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Warm Like Melting Ice Day 17

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NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2,037

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Vina was left behind in Iqaluit, fuming mad and most likely to scald tender ears with her hot words. The small cargo plane that First Air coordinated for Dagen’s drop at Clyde River was not a passenger plane, but Dagen could ride in the jump seat. Vina would have to wait for a regularly scheduled flight and because of a pending storm, tomorrow’s flight was canceled. Not to mention that she had not worked out housing arrangements to which GGP’s corporate secretary, Laurel Henney, told Vina to “stay put.”

Vina was not the sort of person to be told that. But it made Dagen’s day to see her face flamed red, her glossy lips pursed, and he nearly shouted for joy when she stomped her booted foot as he stepped out onto the icy tarmac to get on the plane without her. He hoped that by the time she did arrive in Clyde River, he would be on the ice.

“Don’t you dare do that interview without me,” she shouted as he walked through the door and stepped out into the blast of cold air. Already the wind was picking up and it clipped at the plane over the course of the two-hour flight.

The sun was making its circuit across the sky. Although it was appearing longer each day as spring progressed, it still cut a low swath as if it could not climb to a normal zenith and back. So it merely rolled across the sky, east to west casting what looked like a permanent sunset glow behind the lengthening clouds stretched across the sky like tendons.

Below was white with outcroppings of black that marked a tumble of rocks, big as mountains. The pilot flew across land and turned north at the eastern shore of Baffin Island. Dagen could see out the front window and the sea ice that spanned below was a breath-taking sight. Unlike the land, the texture of the sea ice rippled and cracked, like the mottled markings of a seal. Snow drifts formed ridges along cracks making the design an 3-D image.

During the flight, Dagen scanned a few reports he had printed out in Minneapolis, but merely stashed away until now. Satellite recording of the arctic sea ice began in 1979, a NASA project. It was comparative data that measured the thickness of ice from one year to the next and relatively speaking, the ice had been uniform for the first 20 years. But the first decade of the 2000s recorded an abrupt decline, followed by the lowest ice spans ever recorded in 2011. That was just last year.

Dagen searched for another report and this one addressed the growing concern over the release of methane gas. He had teased Miriam about some of her craziest co-op shoppers, since she claimed he was in the top 10 with his question about green milk, including a band of concerned citizen that picketed the co-op in an effort to pressure management to ban all meat. The group expressed concern about the methane released by cattle into the atmosphere. While it created several jokes about flatulent cows leading the increase of greenhouse gases, methane was a real threat.

According to one report, methane emissions were already at an unprecedented high elevation. The problem with methane is that it’s more efficient—25 times more according to some studies—than carbon dioxide in contributing to global warming. Most of the methane has existed frozen beneath the arctic seas. Until now. It seems that melting sea ice might have already triggered the thaw of methane and in a bad-cycle scenario, its release will lead to faster ice melts. Dagen read the perspective of Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of Cambridge who stated:

“The present thinning and retreat of Arctic sea ice is one of the most serious geophysical consequences of global warming and is causing a major change to the face of our planet. The scientific community has drawn attention to the risk of dangerous climate change if the world does not reduce emissions of carbon dioxide – a worthy and critical objective. However, I wish to point toward a much more immediate problem that does not seem to be recognized among the climate change community at large: This is the problem of rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice, and likely consequence of catastrophic methane feedback.”

It was something he would need to consider in his data collections.

Thumbing through printouts, Dagen came across the one about Kivalina, Alaska. Ax had given him this one. It was about a whaling town soon to be submerged. What Dagen wanted to see were the areal photographs taken in time-lapse to show the disappearance of sea ice then land surrounding the town. Government officials were trying to relocate families and activists were clamoring for social justice. Dagen was looking for anything data-worthy, ignoring what he called “white noise.”

The problem with the data was that it was all so recent. Ax told him to consider the stories if the Inuit that went back 5,000 years, but that was not scientific proof. How did he know their stories went back that far? He thought about his mother’s stories of Finland passed down from her mother. Yet those stories didn’t go back any further than his mother’s mother. He was skeptical of Inuit stories actually being as old as 5,000 years.

He glanced back to the report on the methane gasses, read further until he got to the part of a new study on sea algae. He would have to look that one up. According to the article, the study of the sea algae added 600 years to the record of sea ice. He wondered about other ways to extend the record. Maybe Ax’s Inuit friends would have some sort of local knowledge that could be measured unlike oral histories. He would look into that. Hopefully he wouldn’t be in Clyde River long, but maybe his guide would have some insights as they traveled over the ice.

The pilot announced the approach of Clyde River over the steady pulse of the prop engines. Dagen nodded. He looked out the window but couldn’t see anything yet that signaled civilization. Shoving his mass of papers back into his daypack, he dropped a report. Grabbing it, he recognized the GGP logo. It was an acknowledgment to information regarding the 2011 melt and the thawing methane. The official response was to file an exploration plan in light of the opportunity presented by the thawing of navigable arctic waters.

How is it, the GGP was going to use the data he collected? Dagen had been so focused on finding a way out of his contract with Vina, getting back into the science community, that he hadn’t taken pause. If they had filed for rights of exploration, then it sounded as if they had already decided no matter the results he turned up. Or would they try to twist his data to support their efforts? No, he had just been around Vina’s conniving for too long. Companies like GGP were in the public’s eye and sure, they would want to present a positive light using words like ‘opportunity’ and focusing on issues such as economy and jobs, but they wouldn’t be a soulless as a Hollywood agent.

The plane banked left and Dagen saw the outlines of small houses dotted across a flat iced-over bay with black rock outcroppings. It looked like a place huddled against the extreme elements without indulgent embellishment or buildings built as monuments to power. It was a simple village squatting upon snow and ice. This must be Clyde River. The pilot descended and they landed smoothly on the airstrip.

Taxiing up to a low, flat building that looked like a box of crackers, Dagen zipped up his parka and snugged the hood. The temperature was in the 20s, below zero, that is. It was still light out, but looked as if it were a cloudy twilight.

“We beat the worst of the winds,” said the pilot, a freckled-face woman in her mid 40s with clear blue eyes. Her co-pilot opened the hatch and released the stairs.

“Thanks for a smooth ride,” said Dagen. “I’ll see the station manager about my gear. They said back in Iqaluit that he’d help unload and store it until I depart.”

“You betcha,” said the pilot, “We’ll be crossing over to Mary River for a cargo lift and if we leave within the hour we should still be good on the wind. Storm will most likely hit tonight.”

Dagen paused and looked at the pilot, “Are you from Minnesota,” he asked.

“Most people figure me for an American, but ya, sure, I’m from Minnesota. Elk River. My grandpa was an air force pilot and before they closed the field at Cape Dorset, he was stationed on Baffin Island. My Dad flew for Delta and I guess I got the pilot gene, too. Always interested in the arctic after hearing Grampa’s stories. Never a dull flight up here,” she said.

“Gentlemen first,” said her co-pilot also a woman, but with a hint of an Inuit accent.

Dagen slung his full daypack across one shoulder and stepped down from the plane. At the doors he was greeted by man in a First Air uniform. Three young men, all Inuit in parkas and hats stood within. The station manager spoke to them in Inuktitut and they all nodded and two headed out to the tail of the plane. The other went to a small garage and came out with a forklift that had huge tundra tires and chains.

“We’ll store your pallet in the back,” the station manager said.

“It should only be a day or two, weather permitting,” said Dagen.

“That and your guide is not in town,” said the station manager.

“Elijah Ujarak,” asked Dagen. “Is he out on the land still?”

“Maybe. He and another hunter are missing beyond a place where sea ice broke up,” explained the station manager.

“Sea ice. Breaking up in March?” Dagen hadn’t seen anything that early recorded in the reports he had looked at on the plane.

“It is unusual. They may be stranded beyond the break up,” said the station manager.

Looking at maps and talking with Ax over the years, Dagen understood that the eastern shore of Baffin Island was all fjords and cliffs. The sea ice was important for hunting and had always extended far beyond the craggy line of land. “Were they out far,” asked Dagen.

“Don’t know,” the man said with a shrug. But the first skiidoo party to look for them said they couldn’t get past. The ice broke away from the cliffs.”

This might be an area that Dagen could investigate. But with his guide missing, he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to get out there. Or anywhere. And he wanted to be gone before Vina figured out a way to slither into town like the Grinch. “How do I get to Lucie’s house, Mrs. Ujarak,” asked Dagen.

“Tobie will give you a ride when he’s finished unloading,” said the station manager.

“Starkka? Dr. Dagen Starkka,” came a loud voice from across the room. A man had entered the front doors but he was so deeply buried in a traditional Inuit parka with downy wisps of fur that Dagen couldn’t see him. But the man’s voice carried the distinct drawl of Texas warmed with a hint of Hispanic undertones. This must be the GGP news reporter.

“Yes, it is,” replied Dagen, “And you are?”

“Conrado Elizondo,” said the man, removing a huge furry mitten that extended to his elbow. He put out his hand to shake and Dagen noted that it was toasty warm.

“Nice mittens,” said Dagen.

“Grandma wasn’t impressed with my southern clothes,” he said, “And now I am warm with a full belly.”

“Who is Grandma,” asked Dagen.

“Dr. Starkka,” he said, “I have no idea, but the women feeds me like a mewling babe, doesn’t speak a lick of English or Spanish, but she’s my newly adopted Grandma. You are going to like Clyde River.”

Looking out at the expanse of flat snow and boxy houses, Dagen was skeptical.


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