his face and snow in his hair and held by the power of that rugged seascape with swells that have the character of traveling over 3000 miles of open ocean. The air feels very fresh.  Very oxygenated.  Charlie is a role model of mine.  He values time by himself or with close friends, witnessing the wild world swirl about him. He is a gracious host, and we had a lot of laughs, but he also has a lot of gratitude for what he sees happening as he walks the island. Its a powerful thing to witness, and it’s something that I sort of strive for myself.

Whenever there is a forecasted winter storm, Charlie slips out to this island in a small plane, in advance of the snow.

Discoveries & Arrivals

The Hottest Autumn on Record: Gulf of Maine Seasonal Warming Update – The Gulf of Maine is an area of particular interest to the scientific community, in part, because of the remarkable rate of warming that it has experienced in recent years. https://www.gmri.org/stories/fall-2021-warming-update/

Renewable Energy for outports – The people of Qaanaaq asked Mary Albert, professor of engineering at Dartmouth, to collaborate with them in their transition to affordable, renewable energy. https://engineering.dartmouth.edu/news/dartmouth-engineers-partner-with-arctic-residents-to-bolster-resilience-and-sustainability

Modeling Snow and Ice Loss – Our new partners at the Climate Change Institute of University of Maine have published research results in NATURE, from the 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41612-022-00230-0