When the crew and passengers of the nuclear-powered icebreaker ship 50 Years of Victory reached the north pole in 2018, they placed a time capsule in the ice floe.
The metal cylinder contained letters, poems, photographs, badges, beer mats, a menu, wine corks – ephemera from the early 21st century for whomever might discover it in the future.
The future came pretty swiftly. The cylinder was found this week on the north-western tip of Ireland after floating an estimated 2,300 miles from the Arctic Circle, where global heating is melting a record amount of ice.
Conor McClory, a surfer from the village of Gweedore in county Donegal, was checking the sea conditions when he spotted the tube on the shore at Bloody Foreland, a beauty spot named for the red hue of the rocks at sunset.
“When I saw it, first I thought it was a steel pipe of a ship, then I lifted it and saw there was engraving on it. I thought it was a bomb then,” he told the Donegal Daily. “When I saw the date on it I thought it could be somebody’s ashes, so I didn’t open it.”
A Russian friend of a friend translated the engraving and told McClory it was a time capsule, so he opened it and discovered messages in Russian and English from the 50 Years of Victory’s polar expedition.
One letter in English, dated 4 August 2018, said: “Everything around is covered by ice. We think that by the time this letter will be found there is no more ice in Arctic unfortunately.”
McClory tracked down one of the letter’s authors, a Russian Instagram blogger in St Petersburg known as Sveta. In a Zoom call, Sveta said the crew and passengers had thought the cylinder might be discovered in 30 or 50 years and expressed shock it was found so quickly, McClory said.
In the past decade, Arctic temperatures have increased by nearly 1C. Arctic sea ice has reached its second-lowest extent in the 41-year satellite record.
Last year the Greenland ice sheet lost a record amount of ice, equivalent to 1 million tonnes every minute. With annual snowfall no longer enough to replenish snow and ice lost during summer melting, scientists fear it has passed the point of no return.
A Nature Climate Change study predicts that summer sea ice floating on the surface of the Arctic Ocean could disappear entirely by 2035.
For €29,600 (£26,740) the Russian-owned 50 Years of Victory takes passengers on 14-day expeditions to the north pole, calling it a “magical destination”.