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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

The Conservation Alliance

Climate Message Bottled 60 Years

Climate Message Bottled 60 Years


Ward Hunt Island expedition, 1959 (credit: Wikicommons)


You've read stories about a guy stranded on a desert island tossing a bottle into the ocean with a note hoping to be rescued. It is not obvious that a similar bottled message might alert the future about the past on climate change in the Arctic.

In 1959, two Canadian researchers, Albert Crary and Paul Walker, were on an expedition to explore Ward Hunt Island near Canada's high Arctic Ellesmere Island. They finished their glacial measurements, built a rock cairn, wrote a note describing the environmental conditions they had observed there, and put the message into a bottle with instructions for anyone who might find it in the future. They asked any future discoverer to record changes they saw now and mail any new measurements to designated addresses.


    Ward Hunt Island map (credit: Wikicommons) and 1959 Arctic message (Laval University, Canada)

It would be 54 years before the rock cairn and protected message was rediscovered and changes to the glaciated landscape were recorded. The letter was discovered by a research team led by Warwick Vincent, a Laval University biologist, who retrieved it. In the intervening years, Ward Hunt's glacier had receded more than 325 feet. The original glaciologists had anticipated climate change long before the term was known or recognized.

IN 1959, few people thought of climate change and the stories that ice might tell about the past, present, or future. The two young explorers had left a bottled message that was a warning of what was to come.


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