Global warming lesson with Hurtigruten
By Tom Stieghorst
Those with a hankering to do more than sit passively while global warming proceeds might find the right fit on a Hurtigruten cruise that has been growing in popularity.
Scientist Jason Box will lead Fram passengers on a journey to one of Greenland's weather stations.
The cruise, which takes place in June in Greenland, enables guests to accompany a climate scientist as he takes measurements from a working ice sheet weather station.
Greenland, with its calving glaciers, is one of the places where global warming's effects are most easily observed. The trek to the weather station is led by Jason Box, who has studied climate change in Greenland, first at Ohio State University and now at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, where he is a professor of glaciology.
Box has installed a network of more than 20 automatic weather stations on Greenland's inland ice. Among his key research findings is that ice in Greenland is growing darker, leading it to absorb more sunlight and melt faster.
Passengers will debark the Fram, Hurtigruten's 256-passenger expedition ship, which was expressly built for sailing in polar waters. Once the data are harvested, Box and the party will repair to the ship, where Box will analyze it and discuss his finding in a presentation. The voyage is the only one Hurtigruten offers that gives passengers the hands-on experience of a scientific mission, said spokesman Elliot Gilles.
Cruise lines say they are doing their part to reduce greenhouse gases, the emissions that climate scientists say are a chief culprit in the rise of atmospheric and sea temperatures.
Carnival Corp., in its most recent sustainability report, said it had reduced its emission of greenhouse gasses from 10.7 million metric tons in 2011 to 10.3 million metric tons in 2013.
At Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., emissions fell from 4.4 million tons in 2012 to 4.3 million in 2013, the first annual decrease in the history of the company.
Gilles said that the Greenland cruise visits almost a dozen towns and villages on the northwest coast, from Sisimiut, Greenland's second-largest town, to Illorsuit, a tiny fishing village that's home to only 90 inhabitants.
In addition to leading the data collection mission, Box will also engage guests with lectures with titles such as "Nature's Thermometer"; show films, including a two-part presentation on leading American artist Rockwell Kent, who fell in love with the majesty of Greenland; and entertain discussion on the evidence of climate change in the Arctic.
A Hurtigruten passenger in Greenland.
The jumping-off point for the cruise is a charter flight from Reykjavik, Iceland, to a town in Greenland. From there, guests tender aboard Zodiac-style excursion boats to the Fram, which was built in 2007 and features a specially designed bow so guests can more easily observe marine wildlife and natural phenomena in the polar environment.
This is the year to go, said Ashton Palmer, president of Expedition Trips in Seattle, because in past years Hurtigruten has started the trip from Copenhagen, a longer and more expensive flight for North Americans.
"Hurtigruten has been traveling to that region probably longer than anyone," Palmer said. "They have good relationships with the communities, and in this case with the science project that's going on, it's a unique opportunity.
"There's a growing trend with this type of travel, when people can become more connected to real science and things that are going on," he said. "I think it does appeal to people who are really interested in engaging within the destinations that they travel to."
Even at much larger cruise lines, Palmer said he's hearing more chatter about engagement.
"Their clients are wanting more experiences off the ship that connect them to the places they're visiting, vs. just the cruising itself," he said. "In travel in general, people are wanting to get more involved."