Arctic Explorer Opens Up on Earth Day

Explorer Will Steger and six young adventurers in their 20s have been traveling across the Canadian Arctic for the past four weeks, following in the footsteps of other legendary polar explorers. As they journey across the ice, the team's goal is to chronicle the effects of climate change on the area.

The team is just days away from visiting an ice shelf that detached from the Canadian Arctic a few years ago; some experts point to the break as clear evidence of climate change.

Steger spoke to via satellite phone from his tent Monday morning. Why did you decide to do this?

Steger: First of all, I wanted an eyewitness to the changes. I wanted to take our audience on the Internet and show them firsthand what's happening. When you're living in the city, you're in a controlled atmosphere. Up here traveling for so many years, I've really seen the changes.

One of the reasons I'm working with the younger generation is this is really their problem. If we're going to make major changes it's going to come from the youth. …

The bottom line is to get action to what we're doing here. How has the trip been going overall?

Steger: Pretty good. We've had rougher ice and travel conditions than we thought we'd have. We've seen a lot of polar bears — more than we've ever seen. Almost every night for a while.

We've had pretty good weather. We haven't seen much below 30 below. We've traveled 23 days. Usually you have storms and fog that force you to stop. … A resupply came in on the 18th, on schedule. Where are you right now?

Steger: Latitude 78 degrees 10 minutes, about 800 miles from the [North] Pole. The Ayles ice shelf — that's our first destination to visit that, and we should be there in about three days, I hope. Why have you been seeing so many polar bears?

Steger: The polar bears — this was really rough ice. When you get the really rough ice broken up, their main diet are the ring seals. … So they're looking for the sea pups.

This is a critical time for the bears. We did see a lot of mothers with cubs. It's a very important time of the year, mainly because of the rough sea ice and the deep ice. Once we hit smooth conditions on the ice, we didn't see more polar bears.

The bear population in this area is pretty stable. … In the high Arctic and the central Arctic, there's still a very high population. The global warming still hasn't affected them yet. Have you seen anything unexpected?

Steger: Really rough ice. … I traveled through that area in 1982. It was really smooth travel in that time. It's been kind of a surprise weather-wise. It's been somewhat of a normal winter. … Spring is starting to break with the 24-hour sun. What's different now than when you've been there in the past?

Steger: I really can't tell just by being here for three weeks. We'll know when we get the Arctic Ocean what's really different.

The smoking gun of global warming is this ice shelf that broke up beyond us. [In 2005, the Ayles Ice Shelf broke off from the coast of Ellesmere Island. Many have pointed to it as evidence of climate change.] … This ice shelf — that's the smoking gun that we're after. How are the younger explorers doing?

Steger: The environment is a little threatening at first. Everyone's doing very well. They're extremely hardworking and working hard collectively. Everybody's really together.

We're all very concerned with global warming. I think everyone is a very good spokesperson for their generation. What's a typical day like on the trail?

Steger: We're up usually at a quarter to 6. We spend two hours in the tent getting ready for the day — making breakfast, preparing lunch. … We're out of tents by 8. We pack up our tents, our sleds and we have a team meeting. By 9, we're off.

We travel pretty much from 9 to 6. … We're inside of tents by 8 or 8:30. And we have supper from 9:30 to 10.

This is considered spring weather right now.

We travel about 15 to 20 [miles] in one day, seven or eight in bad ice. We're always on skis. What do you expect the remaining 40 days to be like?

Steger: We're going to see the broken-off piece. … If we can make it, [we're going to] Northern Elsmere island. It has the last remaining ice shelves in the northern hemisphere. What is your message for Earth Day?

Steger: The message is that [global warming] is extremely real. … It's real, but there's a lot of hope. I think the hope is in this younger generation getting around a movement of global warming.

Global warming is extremely serious. … It's an energy crisis at the same time. We can't go on the way we're using fuel and energy up and it's just too expensive right now and it's costing us dearly.