Hear about adventures in the Northwest Passage

Carolynn Miller

Editor’s note: David Thoreson will present a program entitled, “The Northwest Passage in the Era of Climate Change” on Saturday, April 28 at 1 p.m. at Mulberry Center Church, in the Wilson Brewer Park, 220 Ohio St., Webster City.

Humanities Iowa presenter David Thoreson’s life has been full of adventures, whether bicycling around the United States, Canada and New Zealand or exploring the oceans and Polar Regions of the world.

Thoreson, as a child dreamed of becoming an exploring sailor who traveled around the world by sea.

“I could always visualize myself on a boat,” he said. “When I was mowing the lawn, I’d pretend it was actually a boat I was navigating.”

At an early age, his mother taught him how to sail on a sturdy 16 foot boat used for training on the inland lakes at Okoboji. Strong winds were a regular occurrence. Dealing with wind and water proved to be good practice for Thoreson for dealing with the challenges of the seas in later life.

He earned a psychology and sports medicine degree from the University of Nebraska. He contemplated with the idea of applying for medical school. However, his yearning for the great outdoors proved to be stronger.

As a boy, Thoreson seemed to have a camera with him wherever he went. He began his photography career right after college at the Midwestern headquarters for the state parks service in Omaha. His duties involved taking stock photos and helped build slide show programs for National Parks Service Visitors Centers.

Shortly thereafter,Thoreson met a Minnesota pig farmer who shared his love of nautical adventure.

“Roger Swanson, the Minnesota pig farmer, was already an experienced sailor and he invited me to become a crew member on a 57 foot sailboat called the Cloud Nine. I sometimes call myself ‘The Accidental Explorer’ because chances are I wouldn’t have done it without the encouragement of this colorful pig farmer from southern Minnesota.”

It was Cloud Nine that waged their first unsuccessful attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage in 1994, because they faced icebergs and bad weather and had to turn around due to the harrowing amounts of pack ice. On their second attempt 13 years later, they were successful due to global weather. They realized that they were witnessing a rapidly changing Arctic environment. Thoreson was quoted saying: “I was one of the first and only Americans to sail the Northwest Passage.”

Thoreson, through his adventures, has been able to experience the loss of polar ice for himself. We will have to say, it is very rare to experience exploration “firsts” in this modern era, but Thoreson has achieved this status by sailing a sailboat through the Arctic’s Northwest Passage in both directions. He has combined his personal observations from over 600 journal entries and stunning images of over 150,000 photographs.

After seeing massive loss of ice, his career took a turn in another direction. He now does studies with scientists by navigating the waters and monitoring land behavior. They map the sea change in ice levels at the polar caps, because huge icebergs in both Polar Regions have broken off from glaciers and post a great risk to coastal lands as they melt and raise sea levels worldwide.

“Our goal was to help define the exchange of heat and water vapor between the ocean and atmosphere. Our instruments allowed for very precise measurement of winds, humidity, air pressure, solar and infrared radiation, and air and sea temperatures.”

They even survey jellyfish populations, because they have found jellyfish to be adaptable to climate change.

David Thoreson has sailed more than 65,000 nautical miles in a two decade long tour of the world, including across the Antarctic Circle, the Atlantic Ocean (three times), the Arctic Circle (six times), the Northwest Passage (from east and west), and a circumnavigation of North and South American. His documentary of that 28,000 mile Around the Americas voyage was nominated for an Emmy.

Also, his photography is featured in everything from National Park Service and Smithsonian publications to books and PBS documentaries. Thoreson has shared his observations at the World Science Festival, TED Talks, and the 2016 Nobel Prize Peace Forum. When at home at Arnold’s Park, he operates an art gallery featuring his photography.

David Thoreson was at the Mulberry Center Church October, 2016 for his presentation “Personal Adventures and Explorations of the Northwest Passage.” Now we’ll having him back again April 28th, 2018 to give a more in-depth look at the science of climate change with the emphasis on the Arctic. Using David’s unique northern experience, he explores the state of the polar ice routes and increasing shipping and commerce in the Arctic. Why is the Arctic considered the epicenter of the climate debate? What is the future of the Northwest and Northeast Sea Passages? David will explore the many questions and host a lively discussion. It’s important that you hear David Thoreson’s story! After all, how many small town Iowa boys can say they’ve explored the world by sea in a sailboat?