Climate Change Simulator – Sarek 2014

Storm coming. Building storm walls from very heavy and moist snow.
Storm coming. Building storm walls from very heavy and moist snow in slush pour as the night sets in.

Yellow lenses and an iPod. Those are the basic tools for future explorers in the warming climate of the Arctic. The warm lenses to make everything sunny and pretty and music to keep you going in an inhospitable environment. We spend one week in Sarek national park in Sweden practicing expedition skiing in what turned out to be a pretty good simulator of the upcoming climate in the warming Globe.

But before I begin I want to say my greatest thanks to all the fantastic participants of our team Antti, Heidi, Iina, Ilkka, Jaakko, Kaisa, Marko, Reno and Thomas. Their high spirits and especially smily faces really was the core of the experience superseding any other part of our expedition. Thank You for a great company my new friends 😀

Global warming

And then to the unpleasant truth. Climate change is forecasted to provide us with more clouds, high winds, downpour, fluctuations in weather fronts and what not. In lain mans words milder temperatures and more extreme weather phenomena. And that is exactly what we got.

Arctic expedition skiing 2020?
Arctic expedition skiing 2020?

We begun our ski journey from the fell station of Ritsem but the first thing was to get there by a car. Not really a challenge unless the average wind speeds level out at 35 m/s with peaks around 47 m/s. The skibox on top of my car opened up from the hinge side and the lid cracked in half. Luckily though since the whole box was about to fly away. We had to wait for the winds to cool down before continuing safely to Ritsem.

On the first day of skiing there was a constant 17 m/s wind whirling over lake Akkajaure with pouring rain the whole day.  Occasionally we were skiing ankle deep in water on the frozen lake. The landscape on wind and rain beaten Stora Sjöfallet national park on the other side of Akkajaure reminded more of early May than mid March with bogs and small hill tops completely removed of snow coverage.

Stora Sjöfallet national park. Mid winter 2014.
Stora Sjöfallet national park. Swedish “arctic” Lapland. Mid winter 2014.

Even my well explored soul hit its spiritual bottom the next morning as my sled was filled with water and the supposedly water tight back holding my camera gear and change clothes really wasn’t so water tight (well I have my electronics always either in at least double safety or one foolproof safety i.e. a Pelican case). Really I wasn’t prepared for a 24h downpour in mid March Swedish Lapland expedition. Fjellpulken take notice: start making watertight cover sheets! Especially if you market them in your Expedition series. We are gonna need them.

On the way back down from the mountain plateau, as we headed for safety from yet another strong storm, at the birch forested valley I could slam my skiing pole all the way to the solid ground through the entire snow bed – something you can do in mid May but certainly not in mid March. The Climate Change is gonna cost us our winters.

24h - close to 1m of new snow.
24h – close to 1m of new snow. -1 C. Imagine if the temps rose just a bit more and this all had come in water!

Losing an Arctic habitat

Up on the fell plateau we faced an environment dominated by moist wind. The higher the temps rose the higher were the winds. Two storms ( 25+m/s and 28+m/s) crossed our paths.  The lowest temperature that we had was probably around -5 C at end of the week as the skies cleared a bit. Highest around +5 C. If it wasn’t a snow storm either the clouds were hanging low or there was a constant modest snow fall. From what we observed and what we heard the winter has been very warm, moist and windy. Not fantastic for enjoying the great outdoors.

900+ m altitude, mid winter, Sarek national park. A red fox.
900+ m altitude, mid winter, Sarek national park. A red fox.

And you can see the change with a naked eye. Even though some suggest that Sarek is the last step on continental Fennoscandinavia before actually going to high arctic in Spitzbergen, Greenland or similar, the arctic of Sarek is shrinking. The birch forest climb already quite high and the mountain passes at 900+ meters aren’t the home of an arctic fox anymore but a backyard to the red foxes. Already in mid winter. At places the fell floor was frozen solid or completely exposed. Where are the lemmings going to survive and what’s the toll of wind erosion on the ecosystem?

Sarek mountain plateau is the high peak facing Atlantic Ocean and weather fronts from the ocean dictate the weather in Sarek. If the future brings more moist and warm cyclones Sarek is certain to loose some of its arctic attributes.

Frozen from the bottom wet from the top. Birch trees in the background climb higher.
Frozen from the bottom wet from the top. Birch trees in the background climb higher.

Memorandum

Wow that ended up as the most negative post I’ve written in this blog! Still everything I  wrote pours from my increasing first hand experiences of our arctic heritage. And I can’t keep my mouth shut as I see parts of our vast treasures just disappear in front of my eyes.

What for example Sarek is known for is it’s mountainous landscpape, glaciers and “largest area in the world (and one of the last) with an ancestral way of life based on the seasonal movement of livestock” (1). That has earned it a place on the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites. I argue that once the warming really heats up it is A) too late to react and B) only the high peaks of Sarek will remain. The heritage that has earned Sarek it’s place among the most exciting places on Earth will be gone with the warm wind.

-Antti

(1) http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/774 [quoted 19.3.2014].

UPDATE

Read Jaakko ‘Korpijaakko’ Heikka’s report from our expedition HERE.

Watch Marko Takanen’s amuzing video from one of our storms in YouTube.

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