Smith Sound & Nares Strait, Far North

Sep 01, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer


Here in the Far North the sun seems to take a leisurely approach to mornings. More than an hour before its brilliance illuminates the sea, pastel peaches and baby blues appear stretching behind dark silhouetted landforms. Gradually the colors intensify. Soon dark blue virga fell from a navy sky as repetitive highlights contrasted with a deepening orange. 

Although we have crossed the political boundary that separates Canada from neighboring Greenland, we still looked out upon the mountains of Ellesmere Island. To the east, huge blue icebergs glided along the Greenlandic shore. Like polar explorers who have gone before, we strove to see just how far north we could go, and for most of the morning open water encouraged our endeavor. Gradually, scattered floes gave way to giant icy platters patterned with turquoise pools and rivulets. By midday they had coalesced, driven by wind and currents, and we could progress no further. 

The GPS stood at 78° 51.060’ N. But who is to say there was nothing more to do? Brave souls (or foolhardy?) jumped into the 30° F waters and exited just as quickly while those more timid (or wiser?) cheered from railings above. Not long after we all went out for a stroll. More than 650 feet of water lay beneath our feet but we felt safe and secure while meandering upon the drifting ice. 

Somehow, amongst all the excitement of the day we managed to find educational moments to learn of the importance of polynas (open water surrounded by sea ice), the bleaching of coral reefs, and the rise and fall of Norse civilizations in Arctic Canada and Greenland.

As evening approached we danced among the loosening floes, southbound to more adventures.

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About the Author

Karen Copeland

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Born and raised in Canada, Karen received her B.Sc. in biology from the University of Waterloo, her M.D. from the University of Western Ontario and interned at McMaster University in Hamilton. Detouring from hospital hallways, Karen soon became a whitewater guide and published photographer, fulfilling a passion for knowledge that began with botany and led to geology and ornithology.

About the Videographer

David Barnes

Expedition Leader

David studied history at the University of York in England and theology at the University of Wales.  Research in the field of religious history (at Cardiff) followed on naturally.  He has spent most of his professional life teaching history, most recently in adult education departments within the University of Wales where he has taught a wide variety of courses pertinent to the wider Atlantic world.  In 1988, he made his first lecture-tour of the U.S. for the English Speaking Union. He has published extensively on Welsh history and topography–his most recent book being the Companion Guide to Wales (2005)–and is a frequent contributor of articles and reviews to Welsh cultural and literary journals.  In the1990s, David was active in the field of international education, traveling worldwide and spending a year in the U.S. (in Atlanta and New York City).  He speaks English and French in addition to his native Welsh.

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