Polar Sea 360°

Episode 01

The New Everest

Departure and Seasickness Map it

By Richard Tegnér, Swedish architect and father of two. Richard sets sail to traverse the famous Northwest Passage in a 9.5-metre sailboat named DAX together with companions Martin Sigge and Bengt Norvik. He is one of only a handful of amateur explorers to undertake this unimaginable challenge. Richard agreed to film and document his experience through the 9000km trek of ice, water and snow as part of the 10 part TV series The Polar Sea .

June 24 - Reykjavik, Iceland

I waved goodbye to Kerstin, Inez and Elsa in the morning. It’s unusual for me to feel this sad. Inez is more like her mother and Elsa, the younger one, is more like me, very stubborn and artistic. I think they’re worried. Their bus left for Keflavik and I strolled to the boat. The urge to go on this trip is much stronger than the feeling of missing them. I know it is something I need to do. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit under-stimulated in life. There has been something missing and I’ve started wondering, is this all there is? These feelings showed me that I should do something with my life. And so I set out on this kind of quest. I will have a lot to tell my family when I get back.



June 29

We sailed from Keflavik at 10.30. The Norwegian boat Impuls arrived alongside us during the night but continued to sail on an hour later than we did. As soon as we passed the Keflavik peninsula we set a new course to 265 degrees. Gentle wind and ocean swells reminded me of a silvery mountain scenery.

“I know it is something I need to do. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit under-stimulated in life”

I’ve always been fascinated by landscape that’s not inhabited; the wilderness, the silence and the dramatic. We pass various buoys used for fishing gear and a wooden plank misses the boat by only 20 meters. As we sail out further, the fishing gear disappears but birds take their place in the scenery, especially seagull types. They have white bodies with a short beak and narrow, grey knife-shaped wings with a white spot on the belly. I notice one prominent flyer with one wing tip a few centimeters from the surface of the water. I get the feeling it really enjoys the acrobatic moves. They slap their promises around the boat, cut our course near the prow (front) of the boat, make turns alongside us and fly away with a few quick flaps of their wings.

I’m very curious to see wildlife in Greenland and throughout the Northwest Passage. I hope to see some whales, polar bears, seals, and to meet the people living in this area. It will be very interesting to talk to them and see the way they live, which I understand is totally different from mine.

Pretty soon I was seasick. It was triggered when I went below deck. I threw up twice and after that it was impossible to either go under deck or to look at anything besides the horizon. There I sat while Martin puttered around in the cabin as happy as a lark. I spent 18 hours outside and eventually the swells were flat enough for me to crawl down and sleep from 04:30am to 10:30am. It felt very liberating.

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This post is also available in: French, German

Measuring Change Map it

By Dr. Shfaqat Abbas Khan, senior researcher at the National Space Institute in Denmark

Upernavik, Greenland

My first trip to Upernavik was in 2000 for a GPS survey expedition. I am originally from Pakistan and used to +40 degrees Celsius rather than -40 degrees. At first I was not sure if I would be the right person for the trip but I was very positively surprised. The weather wasn’t as cold as I expected (+10 C) and the scenery was stunning. Upernavik is a small settlement where everybody knows everybody. More importantly, people are very friendly and helpful, which reminds me of my origin. If you need something, you just ask your neighbour. I am often doing fieldwork in Greenland alone and the locals gladly go out on the glaciers with me to help. Now I have several friends in Upernavik and I often plan my fieldtrip by asking about their availability first. Greenland is not a strange place anymore; it is nice to be among people you can trust. I guess that is the recipe of a successful fieldtrip.

“The Greenland ice sheet is being drained faster”

The earth’s surface behaves like a spring. It moves down when it is loaded by a mass and moves up when the mass is removed. In our research we use measurements of vertical displacements from permanent GPS stations located around the margins of the Greenland Ice Sheet to estimate recent ice mass changes. We have also deployed GPS stations on glaciers to measure how fast the glaciers are moving. The typical speed is 10-20 meters per day; however, over the recent decade glaciers in this region, and many other regions in Greenland, have more than doubled their speed. This simply means that we have more ice moving from the Greenland ice sheet into the ocean. Or that the Greenland ice sheet is being drained faster.


“A glacier can thin by more than 100 meters over only few years”

By measuring ice speed and glacier thinning we have learned that a glacier can thin by more than 100 meters over only few years. This is definitely a surprise to me. I thought such changes occurred over several decades or perhaps a century. Basically what we have learned from our study is that small changes in air or ocean temperature can have huge impact on a glacier system. There is a fear that future changes may be larger.

If Greenland continues to lose ice faster, obviously global sea level will rise faster too. For Greenland it means new opportunities. Less sea ice means that ships will be able to sail perhaps year-round. Furthermore, Greenland will rise faster than sea level, meaning more land areas. For the rest of the world consequences will be mostly negative: more flood, more storms, less land area, small islands will disappear under water.

In Greenland, property owners and federal, state, and local governments are already starting to take measures to prepare for the consequences of rising sea level. However, will sea level really rise 2 meters or just 20 cm over the next 100 years? This is an important question that policy makers have to deal with when making crucial decisions. Therefore, it is our (researchers’) responsibility to predict future changes and provide reliable projections.

This post is also available in: French, German

Preparing the DAX Map it

By Martin Sigge, Swedish engineer and DAX Captain. For one year Martin singlehandedly prepared the DAX, a Hallberg-Rassey sailboat, for the Arctic summer conditions of the Northwest Passage.

Uppsala, Sweden

This is no ordinary trip. What makes it special compared to sailing in other parts of the world is the weather and the nature of Arctic waters. Cold, ice-filled water demands a lot of boat preparation and there are significant differences sailing the Arctic compared to sailing coastal waters in a warmer climate. We prepared by making significant changes to the exterior and interior of the boat, keeping in mind safety and comfort.

“What makes it special compared to sailing in other parts of the world is the weather & nature of Arctic waters”

One of the first differences is sailing 24-hours a day. On local trips we normally stop at night but in the Arctic there simply aren’t enough places to stop every night and, because of the changing ice conditions, we need to keep a quick pace and a strict schedule. The passage from Iceland to Greenland alone will take over a week in open waters.

When I was a teenager I dreamed of sailing across the Atlantic to the West Indies. The idea was absolutely hooked into my mind but between family and work I never got the opportunity– life got in the way. Now that I have the opportunity, over 40 years have passed and that trip doesn’t interest me any longer. Back in those days sailing from the Canary Islands to Barbados was a big adventure. Now, in the age of GPS navigation and sate phones, fleets of hundreds of boats sail from Gran Canaria to the West Indies every year, aided by the trade winds and computerized navigation equipment. I want something more challenging.


“At times the water temperature can even reach below zero…”

As the departure nears we feel more pressure to make the DAX function properly. The very long, cold winter didn’t allow us to get the boat into the water until the end of April, putting us several weeks behind in the preparations. Our tight schedule has us leaving Iceland on June 23 so we can be in Canada by the beginning of August, which means we will be forced to do many things along the way.

Our first addition to the boat was a more powerful heater. The Arctic is obviously much colder than the temperatures we’re used to on the “lazy latitudes,” as we call them, so we installed a powerful heater that really pushes hot air to keep us warm and dry our clothes. Having dry clothes is important to have when sailing this part of the world. Sometimes the winds are so strong it’s like standing in an ice cold shower, and spaces below the waterline (in the lower part of the cabin) take on the same temperature of the water outside. At times the water temperature can even reach below zero because salt water freezes at a slightly colder temperature.

“We need to make sure that we can get to not only the first port but also the second port, in case the first one is blocked by ice”

The second thing we did was insulate the hull to prevent condensation because in those frigid temperatures the humidity from breathing and cooking condensates on any cold surface. We’re bringing 12 jerry cans of extra diesel for the engine and the heater. We will be dependent on the engine during the long distance between ports so we need to make sure that we can get to not only the first port but also the second port, in case the first one is blocked by ice. In total we will carry almost 400 litres of fuel (the boat tank only takes 120). Mechanically, there is no way you would sail this voyage without a functioning engine. At times with no wind and in places with high ice concentration your boat will be completely dependent on the engine.

The third, most indispensable thing we did to the boat is install a radar so that we can detect ice and improve visibility. In the past couple of years a new type of radar technology, which we installed on the DAX, has emerged. It’s called Continuous Wave. Compared to old standard radar, which works with impulses, Continuous Wave gives you better resolution and visibility at closer distances, and it also consumes significantly less energy. For example, a standard radar shows you nothing between yourself and maybe 50 meters away but with this one, you can almost see your toes!


“I have been sailing with the same boat since 1976; I know every nut and bolt in it”

We brought a satellite phone on the boat, an extremely important communication tool for Arctic sailors. Via the sat phone you can download ice data from the Canadian Ice Service, the Danish Meteorological Institute, and the US National Ice Center, which they issue every few days in the sailing season. Ice data shows sailors where passages are clogged with ice or opening up.

Something to keep in mind when sailing near the poles is the magnetic declination, which is caused by the difference in position between the geographic and the magnetic north poles. Declination can reach more than 60 degrees in some places making a magnetic compass useless and causing magnetic compass-controlled autopilots to behave strangely near the poles. The closer to the magnetic North Pole you are, the worse it gets. Luckily, modern autopilots can be controlled by a GPS receiver instead of a magnetic compass.

As for our personal gear, it is important that we bring Arctic-specific sailing equipment. A dry suit is most important in case you need to work on the boat below the water line. Watertight gloves, ski goggles, and warm watertight boots are also indispensable in low temperatures and wet snowfall.

The DAX has a water tank of 170 litres and an extra jerry can as a last resort, in case of a leak in the main tank; although as soon as we hit ice, it won’t be a problem anymore because we can melt it. We have a proper toilet and a small shower with a handle, so we can keep some sort of hygienic standard. Because of all these necessities the DAX is a couple hundred kilos heavier than normal but it weighs four and half tonnes normally, so the extra weight is not significant.

This boat was built in 1976. They used to say it could take more bashing than the crew, so I knew that it would be tough enough to make it through the Northwest Passage. I took over this boat from my father only after I decided to do the trip, but it felt good knowing I would use the same boat I have been sailing with since 1976. I know every nut and bolt in it.

This post is also available in: French, German

Fifth Day at Sea Map it

By Richard Tegnér, Swedish architect and father of two. Richard sets sail to traverse the famous Northwest Passage in a 9.5-metre sailboat named DAX together with companions Martin Sigge and Bengt Norvik.

July 3 - North Atlantic Ocean

Five days have passed since we left Keflavik and I have seen a great deal of birds, some fishing buoys, and some whales. Impulse, another vessel, is visible a few nautical miles away. The days seem to flow together and the sunset cannot be distinguished from the sunrise – but still, there is never a dull moment. Even when the sea is still and calm, the surface of the water can vary greatly. Sometimes there are only a few small ripples and sometimes even calmer swells can be up to 40 or 50 meters long. The colour of the water is a shade of petroleum blue.

“The days seem to flow together and the sunset cannot be distinguished from the sunrise”

At 19:20 we turn off the engine and are still. Cumulus clouds hover in the evening horizon. It is very peaceful. So far conversations on board remain technical – about GPS-contact, routing, bearings, weather forecasts, and things that need fixing on the boat. There is no more anxiety, except for curiosity about how the relationships between us will develop.

Martin will be a very good captain, I think. He is a very reliable person; you can always count on what he says. He’s not just a talker, he’s a doer and I feel safe with him. I don’t know Bengt too well but so far he has made a very gentle impression on me. He has a great sense of humor and finds funny things around him everywhere, though I’m a bit anxious over how Bengt’s and my personal chemistry will work out.

Around 17:00, Impulse came alongside our boat and threw over a bag with freshly baked cinnamon buns. At the same time, a herd of around 20 or 30 pilot whales appeared and closed in on us. We noticed the noises of their blow holes before we saw them and suddenly they appeared right beside the boat – following us at the same speed. Family by family, they curiously followed us for an hour. They were beautiful. Bengt then made pasta with mussels.

This post is also available in: French, German

Greenland on the Cusp Map it

By Nive Nielson, a talented Inuit artist who tours internationally with her band The Deer Children. The Greenlandic musician gives us an inside peek at her unconventional lifestyle and her vision of Greenland’s future.

Nuuk, Greenland

I grew up in Nuuk, a big city of 17 000 people! We live in the middle of big mountains that drop right into the ocean. Compared to other Greenlandic kids from smaller villages (with their own dogsleds) my upbringing wasn’t all that traditional but being in nature is a huge part of growing up in Greenland. I go camping, fishing, and hiking every summer, a lot. Sometimes we camp for a week; sometimes we stay in cottages with friends and family, catching fish, collecting berries, and cooking outside.

“My Greenlandic background largely influences my music, which I actually started playing accidentally”

Greenland is a little chilly and really, really pretty. Every town is small (population-wise) and the surroundings make you feel tiny because nature is so large. There are no trees here, and no we don’t miss them because they were never there. Their absence actually means that there is no obstruction to our view of anything; we can see beautiful landscapes wherever we are. There are no roads between towns so a lot of people actually prefer to have motorboats instead of cars, making it easier to hunt, fish, and gather. Otherwise, you have to take planes or helicopters to go from town to town.

My Greenlandic background largely influences my music, which I actually started playing accidentally. I got a little Ukulele from my boyfriend as a present. He was a musician, and said “here Nive, just write songs.” I kind of laughed and shrugged it off at first, but at the time I was quite bored studying political science in Ottawa so I taught myself how to play. Then all of a sudden, one day I just started writing songs; they just came out. A little while later I began playing for people.

I am currently working on my second album. I am proud that my band and I can live and travel off of our music but not everyone earns enough to be really safe and comfortable yet.

Greenlandic people are honest (for good or bad) and know how to laugh at their own expense. We are a tough, resilient people who inherited our boldness from our ancestors, who chose to live in one of the most challenging, dangerous, and inhospitable parts of the globe. From this lifestyle we developed a rich and vibrant culture, although I am worried for our future.

“We developed a rich and vibrant culture, although I am worried for our future”


“I am beginning to see more pride and confidence in young generations who are embracing their Greenlandic heritage”

Mining in Greenland is a growing concern right now and many discussions are clouded by desperation for money, jobs, and a yearning for independence (from Denmark). My main concern is that people are unable to imagine the consequences of mining and industrial development on their daily life. There aren’t many people who understand the real, everyday consequences of industrial development and they need to be made much clearer. I fear that once reality hits people will say, “If I knew this was going to happen I wouldn’t have agreed to it.” We should be discussing what sacrifices we, as Greenlanders, are willing to make for money and if the new industries will yield what they promise to.

In my lifetime I have witnessed a huge change in Greenland’s climate. The change in the amount of snowfall for example; when I was a kid we could jump off rooftops into the snow all winter and just sink in it. If we did that now, we would die. I guess that sums it up. This concerns me because scientists seem surprised every year with how much climate change is accelerating and our pollution habits aren’t changing quickly enough.

Our earth is fragile. We have to stop underestimating the effects we have on our globe. Even now, as I write this I am sitting in a plane, polluting away. I don’t know where to start but something needs to change. Think, think people, think.

This post is also available in: French, German

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