North Smithfield teen spends summer weeks 'On Ice'

North Smithfield teen spends summer weeks 'On Ice'

NORTH SMITHFIELD - A local teen was one of just four American students awarded scholarships for a two-week trip to western Greenland and the eastern Canadian Arctic to study the environment and global warming with a team of scientists, explorers, historians and polar experts.

Spencer Darveau, a North Smithfield resident and student at Mount St. Charles Academy, spent 14 days in July exploring the Arctic circle by land and sea, and learning how he can help to educate others about the region.

"The goal of it was to educate youth about the Arctic because it's a very unexplored and unknown area of the world," said Darveau. "They believe that youth can actually make a change, and their philosophy is that bringing people there is the best way to learn about the Arctic, and it really was."

The students attended lectures and workshops aboard a science vessel, making stops along the coastlines to explore wildlife and meet with locals. Darveau was one of only 85 students from around the world to experience the unique opportunity this year, and one of only four students in the United States to receive full scholarships to cover the journey.

He first learned of the program from one of his teachers at MSC nearly two years ago, but was informed too late to apply for the 2012 expedition. He spent much of his free time that followed that deadline researching the area and the details of the trip, and reading blogs by alumni of the program.

Darveau applied for a scholarship from the Beatrice Snyder Foundation and after a long application process that included some 10 essays, he was awarded $10,000, enough to cover all of his expenses for the two-week trip.

The judges, it seems, were looking for students who showed a penchant for science, who also demonstrated a passion for the environment.

Darveau, who aspires to be a surgeon, started an environmental club at the school last year called Earth Crew.

"We didn't have one so my friend and I got together and emailed some teachers," he said.

The Mount senior says he's always been interested in environmental issues, and was bothered by litter and irresponsible waste disposal even at a young age. In elementary school, while other kids were bored by documentaries and Discovery Channel programs shown in class, Darveau was excited.

"I found it really fascinating," he said.

Earth Crew, started just last year, now has around 35 student-members.

"We've focused a lot on the recycling habits of Mount and we took over the paper recycling," Darveau said.

The trip, he said, has inspired him to do even more to spread the word about the importance of the earth's limited resources and to educate others.

"When you go there, people expect climate change to be very evident, but it's not - you have to talk to the people," he said. With the help of translators, the students heard about climate change from those who have experienced it first hand. "You don't see it melting, but when you talk to the people they say they've been seeing different types of fish coming into their harbors," he said.

Traditionally, he learned, many residents of the Arctic make their living from fishing, but as ice has melted and the area has become changed, they've been forced into other industries.

"They're saying within 30 or 40 years, the ice might all be gone," he said.

On a trip to Uummannaq, Greenland, the students' visit coincided with the town's 250th anniversary and Darveau got to attend the festivities and even meet Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond. The students witnessed seemingly endless wildlife and Darveau got the chance to eat seal, narwhal (a type of horned whale), and moose.

"Seeing a polar bear in its natural habitat is the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life," he said.

Students who could afford to pay for the journey on their own also joined the elite group.

"There were students who had been fundraising for years," said Darveau, who boarded the expedition ship with students from Norway, Switzerland, China, South Africa and Canada.

"I'm friends with a lot of them now on Facebook, and it's really cool to stay in touch with people from around the world," he said.

Past alumni, he's learned, have started several programs in their home communities.

"They say to focus locally and that's what I aim to do," he said. "I am definitely trying to spread the word about my experience in the Arctic."

Darveau said the trip taught him just how uneducated many people are about the region.

"People around here think people in the north live in igloos still, and that's not true at all," he said. "Everyone thinks it's just this frozen wasteland - but there are people who live there, and there is culture behind everything, and what we do affects everything that they do in the future."