Arctic Encounters: Ice World

Posted on February 3, 2012 by

Crackling glaciers, roaming reindeers and polar bears – the Arctic might be at the edge of the world, but it sure is bursting with life.

By Nellie Huang | Originally published in WildJunket Magazine February/March 2012.

“P olar bear on starboard!” I’d been so transfixed by the dazzling white ice field that I hadn’t noticed a curled up vanilla fur ball in the midst.

The Arctic can play tricks on your eyes – under the glaring midnight sun and the reflective ice, it’s easy to let your imagination run wild. I grabbed my binoculars to have a clearer look. There, blending seamless with the glittery ice was the King of the Arctic, a polar bear.

An awed hush fell over the 70-odd people onboard our expedition cruise. Cutting the silence with dagger-like sharpness, our ship MS Expedition sliced through the giant ice field. Sensing our presence, the polar bear stood on all fours and moved warily towards our ship, its languid strides underlying its lethal hunting speed of 30miles/hour.

Standing just inches away from the bow of the ship, it paused and stared at us for what felt like forever. I locked eyes with the motionless creature – all huge, inquisitive eyes, massive black paws and bulky back.

World’s Last Wilderness

Such profound wildlife experiences have long been a trademark of the Arctic. As one of the world’s last wildernesses, the Svalbard archipelago of the Norwegian Arctic is home to more polar bears than human beings. This is one of the few places on Earth where nature reigns supreme – we humans are simply voyeurs peeking into their world.

I’d been drawn to the Arctic by its sheer remoteness, but also by a sense of urgency – how long will it stay this way? How long will the ice caps last?

With the effects of global warming, Arctic animals are facing the danger of losing their natural habitat. According to an eight-nation report, the Arctic is heating twice as fast as the rest of the world. The U.S. Geological Survey Office’s studies show that about two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population will disappear by 2050. Sea ice around the North Pole could almost disappear by the end of the century; in fact the ice field has already shrunk by 15-20% in the last 30 years.

The Arctic is one of the places to see before it disappears forever, and it’s also a place that gives a real wake-up call.

I’d been drawn to the Arctic by its sheer remoteness, but also by a sense of urgency – how long will it stay this way? How long will the ice caps last?

Polar Bear Country

There is no better introduction to the vast, ice-locked polar region than expedition cruising. Onboard our small vessel, we circumnavigated the Svalbard archipelago, sailing through narrow fjords, snow-covered bays and glacial lakes – remote corners that were otherwise inaccessible by land travel or giant cruise ships.

Most of all, the impact of small ships on the environment is minimal: research organization Akvaplan-Niva has proven that emissions from these small-scale expedition cruises are relatively low, and environmental awareness among crew and passengers is high. Most operations onboard are strictly controlled by Norwegian legislation, thereby ensuring minimal impact on the fragile Arctic environment.

Our Arctic voyage had started in Longyearbyen, the largest settlement in Svalbard (with a population of 2,060 people). I had arrived at 2am, when the sleepy town was still blanketed in the golden glow of the midnight sun – three months of daylight this part of the world experiences each summer. What was once a mining settlement is now a rather attractive town lined with colorful alpine houses and surrounded by pointed peaks. This is also home to the world’s northernmost church, hospital, tourist office and ATM.

While in Longyearbyen, I received news that a 17-year-old British camper was tragically mauled to death by a polar bear in Tempelfjord, just 25 miles from town. To be honest, I was scared rigid. But the smell of adventure and the idea of getting up close to wildlife from the safety of a vessel was enough to get me on the expedition cruise. Though now, face to face with a polar bear, I wasn’t so sure…

If you enjoyed this preview, you can read the full article  in WildJunket Magazine Feb/Mar 2012.


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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is the co-founder of WildJunket. As a professional travel writer with a special interest in offgrid destinations and adventure travel, she scours through the world in search for a slice of undiscovered paradise. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Guatemala, swam with sealions in the Galapagos and built a school in Tanzania.

4 Responses to “Arctic Encounters: Ice World”

  1. vintage hermes January 4, 2013 7:38 pm #

    Most operations onboard are strictly controlled by Norwegian legislation, thereby ensuring minimal impact on the fragile Arctic environment. Good Job!!!

  2. view site January 7, 2013 2:21 am #

    That’s some amazing photographs to display the Ice world and our world would end like this resulting in a gigantic flood ;hope the issues gets fixed to save earth from such tremendous disasters.

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