Arctic Tide Surge

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The snowmobile road is flooded.

Over the last few days we’ve noticed that at high tide the ocean water rises up from underneath the pack ice and inundates the shore. The snowmobile road that skirts the shore gets flooded up to three feet deep. We’ve seen snowmobiles speeding along the road and hitting patches of open water. The riders get soaked and almost bogged down.

There are several boats that are swamped. The mushers who keep their dogs on the sea ice cannot reach them for several hours on either side of high tide. With this unseasonably warm weather, the water takes many hours to re-freeze, and even at low tide it remains soft and slushy. We’ve heard from locals that open water along the shore is unheard-of this time of year. Normally this open-water tide surge doesn’t happen until May.

These strange ice conditions and unseasonably warm weather make us a bit anxious about what our traveling conditions will be. All our gear is designed for typical cold and dry Arctic conditions. For example, the mukluks on our feet are made from moose hide (we don’t usually waterproof the leather so that it will breathe well in cold conditions), our inner sleeping bags are down (which loses its insulating properties when wet), and our clothing is packed in regular duffle bags without any plastic liner bags. These systems have worked well for many years in the Arctic. In wet conditions, however, they would be less than ideal. We are hoping we will never have to cross sections of open water like this with our fully-loaded sleds.

We have heard rumors of large sections of ice-free open water in Cumberland Sound, the large body of water between here and Pangnirtung, the next village on our route. Open water near Pangnirtung would be unusual for this time of year. If the ice conditions are poor in Cumberland Sound, we will have to mush deep into the Sound to avoid dangerous ice and open water. This potential re-route could add over a hundred miles to our trip.

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The bay at twilight. Mushers must wait until the ice freezes to cross.
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A swamped boat, filled with seawater.
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Another swamped boat.
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A sea wall. Notice how close the water is to the houses.

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