Story by McKenna Peterson | Photos by KT Miller
... to fill a liter bottle with ocean water from the middle of the Denmark Strait?
Six. One to steer the sailboat in the correct direction. One to tack the sails, while navigating an icy deck. Two to fish ocean water into a bottle using cordelette and a MacGyvered weighting system. One to take temperatures and comment on how cold it is outside. And, finally, one to document the process while laughing at the slightly dysfunctional, yet incredible crew that makes up the Shifting Ice and Changing Tides Expedition.
This hilarious ordeal was one of many highlights from the six-day open water crossing, which we completed from Iceland to Southern Greenland. We were on a mission to ski first descents in the region, while visually documenting the impact climate change is having on the Greenlandic geography and way of life.
Our rockstar, all female team—Meghan Kelly, Nat Segal, Pip Hunt, Martha Hunt, KT Miller and me—survived three weeks on a 63-foot sailboat, climbed and skied many first descents using our own two feet, accumulated hours of footage to show the world what we found, and collected snow, ice and microplastic samples for ASC.
Armed with latex gloves, thermometers, sample bottles, and a GPS, we set out to make our contribution to the world of conservation research.
For Dr. Natalie Kehrwald from the University of Venice, we collected snow samples from the top of peaks and middle of couloirs so she can analyze the spatial distribution of aerosols and other organic pollutants and their relationship to glacial melt. Dr. Andrea Spolaor had us taking side-by-side samples of sea ice and seawater to help him map the historic extents of sea ice by analyzing halogen concentrations and isotopes.
We were “chipping off sea ice in Greenlandic fjords with an ice axe at sunset after bagging a first descent,” as Nat Segal described it.
Our third task was to collect water samples for ASC’s Marine Microplastics Project. So far, the project has found microplastics in nearly every liter of water they have examined—from all over the world.
Toxins like DDT, BPA, pesticides and other really-bad-for-you materials adhere to these microplastic particles, which are then ingested by marine animals. And we all know how the food chain works: After ingesting these ocean dwellers, it isn’t long before these toxins are swimming around in the blood streams of humans and animals worldwide.
During our expedition, we chose to take water samples from three locations: one at our departure point in Ísafjörður, Iceland; another in the middle of the Denmark Strait; and one on the southwest coast of Greenland. While fishing for ocean water off of the side of the sailboat, our team pondered the likelihood of finding a microplastic-free water sample. I mean, we were in one of the world’s most remote and uninhabited locations.
It didn’t happen. Our three water samples had an average of 10 pieces of microplastics per liter sample, with 15% blue, 5% red, 18% transparent/white, and 6% black and other colors.
The samples we collected will help provide researchers with more information on the composition and distribution of these pollutants—a small step in the right direction toward a cleaner ocean and healthier planet.
As adventurers with a passion for the environment, the ladies of the Shifting Ice and Changing Tides expedition are grateful for the opportunity ASC provided by connecting us with the three scientific research projects.
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