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The Toronto Star

Seeking the Face of Climate Change

Crew will sail through the Arctic to document phenomenon's toll on northern residents

Joseph Hall

The blizzard of research on imperilled polar bears and melting ice caps now sweeping down from the Arctic may be obscuring one critical element of climate change in the region: the toll it is taking on the humans who live there.

This summer - aboard a 40-foot, Kevlar-reinforced sloop - Cameron Dueck and a three-member crew hope to sail through that scientific storm and the fabled Northwest Passage to look at the changing lives of Canada's northernmost inhabitants as the ice relentlessly retreats on them.

"There's been so much data coming out about climate change, scary numbers about how much ice is disappearing ... and people, sometimes their eyes glaze over when they see it in the newspapers," Dueck, the leader of the Open Passage Expedition said Friday.

"We were hoping that if people hear the human side of the story, that it may ... spark renewed interest for the whole climate-change story," he said.

The next day, Dueck set off from Victoria aboard the Silent Sound, a vessel with a 48-horsepower diesel engine, for which Dueck has had carbon credits donated by one of the voyage's sponsors.

The expedition will wend its way up Canada's archipelago coastline, skirt Alaska and turn east. Along the way, and with ice the master of their progress, it will dock at every passage community they can access, before heading south for Halifax in late September.

A former journalist, Dueck, 35, will be tell the human side of the climate-change story via daily blogs that will be piped out by the ship's satellite equipment to newsrooms around the world.

The voyage and its encounters, in such places as Inuvik and Resolute Bay, will also be documented by Canadian filmmaker Anna Woch.

"Obviously as many communities as we can visit along there we'd like to, but our time will be dictated by the (sea) ice," said Dueck.

Also on board are Dr. Tobias Neuberger, an expert sailor and the crew physician, and first mate Hanns Bergmann, an experienced Arctic water sailor who served in the German navy and has done research in cross-cultural exchange.

The expedition also boasts a shore-based scientific adviser to help interpret and give context to the stories they'll record.

On the 13,000-kilometre trip, the team will face some dicey weather.

"This voyage will thrust the crew into raging Arctic storms and past hulking icebergs. We will be forced to put their lives in each other's hands as Silent Sound sails through this little-explored land," Dueck wrote on his expedition's website,

From their encounters, the expedition hopes to gauge the reactions and accommodations Northern Canadians have made to such things as the wildlife and fishing alterations climate change has already brought about.

The retreating ice has also drawn interest from oil and mining corporations, who hear the steady collapse of Arctic ice caps as a siren song for open-water exploration.

"These are all issues that have been pursued by scientists and scientists have produced important data on them," said Dueck, who grew up in Manitoba.

"But I think there's also a need to look at these things on a more human level and ask the people who live there what they think about them. To put a human face to climate change a little bit."

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