The Blinding Sea at University College London

The Blinding Sea at University College London

It was amazing to take part in the London Polar Group’s sea ice conference at University College London. I streamed my film The Blinding Sea to conference attendees for a total of two weeks, and Michel Tsamados, Associate Professor in Polar Observation & Modelling, welcomed me on the stage to make a presentation alongside several other polar researchers, including Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health, University College London.

The timing is good: Michel is co-author of a major scientific paper (the cover article in Nature this week) on the use of modelling ESA cryosatellite imagery to help Inuit travel safely over the polar ice during summer months.

The “Sensing of Sea Ice for Safe Travel” or Sikuttiaq project is an international collaboration supported by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI), Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR), the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), Parks Canada (PARKS), and the Fonds de Recherche du Québec (FRQ).

So it is of real relevance to Michel and his project colleagues that my film focuses on the mutual respect, spirit of collaboration and co-learning that characterized the film’s protagonist, Roald Amundsen, and the Inuit he got to know during his two-year stay in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, from 1903-1905.

Paul Ikuallaq and Bob Konana share insights in The Blinding Sea

In his presentation, Michel explained that satellites can now measure the thickness of Arctic sea ice in the summer months for the first time. The thickness of Arctic sea ice is a critically important measure, for the health of the Arctic, for our future climate, and for life on Earth. Summer is an important period as that is when all the melting and rapid changes occur – roughly 75% of the volume of Arctic sea ice has been lost over recent decades.

The existence of melt pools on the surface of polar ice has long proved a daunting problem for people intent on measuring ice thickness, since melt pools in satellite images can so easily be taken for open water. The Sikuttiaq project has found a way to address the issue of these melt pools, which in turn makes modelling ice thickness far more accurate.

Given climate change, Arctic sea ice is not as solid as it once was, and it melts faster and more extensively than before: this puts Inuit at risk, because they have traveled as much on sea ice as they do over the tundra, since time immemorial: this still image is from a scene I filmed off the coast of Baffin Island

Michel says that when this new data is used in advanced climate models, it will improve both our short-term forecasts for the weather at mid-latitudes, as the total amount of frozen ocean in the Arctic is also a critical control of our weather, and the long-term forecasts that show what climate we will have in the future.

I enjoyed the interactions with the audience, and the party afterwards.

Michel wrapped up my film and presentation in these terms: “George, I am very grateful that you accepted sharing this unique piece of work with us and I hope that you found the interaction with many of my colleagues in some way useful. We were all impressed by the quality and clarity of your presentation but also your answers to the questions. On a personal note, your amazing movie The Blinding Sea made me reflect a lot on how we are approaching our scientific practice and I will take it onboard during our work with Inuit as part of our Sikuttiaq project.”

The event at University College London was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had so far, with The Blinding Sea.


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