Paul Schurke first reached the North Pole with Will Steger in 1986. He has since completed six trips to the North Pole, crossed Northwestern Greenland, and traversed the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut. His expeditions have been covered by National Geographic, Outside Magazine, NBC’s Today Show, and Smithsonian Magazine. Paul’s fourteen-year-old son, Peter, joined him on his sixth trek to the North Pole.
Paul helped host a regional “Step It Up” rally for national action on climate change and won the National Wilderness Society’s “Environmental Hero” award for his conservation efforts.
Q (Climate Generation): You’ve been exploring the Arctic since the 1980’s. Have you seen any changes in the environment in the time that you’ve been traveling?
A (Paul Schurke): On our first dogsled and ski trip to the North Pole in 1986, the sea ice that we traveled across averaged 8-12 feet thick. On my 5 trips to the North Pole since then,, the steady thinning of the ice has been very apparent. On our most recent travels near the Pole, in 2005, we rarely found ice more than 4 feet thick.
Q (CG): Have the changes affected your ability to travel on the Arctic Ocean?
A (PS): For the past 7 years, we have spent a few weeks most every spring dogsledding the coast of Northwestern Greenland with Polar Inuit hunters. In that time, the steadily diminishing sea ice has reduced the spring sledding season by nearly a month. We used to travel in May. Now we begin our trips in late March and are lucky if there is still sufficient coastal ice to continue our journeys into mid-April. Sadly, this means a much shorter hunting season for the Inuit, which is threatening their subsistence culture.
Q (CG): What impacts or what effects would you imagine a trend that continued in this direction would have on polar exploration?
A (PS): The window of time for polar exploration – from when the sun returns to the high Arctic late each winter to when spring ice break-up occurs—is growing shorter and shorter. Surface exploration and research on the ice of the Arctic Ocean may soon be possible only during winter darkness.
Q (CG): What concerns you most about warming in the Arctic?
A (PS): Arctic scientists agree that the rate of warming is accelerating. That means that the amount of time our civilization has available to adapt and adjust to global climate change may now be a matter of years rather than decades. The rapid changes in the Arctic underscore the extreme urgency of this matter.
Q (CG): What influence or effect do you hope your expeditions will have?
A (PS): Arctic expeditions are our most immediate source of ‘ground truth’ about the portion of our planet that’s currently being most dramatically affected by climate change. These ‘ground truth’ reports from Arctic expeditions are clearly effective in generating public support for reinventing our world while we still have the chance.
Q (CG): Are there lessons or inspirations individuals and communities can take from your experiences?
A (PS): Arctic explorers now have the opportunity and the responsibility to be messengers, to share with others the changes we are witnessing at the top of our world The innate human quest for adventure and exploration is helping us keep a finger on the pulse of our planet.