Polar Opposites

Arctic nations see opportunity in receding sea ice but the economic rewards may prove elusive

In April 2010, I was camped on a precarious ice floe close to where the magnetic North Pole once was before it continued to drift toward Russian territory. During the time I was there, the temperature never rose above -25 Celsius with the wind chill. Sleep did not come easy in a tent that was constantly flapping in the wind. Nor did the eating of meals I lined up for in the steamy mist of a frozen Quonset hut. The one shower I allowed myself in the bitter cold was little more than a spray of water ingeniously warmed by the exhaust of groaning diesel generators heating the pipes.

Camped with me were more than three dozen men and women—scientists, engineers, and pilots with military, civilian, and scientific backgrounds. Collectively, they had been assigned the task of cleaning toilets, washing floors, plowing snow, cutting giant holes in the ice, and redrawing the map of the future Arctic in Canada’s favour by...