It is important to recognize how vulnerable our technology is and how over-dependent we have become to fragile systems, some of which was built during a more trusting era.
Many things we do today, and much of our economy, relies on global navigation satellite navigation and time keeping. Much of the western economy relies on the Global Positioning System (GPS), an aging, fragile, and vulnerable US military project. Turns out that it can be easily be jammed, hacked, and turned off. And has been. Sometimes unintentionally.
I’m not chasing “firsts” anymore,’ said one polar guide. ‘I’m chasing “lasts”.’ I recalled his words as I gazed down at the frozen skin of the Arctic Ocean from an aged Russian helicopter. The surface was scarred with jagged lines that varied in colour from the light grey of newly formed ice to the jet black of open water. Since satellite observations began in 1979, Arctic Ocean sea ice has been decreasing by 13 per cent every decade. Not only is there less ice, but the ice that does form is thinner and less stable, making any planned activity in the region – such as ski expeditions to the North Pole – increasingly challenging. With the scientific community predicting that the first ice-free summer in the Arctic Ocean will occur before 2100, many foresee that it may become impossible to ski to the North Pole in as little as five years time because the ice will no longer be able to sustain the runway and basecamp needed for logistics.
Even so, the sea ice appeared to be anything but fragile as the helicopter landed in the middle of a wide, smooth floe to deposit me and my team at a location some 80 kilometres from the North Pole. All around us were alarming reminders that we were not on solid ground but adrift on a constantly, and chaotically shifting, raft of frozen water. Around the edge of the floe, shards of electric blue ice more than two metres thick were piled in heaps, pushed out of place by the force of wind and current driving floes against each other. Elsewhere, an eerie fog hung low over the ice rubble, indicating the presence of open water up ahead where the floe had been pulled apart to reveal the dark ocean beneath. The ferocity and power of the forces of nature on display were intimidating. It would be frighteningly easy to be in the wrong place at the wrong time out here on the ice.
The decision to travel is your choice and you are responsible for your personal safety. With that said, the vast majority of people are good. Recognize the fear mongers. Be properly informed. Be aware of your surroundings. Be respectful — you are a guest in their country. Don’t attract unnecessary attention — you probably already stand out enough.
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