Welcome to the Northwest Passage Project Exploring a Changing Arctic

Christopher Knowlton Staff Posts

Satellite image of part of the Northwest Passage.
Satellite image of the Northwest Passage taken on August 9, 2016. NASA, Suomi NPPP

Welcome to the Northwest Passage Project: Exploring a Changing Arctic. At the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography (URI/GSO) Inner Space Center (ISC) we are very excited about this project. It is a unique collaboration between documentary filmmaking, oceanographic research, education, history, sail training, and real-time communication. For me, it brings together two of my favorite things – sailing on a tall ship and oceanographic research. I have been fortunate enough to have experience with research on a tall ship in the past. I am also excited to return to the polar regions, as I have done oceanographic research along the Antarctic Peninsula. The Arctic, however, will be different.

For one thing, there are people living in the Arctic. We will be stopping at some of the Inuit communities in the Canadian Territory of Nunavut where we hope to learn about Inuit culture and history. In addition, we will have some members of the Inuit community aboard the ship during our expedition. Having the perspective of the people who live in the Arctic is essential for any discussion of the changing Arctic region.

Visualization of Arctic Ocean with geographic labels

Visualization of the Arctic Ocean with ice extent shown for September 9, 2011 – ice minimum that year. Map adapted from originals by Trent Schindler, Scientific Visualization Studio, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA.

Further, there are a wealth of historic sites that we will visit, where there is evidence of the many futile attempts to find a northwest passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. These stark reminders of the explorers before us should provide a perspective on the dramatic differences we will see and document in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

To prepare for this project, the ISC staff have been working furiously since we received our National Science Foundation grant. It will be about 11 months from receiving the grant to the first day of the expedition. Conducting live interactions and streaming our expedition from the Arctic presents unique challenges, particularly from a tall ship. We have been building our partnership with the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry (OHP), the tall ship we are sailing in the Arctic. We have been working with them to get the ship ready for the Arctic and for carrying a satellite dome for the communications we will need in the Arctic. The OHP has done a tremendous job in preparing the ship. As they sail off to warmer waters for a few months, I would like to show the video of the Oliver Hazard Perry returning to the water from her dry dock.



At the beginning of August, it will be light 24 hours a day as we start our cruise from the village of Pond Inlet on Baffin Island; and by the time we reach Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island, it will be light for a bit under 16 hours. Just as the daylight will change dramatically during our expedition, so I expect our understanding of the Arctic, its people, and its history will have changed.


Christopher Knowlton Christopher Knowlton is the Assistant Director Inner Space Center. For the Northwest Passage Project he is the Science Coordinator and Lead Science Instructor. Chris is a marine geologist and paleoclimatologist.