UW News

October 14, 2015

UW polar scientist part of new book, museum exhibit on Northwest Passage

UW News

A University of Washington expert on sea ice is part of a new book and museum exhibit focused on an idea that has captured many imaginations: a Northwest Passage that would allow ship traffic between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

historic drawing of ship in icy seas

The collection of 18 essays was published in March by UW Press.

The book, “Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage” was published in March by the University of Washington Press. The accompanying museum exhibit opens Saturday, Oct. 17 at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

Book contributor Harry Stern, a polar scientist at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory, will speak at the exhibit opening at 1 p.m. on early exploration of the North Pacific and what was known about sea ice conditions at that time. He will speculate about how closely Captain James Cook actually came to discovering the Northwest Passage, before ice in the Chukchi Sea forced his crew to turn back.

Stern wrote one of the book’s 18 essays, titled “Sea Ice in the Western Portal of the Northwest Passage from 1778 to the 21st Century,” that explores the idea of whether Captain Cook would have discovered the Northwest Passage if the summer ice conditions in 1778 had been similar to what they are today.

“Yes, he would have, but Arctic navigation is still treacherous,” Stern said.

museum display with exhibit title

The exhibit includes art and artifacts that explore the “opening of the Arctic” and the history of the Northwest coast.

Stern’s research at the UW focuses on current sea ice trends and the effects on Arctic marine mammals. He also participated in an expedition that sailed through the Northwest Passage in 2009.

“In Cook’s day, they didn’t think that the ocean could freeze,” Stern said. “They thought the ice in the ocean came from rivers that froze and discharged ice into the sea.”

He will bring a demonstration to the opening that shows the difference between salty ice and freshwater ice. Other activities include a scavenger hunt, knot-tying demonstration and presentations by Northern artists.

The exhibit of art and artifacts related to Cook’s explorations runs through March 6, 2016. Admission to the museum is $11 for adults, $8 for students, seniors and members of the military. Read more about the museum exhibit from its debut in Anchorage.


For more information, contact Stern at 206 543-7253 or hstern@uw.edu.