Students on Ice Arctic Expedition participants were taught about global warming on the Illulisat Icefjord in Greenland.

Students on Ice Arctic Expedition participants were taught about global warming on the Illulisat Icefjord in Greenland.

Polar expression

Surrey student Abhayjeet Singh Sachal, 14, learns about Canada’s Arctic region in person.

A Surrey teen’s what-I-did-for-summer-vacation story is something he’ll carry forward for years.

Never mind the polar bears Abhayjeet Singh Sachal saw on his first day off the plane; the 14-year-old witnessed first-hand, in otherwise deathly quiet, blocks of ice crack off a glacier and splash into the ocean in the Illulisat Icefjord in Greenland.

The jarring lesson about global warming took place during the Seaquam Secondary Grade 10 student’s participation in the Students On Ice Foundation’s 16-day 2016 Arctic Expedition, which explored areas of northern Quebec, Baffin Island and Greenland.

After applying in April, Sachal won a $12,000 scholarship for the trip from the U.S. embassy – a result of his academic record, school environmental activities and a piano-infused TEDx talk about creativity that he gave at Science World in 2013, when he was 12 years old.

The July 21 to Aug. 5 expedition began with orientation sessions in Ottawa (with a surprise visit by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau), followed by a ship launch into Frobisher Bay from Iqaluit, Nunavut.

There were 120 students aged 14-24 aboard the cruise ship MS Ocean Endeavour, supported by 80 crew, educators, artists and Inuit elders.

At 14, Sachal was the youngest on board.

“Originally, we planned to go up to Baffin Island, but there was too much sea ice in the area, so we went to the coast of Labrador,” Sachal says.

That’s where he saw nine “huge, majestic” polar bears on the first day, and later visited “ancient” Inuit villages that weren’t on the expedition itinerary.

“A big part of the expedition was just talking to all of these people around the world,” he says. “There were scientists, historians, climatologists… over breakfast lunch and dinner, because there was no Internet, we would just talk to each other.”

Sachal described a powerful moment when the expedition visited the abandoned Moravian mission of Hebron, the northernmost settlement in Labrador, where Inuit people were forcibly evangelized in the early 19th century before the settlement was finally abandoned in 1959.

(A testament to the cruelty of the times, the Inuit family of Abraham Ulrikab from Hebron was displayed in a zoo in Hamburg, Germany in 1880-81.)

“There were a lot of Inuit students (in the expedition) that had a personal connection to that place,” says Sachal. “It was very personal to many of them.”

While the expedition students took in the views, kayaked around icebergs, and made a brief polar dip, they took in lessons about global warming and the effects of its first victims, the northern peoples and ocean wildlife.

Sachal, an avid piano and hockey player,  has already given talks at Seaquam about what he learned during the trip, and hopes to give more at other schools before pursuing a career in science.

“Wherever my path takes me, I have a few years to decide.”

Sachal turned 15 on Oct. 18, and says he thinks about the trip every day.

“It won’t go away because it was something that powerful.”

More photos below.

Just Posted

Councillor Doug Elford. (File photo: Amy Reid)
Elford to join Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society as a director

Fellow Safe Surrey Coalition Councillors Laurie Guerra, Mandeep Nagra and Allison Patton will be re-appointed to the board

(Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Surrey council moves to reduce parking along rapid transit corridors

This also targets rental housing developments in Rapid Transit Areas

Big Splash water park is located in Tsawwassen. (submitted photo)
Big Splash reopens Canada Day with changes to keep the water park ‘safe for everyone’

Executive Hotels & Resorts has owned and operated the attraction since 2017

A cyclist stops traffic to allow a gaggle of geese cross the road. (Tino Fluckiger photo)
White Rock man asks motorists to be mindful of wildlife after close call

Impatient motorists drives into oncoming traffic

West Coast Duty Free president Gary Holowaychuk stands next to empty shelves inside his store on Tuesday (June 15). (Aaron Hinks photo)
Revenue down 97% at South Surrey duty free as owner waits for U.S. border to reopen

Products approaching best before dates had to be donated, others destroyed

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Most Read