Holiday at the End of the Earth: Tourists Paying to See Global Warming in Action

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Holiday at the End of the Earth: Tourists Paying to See Global Warming in Action

Michael McCarthy

Bored with your usual holiday? Try watching bits of the world as they start to heat up!

The effects of climate change are leading to a distinctive new form of 21st-century travel: global-warming tourism. 0503 02

A US tour company will be running a special trip this summer to view Warming Island, the remarkable new feature of the Greenland coast produced by the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and featured on the front page of The Independent last week.

Betchart Expeditions of Cupertino, California, a company specialising in natural history tours and safaris all over the world, is mounting a 12-day voyage to the new island, 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle, led by the man who discovered it in 2005, the veteran American explorer Dennis Schmitt.

Travellers will set out in September from Reykjavik in Iceland and sail in comfort on board the 50-passenger expedition ship, MVAleksey Maryshev across the Denmark Strait to the island's location half-way up Greenland's remote east coast.

Betchart has already produced a detailed four-page brochure promoting the trip, which you can join for a minimum price of US$4,995 (£2,500). This buys you, at the bottom end, a cabin with shared bathroom facilities, plus all meals, lectures and excursions. For $6,995 you get a superior cabin with private facilities. The brochure promises: "Our voyage will pass through an area rich in marine life. Blue whales, the largest animal that has ever lived on Earth, feed in the rich waters, and orcas [killer whales], white-beaked dolphins, and many sea birds may be seen."

It adds: "We will have a full day to explore the area around Warming Island and to learn from Dennis [Schmitt] about his team's discoveries. En route, we will have a complete lecture programme on board ship."

Betchart's Bob Nansen said the trip was primarily aimed at scientists but members of the public were also perfectly welcome. About a third of the 48 places had already been sold, he said, and he expected that the tour would be full.

But Greenland's new coastal feature is not the only climate change phenomenon you could visit this year. The Arctic sea ice, which like the Greenland ice sheet is rapidly melting, will be one of the destinations featured by a British package holiday firm better known for offering trips to Mallorca.

The company First Choice will sell Arctic cruises to intrepid travellers after buying the Canadian firm Quark Expeditions for £8.8m. The group is hoping the deal will help it tap into the growing market for holidays in the polar region.

Quark Expeditions, which is the only firm in the world to offer polar trips on ice-breaker ships designed specifically to navigate through ice sheets, has carried more than 30,000 passengers since its launch in 1991, suggesting holidaymakers are increasingly looking for more than just sun, sea and sand when they take a break.

The author Mark Lynas, who has a strong claim to be the world's first global-warming tourist - he wrote the first book about its effects around the world, High Tide - agrees that people are looking for such different trips that global-warming tourism will probably be an inevitable development.

"The way things are going, people want new experiences not had by 10,000 people the previous week," he said. "But there's no such thing as the lonely planet any more. You're facing hundreds of other people seeking a lonely planet wherever you go, so we are getting all sorts of new tourism. It's broadening out more thematically, becoming issue tourism."

In his 2004 book Mr Lynas reported on the melting of the permafrost in Alaska, the increase in dust storms in China, sea level rise in the Pacific islands and melting glaciers in Peru.

"The idea of global-warming tourism is full of ironies," he said. "If enough people expend enough fossil fuels to visit one Warming Island, they will ensure that there will be many more."

Journey to an unknown land

"An extraordinary journey!" announces Betchart Expeditions. "A voyage of discovery to Warming Island, Greenland, from 25 September to 6 October, 2007."

Travellers are offered not only this unique piece of geography, but remarkable wildlife and even the Northern Lights.

The brochure promises: "We will join Dennis Schmitt as he returns to East Greenland, and to his amazing discovery from the fall of 2005 - a finger-shaped island in East Greenland's Liverpool Land, which was totally unknown until it recently emerged from beneath the great Greenland ice sheet. It was discovered by Dennis on a voyage 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle in September 2005."

The island, says Betchart, "is a compelling indicator of the rapid speed of global warming and is attracting attention from major newspapers worldwide".

The brochure continues: "On this voyage, you will be among the first to see this spectacular island on an outstanding itinerary in Iceland and East Greenland." Later, it says, "we will head south to explore the coast of East Greenland, including Scoresby Sund, the longest fjord in the world. At Cape Hofmann Halvø, we will look for musk oxen in the wild. Remains of remote Inuit villages will be of interest, as will seals and other wildlife of Greenland - all against the unbelievable setting of the stunning glaciers and peaks of coastal Greenland. It is an ideal time to see the Aurora Borealis."

Tour party members are further advised: "Walks during shore excursions will be short, and may be over damp or uneven terrain, glacial ice, or snow."

You'll need more than your flip-flops for this journey.

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

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