Sixteen-year-old Eloise Callaghan from Wolfville has some explaining to do as she starts telling people how she spent her summer vacation.

The Grade 11 Horton High student was chosen as the only student from Nova Scotia to participate in a unique two-week sailing adventure of a lifetime around the Canadian High Arctic and Greenland with more than 100 other students from around the world.

“Going to the Arctic zone definitely took me out of my comfort zone,” said Callaghan. “I had no idea what to expect, but then I found out I wasn’t the only one who was nervous. Soon we became like a family.”

Hosted by an organization called the Students on Ice Foundation, the 2017 expedition from Aug. 8-23 was led by a team of more than 80 scientists, artists, Inuit leaders, dignitaries and polar explorers.

Since 2000, the foundation has taken more than 2,500 youth from 52 countries to the world’s polar regions. The purpose of the journey is to allow participants to develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the Arctic through hands-on learning in science, history, culture, arts, policy and governance.

The participating students and staff hailed from Canada and all over the globe, including Greenland, the U.S., Mexico, Micronesia, China, Italy, Germany, Monaco, India and Malaysia. A pre-expedition program was put on for Canadian and Greenlandic Inuit students (Kalaallit) who acted as ambassadors for their homeland.

Some of what they saw they may never see again because of how fast things are changing in the Arctic, said Callaghan.

“What made the biggest impression on me was witnessing firsthand something I had only heard about, which is climate change.”

One day the group docked on a beach and hiked about 15 minutes onto a glacier and listened to experts talk about glacial melting, learning that largest body of ice in the Northern Hemisphere is changing fast.

“We also heard it from the Inuit themselves, but we could also see it instead of being told about it,” she said. “When you can see the caving and melting, you have better appreciation of the urgency of the problem.”

Callaghan said it is rapidly impacting northern communities and their traditional way of life.

“The ice isn’t thick enough and it’s resulted in some deaths from hunters falling through. Some say it’s not even worth it to teach those techniques to a younger generation anymore, so it’s a loss of culture for them too,” said Callaghan.

What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the arctic, either, said Wolfville’s Scott Carr, who was also on the expedition as an educator and staff member, and sponsored Callaghan’s participation.

Carr is the chief executive officer of JASCO Applied Sciences, a global company headquartered in Dartmouth. Staff often works in Alaska, Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut and Greenland, measuring and analyzing the underwater noise impact on marine mammals for a variety of industries and applications using their own equipment they manufacture.

Even though he’s no stranger to the North, Carr said this journey was exceptional, describing it as “a powerful experience.”

“Things are changing and the impacts are felt elsewhere, such as the rising sea levels in Micronesia,” he said, explaining there was a group of students on the expedition from that sub-region in the western Pacific Ocean who are deeply concerned about the impact of climate change on their islands.

Carr says it’s also important to learn how the “pristine environment” of the Arctic can be managed properly and the impact of noise with the increase in shipping activity as more ice disappears.

“Unlike the Gulf of Mexico or even the port of Halifax, where there is already so much traffic.”

Carr said there was also discussion around reconciliation because of Canada 150 and that there is an alumni program to help move forward initiatives that evolve from the experiences the youth want to act on to become leaders in their own communities.

“The strength of the connections within the northern communities is amazing as they survive in minus 45-degree Celsius temperatures and total darkness,” said Callaghan, adding that she and other “southern” Canadian students felt a greater need for more Arctic education in the public school system.

The expedition is prompting her to rethink what she wants to do after she’s out of high school. Callaghan said she’s already been approached about doing presentations at Horton High and other local schools and wants to partner with a school in Nunavut to maintain and foster relationships with youth in the North.

During their time there, Callaghan said the weather was never below zero but never above 10 degrees, with lots of rain.

But regardless of where Nova Scotians go, the theory of six degrees of separation — that everyone knows everyone in the world within six connections — also usually gets tested for accuracy.

Carr said a student from Toronto, who was on the expedition as well, made the effort to introduce himself to the Wolfville residents.

“Turned out he’s a third-year Acadia student,” said Carr.

 

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Image credit: Mike Sudoma/SOI Foundation

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