World Federation of Science Journalists

Amundsen - Hannah Hoag

Hannah Hoag
Journalist Freelance

Amundsen trip: April 24 to April 8, 2008.

Amundsen Blog:

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"I hope to have many a story to tell you of islands that are washed by the chill waters of the Arctic Sea."
-- Letters from High Latitudes, by the Marquess of Dufferin, Sometime Governor-General of the Dominion of Canada and afterwards Viceroy of India (1856)

When Igor Krupnik visits the North, he listens to what the local people have to say about climate change. The ice is changing, they tell Krupnik, a cultural anthropologist at the Arctic Studies Center, at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. It is thin and black and slushy. It arrives late and leaves early. Krupnik is one of a handful of Arctic researchers collecting climate change stories from Arctic residents and converting them into data for the International Polar Year.

Like the locals, scientists are finding the Arctic sea ice is retreating at an accelerating pace. If the models are right, the arctic could be ice-free by 2040. It is under assault from above and below, and as the watery gap between the edge of the pack ice and the coastal ice grows throughout the polar region, it becomes increasingly susceptible to environmental changes. Although the effects of its loss on the physical and biological features of the Arctic Ocean are still being studied, it will surely have huge ramifications for the Arctic people - where almost every aspect of Arctic life is tied to the sea ice - and extend far beyond the Arctic boundaries. The Circumpolar Flaw Lead System Study is a unique opportunity for Canadian and international scientists to study the physical, biological and cultural worlds of the Arctic sea ice, and for science journalists to tell the stories.

It's rare a freelance science journalist has the opportunity to spend time with researchers in the field, especially when their laboratory floats within one of the most remote places on earth. However, as a freelancer I am also in the unique position to write about the science and cultural aspects of the circumpolar flaw lead for many audiences.

I have been reporting on climate change for more than five years, and have established a solid reputation with a variety of media outlets within Canada and around the world. I was a key contributor to the Globe and Mail's Climate Change Almanac and reported from the UN Climate Change Conference for Seed magazine. Preliminary conversations with editors at Nature, the Toronto Star, the Montreal Gazette (online) and CKUT, a non-profit community radio station in Montreal, about publishing stories, podcasts and slideshows from the Amundsen have been positive. I plan to pitch additional stories to other international publications, and will likely have the opportunity to blog about the experience for the Canadian Science Writers' Association.

If awarded the opportunity to join researchers upon the Amundsen, I hope to work on the following stories:

  • The role of the flaw lead on migrant marine mammals and sea birds;
  • Water circulation between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans the Canada Basin and shelf, and the Atlantification of the Arctic Ocean;
  • How the early opening of the flaw lead affects the way the planet reflects sunlight back to space and the amount of heat lost from the open ocean;
  • The integration of traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge in our understanding of the Arctic marine ecosystem's response to climate change.

In preparation for the trip, I would also investigate the possibility of writing an in-depth series that ties together the different themes of the circumpolar flaw lead study, and attend the fourth ArcticNet Annual Scientific Meeting in December. I also plan to speak at length with the environment representatives of Inuit Tapirit Kanatami to learn more about how they hope to link Inuit environmental knowledge to scientific knowledge.

When boiled down to its essence, journalism is nothing more than the act of telling people's stories, whether they are the stories of the scientists aboard the Amundsen or the Inuit who rely on the sea ice.
My generation of science journalists may be responsible for telling the world that the Arctic sea ice is gone. I'd rather not have to do it, and perhaps I won't, if the stories we tell today about the Arctic sea ice and its people are compassionate and intimate tales.