Catlin Arctic Mission Runs Into Bad Weather


All Images from Catlin Arctic Survey

It's not easy being an Arctic explorer--here's a picture of one en route to the north pole to examine the effect of climate change. With daily temperatures of -40C, it is cold and miserable.

The Catlin Arctic Survey mission, consisting of three hardy Brits--two men and a woman, set out on February 28 and will be travelling about 600 miles on foot to the north pole. Their goal: to ascertain how long the Arctic Ocean's sea ice cover will remain a permanent feature of our planet. However the extreme weather conditions that they have encountered have disabled much of the equipment that was to be used to measure ice thickness.

Despite the technological advances of the 20th century, we still only have estimates of the thickness of the sea ice cover on the Arctic Ocean. Travelling across the sea ice, the Catlin Arctic Survey team is taking detailed measurements of its thickness and density. This will enable the programme's Science Partners to determine, with a greater degree of accuracy, how long the sea ice will remain. Currently, its predicted meltdown date is anywhere between four and a hundred years from now.

But it has not been smooth sailing for the team. Despite rigorous pre-testing of the equipment, the radar system designed to establish ice thickness and the sleigh's computer kit no longer work due to the brutal temperatures. So they are having to carry out old-fashioned ice drilling instead of the high tech operation planned. They spend up to four hours a day drilling through the ice at ten different sites and taking measurements. They have still managed to carry out one thousand one hundred separate measurements to date of the snow thickness, ice thickness, snow temperature and density,

Pen Hadow, the expedition's leader said "It's never wise to imagine that either man or technology has the upper hand in the natural world. It's truly brutal at times out here on the Arctic Ocean and a constant reminder that Mother Nature always has the final say."

A recent report from the team has found that smaller summer ice is covering the north pole this year. The findings come as Nasa warned that sea ice cover over the Arctic reached its lowest volume since records began this year, with the possibility of an ice-free summer as early as 2013.

So far the thickest measurements has been 3.75 metres but most are around half that. First year ice is generally thinner than 2 metres and older multiyear ice is generally thicker than 3 metres.

Mr Hadow, who was the first man to trek solo to the Pole, said he was surprised to find such thin ice at this stage in the trek. He explained that the route had been chosen, in conjunction with scientific advisers, to cover an area where there would be thicker ice. A lack of thicker ice suggests that ice formed more than a year ago has either moved to a different part of the ocean or melted away meaning the ice cover will be even further reduced this summer.

After 44 days on the ice, the survey team are still only halfway through the project. Given the length of time that it is taking to drill manually all the ice holes, they may have to give up their goal of reaching the northern pole. However, "the overall focus is the science, so reaching the Pole is largely irrelevant to this expedition," explained Director of Operations, Simon Harris-Ward, "What matters most is gathering the maximum amount of data possible over a scientifically interesting route." Catlin Arctic Survey Mission

Tags: Arctic | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Effects

Best of TreeHugger 2014

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK