On thin ice: Near the North Pole, a warning about climate change

A huge icebreaker makes its way through the frozen waters of the Arctic Ocean, leading the way to the North Pole, all white as far as the eye can see. But even here, the impact of climate change is being felt.

Dmitry Lobusov saw it. For 13 years he was the captain of the 50 Let Pobedy (50 Years of Victory), part of a growing fleet of icebreakers that Russia uses to assert its might in Arctic waters.

The vast nuclear-powered ships pave ways through the ice for commercial ships, helping Russia deliver its oil, gas and minerals to the rest of the world, and ultimately establish an Arctic sea route between Asia. and the Europe which Moscow presented as a rival to the Suez Canal.

Lobusov, a 57-year-old man with a gray beard who often has a pipe in his hand, watches from the deck as the red and black ship moves forward, so silent you can hear the ice cracking beneath its hull.

After nearly 30 years at sea, much of it in the Arctic, Lobusov has witnessed the changes brought about by global warming.

“In the 1990s and early 2000s, the ice was harder and thicker,” says the sailor, his immaculate blue uniform.

“Before, there was a lot of perennial ice,” he says, referring to the ice that forms on the surface of polar oceans and survives through several melting seasons.

“You hardly see this kind of ice anymore.

Perennial ice is thicker and more resilient because it forms over several years and loses salt, Lobusov explains, making it harder for the icebreaker to navigate its way. But today, most of the ice cover forms over the course of the year and melts quickly in the summer.

Melting ice

Scientists say there’s no doubt it’s climate change at work.

Russian weather service Rosgidromet said in a report in March that the Arctic ice cover is now five to seven times thinner than in the 1980s, and during the summer months the waters become freer and freer. of ice.

Diana Kidzhi, 27, second in command to the captain, on the 50th anniversary bridge. | AFP-JIJI

In September 2020, ice cover in the Russian Arctic reached a low of 26,000 square kilometers – a record for this time of year – according to the report.

Russia, a third of which is in the Arctic Circle, is warming faster than the global average, he said, with temperatures rising by half a degree per decade since 1976.

Long skeptical of climate change, President Vladimir Putin has changed course in recent years, ordering his government to develop a plan to cut carbon emissions below EU level by 2050 .

As forest fires raged in Siberia this summer, Putin said he was alarmed by a series of “absolutely unprecedented” natural disasters in Russia.

Viktor Boyarsky, a 70-year-old veteran polar explorer who traveled aboard the icebreaker, admits that global warming does exist. But he says human activity “does not play a key role” and that its effects are not irreversible, despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary.

Former director of the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Museum, Boyarsky, says the region is stuck in a vicious cycle as the removal of the ice cover allows the warmer waters of the Atlantic to enter in the arctic basin.

“It’s a chain reaction process. Less ice means more water and more heat, ”he says, standing in the haze that envelops the North Pole pack ice.

“We are only guests”

After many years at sea, the captain of the icebreaker Lobusov says the changes in the Arctic are undeniable.

In addition to the thinner arctic ice, he says the North Pole is now covered in fog in the summer.

“I think it’s also the effect of warming, there is more humidity in the air,” he says.

Captain Dmitry Lobusov of the Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Years of Victory leads the ship in the Arctic Ocean on August 18.  |  AFP-JIJI
Captain Dmitry Lobusov of the Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Years of Victory leads the ship in the Arctic Ocean on August 18. | AFP-JIJI

He has also seen glaciers shrink in the Arctic, such as on the Earth Franz Josef archipelago of more than 190 islands.

“Many glaciers are retreating towards the center of the islands from where they are on the map,” he says.

“There are no questions here, it is undoubtedly the effect of the heat.”

Lobusov’s 50-year victory – part of a fleet of icebreakers operated by the state atomic energy company Rosatom – reached the North Pole 59 times and on this trip carried a group of teenagers who won a competition to travel on board.

As the 160-meter ship passes off the coast of Prince George Land – an island in the Franz Josef Land archipelago – a polar bear roams the ice, watching the ship.

“The bears are the bosses here, it’s their home,” Lobusov says. “We are just guests. “

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