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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Earl Marriott Secondary alumna Tanis Orsetti has received a $15,000 Cmolik Graduate Studies Scholarship to further her studies in the field of medicine. (File/Contributed photo)
Earl Marriott alumna selected for new $15G scholarship

Tanis Orsetti is studying the use immunotherapy in cancer treatment

Eternity Medical Equipment’s ECAN95 masks have received Health Canada approval and CSA certification. (Eternity Medical Equipment photo)
South Surrey N-95 equivalent manufacturer launches mask recycling program

Eternity Medical Equipment partners with Ontario-based LifeCycle Revive

Surrey Fire Service at a garage fire in the 14400-block of 82A Ave on March 22, 2021. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
‘Perfect storm’ of variants, increasing COVID cases are concerning for Surrey fire chief

Between police and fire, Larry Thomas said there are 8 confirmed cases, 18 others isolating

Emergency crews on scene after a small plane crashed in a grassy area on the northeast side of Boundary Bay Airport Saturday morning (April 10). A freelancer said the plane caught fire and one person was transported to hospital by BC Emergency Health Services. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Small plane crashes at Delta’s Boundary Bay Airport

Plane appears to have suffered ‘significant’ damage, says freelancer

People take part in an anti-curfew protest in Montreal on Sunday April 11, 2021. Hundreds of people gathered in Old Montreal tonight in defiance of a new 8 p.m. curfew. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giuseppe Valiante
VIDEO: Hundreds defy Montreal’s 8 p.m. curfew in violent, destructive protest

Quebec reported 1,535 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, as well as five additional deaths linked to the virus

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Most Read