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Ice cover in Arctic region fast shrinking: Phukan
R Dutta Choudhury

 GUWAHATI, July 10 - The Arctic region is warming fast due to climate change and it is predicted that shrinking of ice in that area can disturb monsoon in our part of the globe, said Rituraj Phukan, who recently visited the North Pole. He also said that during the visit, they had also witnessed that the snow cover in some parts was already becoming lower in North Pole.

Following are excerpts from an interview of Phukan with The Assam Tribune:

Assam Tribune: Please give a brief account of your visit to North Pole and what you have learnt from the experience.

Rituraj Phukan: The Climate Force Arctic Expedition to the North Polar region was led by Robert Swan, the first man in history to have walked to both the poles, and his illustrious son Barney, who last year became the first person to reach the South Pole powered solely by renewable energy. The team comprising of 86 scientists, conservationists, corporate leaders, writers, filmmakers and other experts from 27 countries met at Oslo, the European Green Capital of the Year award winning city. The acclimatization period included several workshops and presentations on climate change impacts and solutions, including a presentation by me on the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS).

We flew to Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost town at only 800 miles from the North Pole, located on the Svalbard archipelago and boarded the National Geographic Explorer expedition ship. We had a hectic schedule on the ship, with interactive presentations on warming impacts in the arctic region interspersed with field visits to various fjords, glaciers and biodiversity rich areas. There were zodiac cruises, shore landings and hikes, kayaking and wildlife observation trips during the expedition. We also completed the ‘Leadership on the Edge’ programme comprising of environmental leadership development, up-to-date climate change training, and sustainability education.

I learnt that the Svalbard region had warmed by about 5 degree Celsius in the past 20 years, threatening the lifestyles of the people and biodiversity of the region. The Arctic ice cools our planet and regulates weather patterns; what happens in the Arctic affects us all, with global impacts on the weather systems. Scientists say that the ice is melting due to warming and the Arctic could be ice-free as early as 2030. As a result, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding with floods, droughts, famine and rising sea levels all over the world.

We saw endangered arctic wildlife like the Bow-headed whale, Beluga whales, Fin Whales, Polar bears, Svalbard Reindeer, Atlantic Puffins, Arctic Skuas and Snowy Gulls and learnt the changing dynamics of predator and prey in the warming arctic ecosystems. 

At around 80 degree North, deep into the high arctic north polar region, our route was blocked by an endless expanse of sea ice. The loss of sea ice is of utmost concern, as it has implications for global weather and is vital for the survival of animals like seals and polar bears. So we turned back without disturbing the sea ice, even though the National Geographic Explorer is an ice-strengthened vessel capable of breaking through sea ice.

AT: Please give an account of your career and where you are based now?

RP: I am an environmental writer and nature conservation mentor based in Nagaon. I quit my government job to begin a lifelong engagement with nature, travelling, writing and teaching students about the environment, wildlife and climate change. I am passionate about the 3 R’s: Warming, Water and Wildlife and work with grassroots communities in partnership with various agencies to develop a holistic approach to mitigate conflicts.  

I have been trained as a Climate Reality Leader by Nobel Laureate Al Gore and serve as an international mentor with The Climate Reality Project led by the former US Vice President.  I was honoured to be featured in Gore’s 2017 book An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. 

I serve as the Chief Operating Officer of Walk For Water and leads it’s universal safe water access campaign which works with all stakeholders to increase awareness and action on the Indian water crisis. 

I recently wrote the biodiversity impacts chapter in the book Climate Abandoned: We’re on the Endangered Species List launched in the US on Earth Day 2019.  

During the expedition,  my book Fin Del Mundo-Lessons from the End of the Earth was launched by Robert and Barney Swan . The book chronicles my journey from having grown up in climate change impacted Assam to and learning about global impacts during the International Antarctic Expedition in 2013. 

AT: How were you selected to be a member of the expedition team?

RP:I was very honoured to have been invited by Robert Swan himself to be a part of the Climate Force Arctic Expedition. I have engaged with him several times since I first met him during the International Antarctic Expedition in 2013 and he is always very supportive of my passion to write about the biodiversity impacts of climate change.

AT: Are you the first Assamese to make it to the North Pole?

RP: I am not aware of this. I do believe that I may be the first to have had a book release in the North Polar Region.

AT: Climate change is now a major issue and we have read that it is affecting the poles of the globe. Did you notice such changes in your visit and is there any possibility of such changes making an impact in our part of the world in the days to come?

RP: The Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. During our visit, we saw several islands where the ice cover was record low. Animals like the seals, walrus and polar bears were facing survival threats because of the loss of sea ice. Several of the fjord had ice free spaces and we were told that the volume of ice had shrunk considerable every year. A reason for concern for all of us is the predicted disruption of the South Asian monsoon due to the accelerated melting of sea ice in the arctic.

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