The Northwest Passage Project (NPP), funded by the National Science Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundation, is a collaborative project between the University of Rhode Island, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat (SPRS), the film company David Clark Inc., five minority serving institutions, and other partners. The overarching science goal of the NPP is to understand how the waters of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA) have changed as a consequence of rapid Arctic warming. From July 18 to August 4, 2019, an innovative expedition aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden took place where student and scientist research teams used oceanographic, atmospheric, and ice sampling methods as well as shipboard surveys of Arctic seabirds and marine mammals to understand how warming Arctic waters and decreasing sea ice may be impacting the region. The expedition also prioritized science communication. Live, interactive broadcasts shared science content, research goals, and preliminary results to audiences at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Exploratorium, and the Alaska SeaLife Center. Broad public audiences were also engaged through social media and the NPP website, northwestpassageproject.org, where student blogs and highlight videos showcasing the Arctic landscape and expedition activities were posted.
The expedition was an immense success with over 5600 nm traveled, 1500+ chlorophyll samples taken, 84+ hours of documentary footage, 52 CTD casts, and 40 live, interactive broadcasts. During the expedition, the ship also rerouted to rescue a passive acoustic recording device that had broken free and was trapped in an ice floe. The device, which had been recording whale sounds and other aspects of the underwater soundscape in Lancaster Sound for over a year, belonged to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Successful efforts to retrieve the research package is a testament not only to the challenges of Arctic science, but to the collaborative nature of oceanographic research. The project team is now looking ahead to the production of David Clark Inc.’s documentary Frozen Obsession, as well as continued data analysis and scientific results from the expedition.