Jaxon Stel, 17, returned from the Canadian Arctic in October and he now has some once-in-a-lifetime stories to tell.
“One night just before we hit ice, a couple of the students stayed up really late and we were able to drive the boat,” Stel said. “That was the highlight. I can say I’ve driven an icebreaker through the Northwest Passage and that’s incredible.”
Stel and 14 other students from across Canada headed out on a scientific expedition on Sept. 22, spending just over 10 days on the CCGS Amundsen, a T1200 class medium Arctic icebreaker and Arctic research vessel operated by the Canadian Coast Guard.
Stel took advantage of the opportunity to head up North when vice principal of KVR Middle School Jennifer Wingham presented the Schools on Board Program to students in the area. Schools on Board provides high school students a chance to get out of the classroom and on to a research vessel in the Arctic to get some hands on experience.
Stel was drawn to the program by his interest in the Arctic and Arctic climate change. He submitted an essay on why he was interested in the program which focused on the future effects of climate change in the Okanagan.
“We don’t know a lot about what is going on in the Arctic. There is so much to figure out because it’s one of the areas in the world with the least amount of research about what is going on there climate change-wise,” Stel said.
Stel’s essay was selected out of the eight students who applied in the area. He said his interest in the front lines and the future of climate change was cited as the reason he was selected for the trip.
“We don’t really see a lot of the impacts here in the Okanagan, but definitely going up to the Arctic we saw a lot of early ice melting and rising sea levels around northern communities,” Stel said.
After meeting up with the other students, who came from across Canada, Stel said the group was quick to become friends as they headed to the small community of Kugluktuk in Nunavut. There they visited a newly opened heritage centre and were introduced to some of the unique aspects of life up North.
The scenery was like nothing he had ever seen before.
“One of the most incredible parts of the trip was seeing the landscape. I’d never been north of B.C. before, and just being able to see the terrain and everything it was beautiful,” Stel said. “We got to go through the Northwest Passage, it was amazing.”
He added a big change for him was the stark lack of trees.
After visiting Kugluktuk, the group headed out with the coast guard, joined by some working scientists who gave the students presentations on what their particular area of study was, and what they were working on the trip through the Arctic Ocean.
“We got some really interesting presentations from most of the scientists on what they were doing while they were there,” Stel said.
The students then joined in on field sampling with scientists on the expedition. They stopped in fjords with low water turbulence and took box core samples for analysis. Each scientist was using different data from the samples for different studies, from sea-floor organisms to sediment.
“The one I enjoyed most was the zooplankton sampling. They put big nets in the water and brought up a ton of sea life and we filtered through that and picked out the zooplankton. It was very fun,” Stel said.
The trip was a learning experience based on the collection of scientific data, but Stel found inspiration from another source that he acted on immediately.
“I was very inspired by the Coast Guard themselves and right now I’m applying to the Canadian Coast Guard College,” Stel said.