NBC film crew stranded in Arctic on icebreaker 3 weeks

It never ceases to amaze me how people think when it comes to the Arctic. Somehow there is this pervasive belief that “if we just go there and document it, we’ll be able to demonstrate how climate change is affecting the arctic”.  This is the second team with such dubious aspirations this year, the first being failed kayaker Lewis Gordon Pugh who spun his dismal and embarrassing failure into an “accomplishment”, and then would not even take valid questions about his false claim of being the person who “kayaked furthest north”.

I have no sympathy for these people. Nature is teaching them hard lessons, let us hope they retain the material. – Anthony


Posted: Friday, September 26, 2008 8:20 AM by Jen Brown

From Peter Alexander, TODAY correspondent

So, here we are. In the Arctic. Day 23. Good times!

Producer Paul Manson and I, along with cameraman Callan Griffiths and soundman Ben Adam, were sent here on assignment to report on climate change and the Arctic for an upcoming broadcast. The primary news peg — and one reason for our visit — is that for only the second time in recorded history the Northwest Passage is ice free, effectively clearing this shortcut between Europe and Asia.

Our intention was to stay on board for 10 days, shooting video and interviews.  Mother Nature, apparently, had other plans. Inclement weather, along with an emergency search and rescue mission, has spoiled all five of our attempts to leave the ship.  Getting stuck in the Arctic is not uncommon; getting stuck five times is like punishment.

Joining the team

We left NYC Sept. 3, joining up with a team of scientists from ArcticNet on board the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, Amundsen. (In Canada, the Coast Guard is civilian, not military. It is part of the country’s Department of Oceans and Fisheries.) This particular Coast Guard ship has been dedicated to scientific research and outfitted with all the necessary tools. In a unique partnership, the scientists work side-by-side with the Coast Guard crew. For example, the scientists are testing water samples and sediment samples (from the ocean floor) as well as mapping uncharted territories in this remote part of the world. There are 40 scientists, 40 Coast Guard members and the four of us. By now we’re part of the team, learning to help on deck, in the lab and at dinner.

We boarded the Amundsen Thursday, Sept. 4, in Resolute Bay, a small Inuit village, along the Northwest Passage. The plan was to fly off by helicopter at the northern most civilian community in North America, Grise Fjord, and then begin our long journey home. Freezing rain and harsh weather kept our chopper grounded both Monday and Tuesday. The ship kept going and our chance to get off passed. We continued North with the expedition along the coasts of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, coming within 900 miles of the North Pole.

Over the next couple weeks, we would make three more attempts to fly to land. Each one failed due to weather. Unbelievably, on Thursday our absolute best chance to get off the ship failed, too. The ship was diverted back north to assist a search and rescue mission, something the crew says has only happened once or twice in the last couple years.  From the beginning, we were warned that the ships primary mission was science. The cost of operating this icebreaker and moving the expedition forward is $50,000 a day. While we’ve been welcomed guests on board, we knew the ship wouldn’t be stopping for us.

Close quarters

Paul and I have been sharing what would normally be the infirmary on this overloaded ship. To our eye, it’s roughly, 10 by 12 feet. A thin curtain is the only thing separating us — and our dignity. Callan and Ben share a bunk bed in a slighter larger room downstairs.

Soundman Ben Adam, producer Paul Manson, cameraman Callan Griffiths and correspondent Peter Alexander

In our 23 days on the ship we have covered more than 2,500 miles. The ship rocks incessantly and a sonar machine used for ocean floor mapping ticks loudly all day and night. It’s akin to being audibly poked day in and day out. (Callan has lovingly promised to buy each of us a metronome when we get home so that will be able to sleep as comfortably in NYC.)

Since we were done shooting two weeks ago, we’ve been left with a lot of time to fill. Meals have become a priority. It’s often the only way we can keep track of what time and day it is. Thursday is a favorite — breakfast crepes. Speaking of crepes, we’ll remind you this is a French-Canadian ship, and so we’ve been more than well fed. In fact, we’re convinced Fabien, the ships pastry chef — yes, I said pastry chef — is trying to kill us slowly with desserts.

Meals are always heavy and large. (Now, so are some of us.) But fear not, there is a fitness club on board. Let us describe it for you: it’s half the size of our bedroom (read: infirmary), and consists of a treadmill, two bikes and a bench that’s hidden beneath a four-foot ceiling. (Running on a treadmill when the ship is rocking could easily pass as its own Olympic sport.) Not to worry, we’ve now collectively run or biked the length of Greenland six times over. The other hours have been spent staring at the ocean, staring in the abyss and staring at each other — followed by routine games of Scrabble, “what’s for dinner?” and “if you could be any kind of animal, what would you be?”

A once-in-a-lifetime experience

Let’s be clear, although we’ve been mentally ready to leave for a long time now, we have seen and done some extraordinary things, including meeting some inspiring scientists whose dedication to their field reminds us daily why we’re here. We’ve seen polar bears, beluga whales and icebergs the size of floating hotels. Each sighting reminds us how far away we are from home. In addition, we’ve seen sea creatures from far below the ocean’s surface that would rival the characters at the Star Wars bar.

The scenery is both breathtaking and intimidating. We’ve been awed by sights that most people will never see and appreciate that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Hopefully.)

VIDEO: Peter Alexander and Paul Manson phone home to describe the (mis)adventures

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Ron McCarley
September 30, 2008 10:51 am

Somebody tell ’em to just walk back on the ice.

Steven Hill
September 30, 2008 10:52 am


Leon Brozyna
September 30, 2008 10:52 am

Talk about presumptive arrogance:
for only the second time in recorded history the Northwest Passage is ice free.
And how many times in the past couple hundred years did it happen and no one noticed or cared? And how will they spin it if the Arctic sea ice expanse starts increasing over the nest few years {both minimum and maximum}? Silly question. They’ll just ignore it and move on to the next panic attack.

September 30, 2008 11:08 am

It’s a BBC first. Climate change makes polar bears deaf !
If you believe this you’ll believe anything

Rick, michigan
September 30, 2008 11:10 am


September 30, 2008 11:28 am

Stupid is as stupid does.

Bill Ryan
September 30, 2008 11:44 am

for only the second time in recorded history the Northwest Passage is ice free.
They failed to mention the last time was 1903.

September 30, 2008 11:46 am

I’m not an American but even I know that the US Coast Guard is also civilian.
Now it is part of the Dept. of Homeland Security previously it was part of the Dept. of Commerce.

September 30, 2008 11:50 am

Q: What’s the difference in documentation between the SurfaceStations Project that’s examining deficiencies in the US Historical Climate Network and these ‘Save-th-Arctic’ Adventures?
A: SurfaceStations gathers and archives data in a standard format, applies critical thinking, and tests hypotheses.
They have a film crew.
Oh, and breakfast crepes.
And fitness clubs.
Don’t forget Scrabble.

September 30, 2008 11:53 am

We’ve been awed by sights that most people will never see and appreciate that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Hopefully.)
(Hopefully.) ??? What the heck does this mean?

September 30, 2008 11:53 am

Tell them to wait for the rest of the ice to melt away and for the skies to warm up.
Then it will be smooth sailing.
He he he ……

September 30, 2008 11:53 am

Anthony, I’m not sure you’re being fair to these guys. Keep in mind they’re not iced in; they’ve been kept on board by inclement weather. And it’s not their ship; it’s a research vessel. And the NW passage story is real, even if the reporters usually get its place in history wrong. I say let them have their fun; chances are it’ll be another thirty years before the NW passage opens again.

Mike Westrich
September 30, 2008 12:10 pm

From the U.S. Coast Guard website
The Coast Guard’s roots lie in the Revenue Cutter Service, which was founded on August 4, 1790 as part of the Department of the Treasury. An act of the U.S. Congress created the Coast Guard in 1915, with the merger of the Revenue Cutter Service and the United States Lifesaving Service. The United States Lighthouse Service was merged into the Coast Guard in 1939. The legal basis for the Coast Guard is Title 14 of the United States Code, which states: “The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times.” Upon the declaration of war or when the President directs, the Coast Guard operates under the authority of the Department of the Navy. The Coast Guard later moved to the Department of Transportation in 1967, and on February 25, 2003 it became part of the Department of Homeland Security.

September 30, 2008 12:18 pm

Re: Colin
Wrong, and partially wrong. The US Coast Guard is a military organization. It is currently within DHS, but prior to that was in the Department of Transportation. Active duty members of the US Coast Guard are Active Duty military personnel, and during times of war the US Coast Guard will report under the Navy. Regardless, the personnel on US Coast Guard vessels are considered active duty military under US laws.

John B
September 30, 2008 12:29 pm

I’m not sure about 1903 but this is Time Magazine, Sep. 13, 1937:
“But not until 1906 did any man navigate completely across the Arctic.”
Then about the sailing in 1937:
“Last week this new, shorter Northwest Passage’s navigability was dramatically demonstrated as Hudson Bay Company’s Eastern Arctic Patrol Nascopie sounded her way through Bellot Strait. Snow shrouded the Arctic dusk as head on through the haze came the bow of another ship. Nascopie’s Captain Thomas Smellie’s incredulous hail got a booming reply from veteran Arctic Trader Patsy Klingenberg, from the deck of the Schooner Aklavik, eastbound to Baffin Island, and astonished Eskimo cheers from both crews echoed through the rock-bound channel. That night captains of both vessels described from their anchorages to Canadian Broadcasting Co. and NBC audiences their historic meeting. Hopeful for the growing trade of the North were residents and sponsors of Churchill that somehow Northwest Passage II would bring business, help redeem millions of dollars sunk in Canada’s most northerly port. “

Gary Gulrud
September 30, 2008 12:31 pm

“for only the second time in recorded history the Northwest Passage is ice free”
Ask Jeeves told them it was ice free, like right now? Like, who do they sue? Remember Shackelton’s crew, all alive after the odd 12 months, having survived on seal blubber and no chelated vitamins?
I’ll greet them with Mo’s salute on their return.

John B
September 30, 2008 12:32 pm

Check out the Coast Guard website (notice the extension):
And the “About us”:
“The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is a military branch of the United States involved in maritime law, mariner assistance, and search and rescue, among other duties of coast guards elsewhere.”

September 30, 2008 12:37 pm


Most people born 100 years ago are already dead. Must be due to global warming.

Pompous Git
September 30, 2008 1:00 pm

Let’s see, Amundsen navigated the NW Passage in 1906. Henry Larsen did it twice, in 1940 and 1944. The US coastguard cutter Storis did it in 1957. Willy de Roos did it in 1977 in a 45 foot yacht. The first cruise ship to do it was MS Explorer in 1984. And so on… Not bad for a passage that’s only been open twice in history!

September 30, 2008 1:05 pm

That 10 day stay would have probably been boiled down to a 30 second spot. Maybe with the extra days he could get a full minute. He should think of it as a career opportunity.

Richard deSousa
September 30, 2008 1:15 pm

No body seems to know whether the US Coast Guard is fish or fowl… so far we’ve gotten several (3?) different answers.

September 30, 2008 1:44 pm

Rick, michigan (11:10:38) :
This is another story about “global warming” causing frozen methane to be released.
” Huge methane releases may have been responsible for mass extinctions in Earth’s distant past. ”
No evidence for that at all.
This is “argumentam ad consequentiam,” or “appeal to consequences”
i.e., mass extinction is bad, therefore “global warming” must be real (and any mechanism we invent to link “global warming” to bad things must also be real).

September 30, 2008 1:51 pm

I commented on this before – that once September starts and you are in the Arctic in a boat, you are one gale away from getting stuck. It occurred all the time prior to the steam age.
Next, they will go looking for Polar Bears in February without any firearms on their person.
Here is what Polar Bears to do people.

Gardy LaRoche
September 30, 2008 2:10 pm

“Nature is teaching them hard lessons, let us hope they retain the material.”
Fat Chance.
Nature is cruel: lessons not learnt ends up in the pupils being pruned from the gene pool.
This is a neganthropic posotive feeback process which results in enlightened reason triumphing over irational emotions.
There’s hope.

September 30, 2008 2:21 pm

Oh my, such a heartwarming story. If they make it back, perhaps they can do a story on efficiency apartments in NYC with four flights of stairs for a fitness center. Maybe their next assignment will be a real NW passage on boat like the Berrimilla, see http://awberrimilla.blogspot.com/ . (BTW, they’v’e reached Falmouth England on their way back to Oz.)
Or maybe the crew will just toss them to the Polar bears and get their infirmary back.
I wonder how they’d handle an hour in a stuck elevator.
Live and learn. I hope.

George Mink
September 30, 2008 2:48 pm

First of all the NW passage is NOT ice free this year. Bill Ryan you must still be in 2007 and it is Not the 2d time in history (2007 that is) that it was ice free. This year was just a normal ice melt year nothing like 2007’s [jerk off] record,such as evidence that the ice is slowly but surely recovering and most what melted this year was just first year ice and no way was the NW passage ice free at all anytime this year.

September 30, 2008 2:48 pm

Gary “They have a film crew. Oh, and breakfast crepes. And fitness clubs. Don’t forget Scrabble”
It’s really nice to know I’m not the only one who pukes over this kind of drivel.

George Mink
September 30, 2008 2:53 pm

Just like Pompous said It was ice free from time to time even in “colder decades(1906)”but not this year

Ed Scott
September 30, 2008 2:53 pm

Richard deSousa (13:15:38) :
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is a military branch of the United States involved in maritime law, mariner assistance, and search and rescue, among other duties of coast guards elsewhere. One of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and the smallest armed service of the United States, its stated mission is to protect the public, the environment, and the United States economic and security interests in any maritime region in which those interests may be at risk, including international waters and America’s coasts, ports, and inland waterways.
USCG has a broad and important role in homeland security, law enforcement, search and rescue, marine environmental pollution response, and the maintenance of river, intracoastal and offshore aids to navigation (ATON). It also lays claim to being the United States’ oldest continuous seagoing service. The United States Coast Guard has about 40,150 men and women on active duty.
The Coast Guard’s motto is Semper Paratus, meaning “Always Ready”.

John Nicklin
September 30, 2008 3:57 pm

And the St. Roch, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police vessel made the trip in 1942, making it the first vessel to circumnavigate the North American continent.
I guess is you don’t learn any history, historic moments are always happening right before your eyes. These guys are goofs.
The primary role of the Canadian Coast Guard vessel that they are on is maritime safety, not science. When trouble happens, the Coast Guard responds, dropping all other side activities like catering to journalists.

September 30, 2008 6:22 pm

Well I must be reading something wrong!
I thought that the BBC mob distinctly said they were with the “Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, Amundsen “.
No mention of the USA coast guard as far as I can read.

September 30, 2008 7:24 pm

Re: ROM. No you aren’t reading anything wrong. Some bloke up above stated that the USCG was astaffed with civilian mariners. As a former Coastie, I felt it necessary to correct him. Others chose to do so as well.
Semper Paratus and By God, Go Bears!
(that last one is Coast Guard Academy humor so most here won’t get it. One or two might if they were at the Academy towards the end of the last century.)

September 30, 2008 7:27 pm

Cramped quarters in a 10×12 room? A pastry chef? If they want to get sympathy for the privations they are experiencing, they should try visiting the arctic aboard a submarine! LOL.
It would certainly make it easier to transit…

Dave the Denier
September 30, 2008 7:56 pm

Give them another week stranded and then they’ll post a video of Peter driving a Big Wheel through the ship’s hallways and on deck, saying “Redrum” over and over.
It is difficult to feel pity for these naifs — pastry chef, or no pastry chef.

September 30, 2008 8:41 pm

A bit OT, but I was reading “Glory Road”, by Heinlein, and was struck by this statement: “From 30,000 feet the North Pole looked like a prairie covered with snow, except black lines that are water”.
I know, it’s SciFi and it’s pretty old (1963), but he likely got the mental image from something. Black lines from 30,000 feet would be pretty wide…

September 30, 2008 9:32 pm

Sounds like quite the adventure.
Wish I could be there.
I have to wonder though, why the need for 40 scientists? I kinda think I would rather have a few scientists and 35 wanna bees. Are there going to be 40 different studies from this expedition?
It is most probably a poor description by the author.
One question, why did they quit filming over two weeks ago? Wouldn’t being stuck in the ice be ‘noteworthy’?
Inquiring minds …………….

Andy Beasley
September 30, 2008 9:59 pm

The Coast Guard actually serves a dual purpose. While its structure is military and it falls under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it has legal authority to interdict on the navigable waters of the United States (i.e. arrest people). The military is prevented from doing this within the United States by the Posse Commitatus act. Whenever you hear about a US Navy ship capturing drug runners, the action is under the authourity of the Coast Guard and Coast Guard personnel are actually in charge of the capture and must be present during boarding operations. The navy cannot stop ships on its own authority except in times of war and then the best way to stop a ship is with a torpedo. As stated earlier, during times of war the CG is transferred to the navy and operates under that authority. Sean G, I agree. I never went that far North; but, I did get my Shellback underwater and missed Golden Shellback by about 150 miles. We couldn’t get permission to deviate from our box. Oh, well

John Riddell
September 30, 2008 10:03 pm

Gardy LaRoche
you said
“Nature is cruel”
but it isn’t.
It just doesn’t care.
But I agree with the rest.

Jeff B.
October 1, 2008 12:42 am

No, I doubt these folks will retain any lessons. Those of us who actually read all sides of the climate change issue and allow ourselves to be persuaded by science and not politics, are learning lessons. Those in the media and on the couture environmental scene don’t want to be convinced of anything, they just want to continue with their political agenda.

Bill Junga
October 1, 2008 7:36 am

Gee, maybe the media actually believed their own press reports and thought the Arctic was turning into a tropical paradise!
Maybe, eventually, they will get the idea that maybe, just maybe, that AGW is a big hullabaloo over practically nothing!

Dan Lee
October 1, 2008 8:18 am

In 1500’s – 1600’s the popular notion was that the arctic was a warm place. They reasoned that if the sun shone there 24/7 for a good part of the year, it must be nice and toasty, and most importantly, ice free. Early voyages north even reported back ‘evidence’ to support this, finding driftwood or plants that looked tropical to them.
There is a good-sized body of historical work on the search for a passage through the arctic to the spice islands. Maybe these warming researchers should have read some of it while waiting for their pastry chef to make them some more goodies. They might have learned that Hudson in his wooden boat got 300 miles closer to the pole than they did.

New Brunswick Barry
October 1, 2008 11:42 am

This “reporter” has been on board the Amundsen for three weeks and still manages to get it wrong that the Canadian Coast Guard is part of the “Department of Oceans and Fisheries”? Doesn’t anybody fact check anymore? As almost any Canadian could tell you, Peter, it’s DFO, DFO, DFO — Department of Fisheries and Oceans. No big deal? Perhaps not, but you only got it freakin’ backward, that’s all. What does that say about the factual quality of any of your other “reporting”? Maybe the real story is global cooling, not warming. Oh…whatever.

October 1, 2008 2:56 pm

Just curious, what does this mean, “we’ll remind you this is a French-Canadian ship”? Yes, Canada does have a French-speaking province but this seems to imply the Canadian Coast Guard might have just Canadian ships. Why would one need a French-Canadian ship on the west coast for example?
And this seems like rather gratuitous comment by the reporter, “In Canada, the Coast Guard is civilian, not military.” God forbid the evil military be associated with life saving.
Last, there’s this, “To our eye, it’s roughly, 10 by 12 feet. A thin curtain is the only thing separating us — and our dignity.” Another reporter who’s never been in the military.
Ok, this is the last comment/question, I wonder what their carbon generation was for this trip? Did they purchase off-sets? Just askin.

Saul Wall
October 1, 2008 6:12 pm

Why didn’t those media guys jump in and save those poor drowning polar bears in the last photograph? Heartless cowards.

October 1, 2008 9:18 pm

Those are Suzuki polar bears. As such they have been trained by legions of granola eating, hemp cloth wearing environmentalists to tread water.
What we have found though is that the bears find hemp hard to digest. The Suzuki Foundation is therefore looking to outfit it’s volunteers in more environmentally friendly clothing. The local Inuit have suggested seal skin snowsuits with “chum” filled pockets.
All in all it looks like the bears will survive…..unless we run out of leftards.

John Nicklin
October 1, 2008 10:04 pm

Just curious, what does this mean, “we’ll remind you this is a French-Canadian ship”?
It is a Canadian Coast Guard ice breaker. He is probably referring to the majority of the crew being French-Canadian, which is likely the case. On the east coast and northern routes, the vessels often have francophone crews.

October 2, 2008 5:16 am

[…] Global Warming – or lack thereof From Challies.com: NBC Crew Stranded in Arctic I just love this story. A NBC film crew went to the Arctic to report on the lack of ice but have […]

October 2, 2008 7:00 am

“Mother Nature had other plans…”
Imagine that.

October 2, 2008 4:31 pm

[…] Read more about this “inconvenient truth”  here. […]

October 4, 2008 4:46 am

[…] On a global warming expedition to the arctic to film a show on the earth’s melting ice caps, this NBC News crew was stranded for 3 weeks because of all the ice: […]

Michelle Hale
October 7, 2008 9:32 am

Anyone seriously interested in finding out about the excellent multidisciplinary science that went on during this expedition (and on other legs of the same program) should check out the ArcticNet website (www.arcticnet-ulaval.ca)

October 7, 2008 10:14 pm

Michelle Hale (09:32:16) :
Anyone seriously interested in finding out about the excellent multidisciplinary science that went on during this expedition (and on other legs of the same program) should check out the ArcticNet website (www.arcticnet-ulaval.ca)

I have no interest in browsing any pro-AGW site where the “science” is “settled.” If you have a direct link to an article you wish to discuss. . . . . .

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