Category Archives: Arctic science

The evolution of the frozen surface of the Arctic

Two months ago, the Arctic ice area reached number 4 on the scale of the lowest values since the beginning of record. This means in February 2014 the Arctic ice area was only 14.44 million km² big. The lowest size was measured in 2005.
The ice size of summer 2013 increased compared to 2012. However, scientists assume that it was rather an exception and that the ice is going to melt further. In the past decades the average air temperature in the Arctic has risen double the speed than the global average. Since 1980 the Arctic has been warming up the strongest in spring and winter and the most little in autumn. In one decade the temperature is rising about around 1°C. In the months after April the ice layer is usually getting thinner as it is getting warmer in summer and the ice is melting again. The ice is the thinnest after the warm months in September.

What is permafrost?

Regarding the fauna we have already told you that the soil consistency in the Arctic is quite limited and that it is mainly made out of permafrost soil. It means that the temperature of this soil was lying around or below 0°C for at least 2 years and therefore was constantly frozen.
In some areas of Siberia and Canada the permafrost layer is up to 1.5 km thick. How does that relate to climate change you ask? Up to 1,000 gigatons, 1,000 billion tons, of carbon dioxide are bound in the Arctic permafrost soil. Due to the ongoing climate warming, the permafrost soil could defrost completely if nothing is being done against global warming. It is one cause of the melting but also the soil’s own energy by microbes which process the carbon inside the permafrost is a second engine. Microbes are little creatures which can’t be seen by the eye. They process carbon to CO2 and methane. Inside the permafrost soil their activity however, is strongly restricted or not even existing anymore because it is too cold. When the air temperature rises above 0°C the microbes start with their degradation work. Besides greenhouse gases, also warmth is produced which further defrosts the permafrost ground. If the complete permafrost would melt, ¾ of the locked carbon would be released as greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, just feeding into the global warming cycle.

The sustainability concept of Hans Carl Carlowitz (1645-1714)

In the last years you might have heard more often of the term ‘sustainability’ or politics asked for ‘sustainable development’ in the world. The ‘inventor’ of the sustainability term for forestry was Hans Carl von Carlowitz and it was extended for more natural resources in the 19th century.
The three important pillars of sustainability are the planet, the people and prosperity, also: environmental, social and economic issues. The word’s definition has its origin from Carlowitz’s book from 1713, ‘Sylvicultura oeconomica, or haußwirthliche Nachricht und Naturmäßige Anweisung zur wilden Baum-Zucht’. The last half of the title can be loosely translated as ‘or the economic news and instructions for the natural growing of wild trees’. A wider definition can be found inside the book:
‘Therefore it will be the greatest art/science/diligence and establishment on this land / to achieve such a conservation and cultivation of wood / that there will be a continuously resistant and sustainable use of it / because it is an indispensable thing / without which the country does not want to stay in its existence.’
The term and book were born in a time of crisis because wood wasn’t used with thinking about future generations or even upcoming years. The extensions and our current definition of the term ‘sustainability’ are also a result of times of stress – scientists and other people realize that we can’t keep up with our current use of resources if we want to pass our environment on to future generations.

The Sessile Oak: Tree of the Year 2014

The last week you learned about the Arbor Day and that this year’s celebrated tree will be officially acknowledged on the 25th of April. By the choice of the tree of the year either the rarity of a species or the risks posed by new forest damage and tree diseases shall be highlighted.
This year we are celebrating the sessile oak. It is a type of beech plants and can turn up to 800 years old and up to 40 meters high. In German forests only 10% of all trees are oaks. There are two different types: the sessile oak and the English oak. The sessile oak is also called Cornish oak or durmast oak. Its flowering time is between April and May and the fruits are acorns which turn ripe between September and October.

About Bernice Notenboom

Last but not least, we are introducing our third expedition team member. It is the expedition leader Bernice Notenboom. She is a Dutch climate journalist and professional adventurer. She is the first woman who has traveled the South Pole, the “Cold Pole” in Siberia and the Greenland ice on skis in one year (2008).
Moreover, she has climbed the Mount Everest in 2009 to raise awareness of the changes from the Ganges Delta to the Summit of the Mount Everest due to climate change and traveled 1000 km on the river Niger by kayak in 2010. The latter was also focused on one of the so-called “tipping points” of climate change, namely the impact on local population along the river. With the participation in the Expedition Hope she is trying to increase people’s awareness of the Arctic environment and its possible vanishing if climate change its toll.

The Arctic as a tourist destination

Now, you have heard so many things of the Arctic which might have shown you that there is a need to act to climate change but also you got so fascinated by the Arctic environment, its unique biodiversity and the aurora borealis, that you want to visit and see the Arctic yourself!?
Indeed, there are tour operators with which you can travel to the Arctic. Of course, the question arises if such trips are generally acceptable. Because of that, the WWF, for example, published guidelines to help ensuring that these travels are not endangering the environment of the territories, but that the participants also learn a bit on such trips. Therefore, a list of 10 principles have been established for each, the supplier and user side. These lists include, among others, topics as general waste prevention, support initiatives to protect the environment, support of the local population. It is also important that you choose a tour operator who has also dedicated itself to these goals. Overall, as a tourist destination the Arctic region is more popular than the Antarctic. In the summer of 2012, there were 163,500 tourists in Spitsbergen, of which have been 38,500 crusaders and 125,000 air travelers. Also in 2011 there was a high number of visitors on Greenland, a total of 63,000, of which nearly half were also air travelers. In northern Alaska 31,000 tourists were counted in the summer of 2011.

Types of ice

Not all ice that can be found in the Arctic is the same. There is drift ice and pack ice. Drift ice can be found in open seas. The ice got lose from glaciers or ice floes. It floats with the ocean current towards the equator which is why it is called drift ice.
For ship traffic the drift ice displays a great danger because especially from April to August in the busy north Atlantic there is a lot of drift ice in form of ice bergs. Pack ice is the most apparent sea ice type of all. When the ocean is covered with 80-100% with ice, we are talking about pack ice but there could be small, free water areas in between the ice. Then the ice is so dense that it displays an obstacle for ships and long walks on the ice are possible. Pack ice can be up to 3.5 m thick and depending on the season it covers 3-15 million km² of the Arctic Ocean. The Arctic ice swims in the water, in contrast to the Greenland ice which lies on land. When the Arctic ice melts the sea level doesn’t rise. It is like a glass of juice with ice cubes inside. When the ice inside the glass melts the juice doesn’t spill over the glass. If the Greenland ice would melt however, the melt water would spill into the ocean and the sea level would rise. About the impact and the Greenland ice in specific, you will learn more next week.

Impacts of climate change

We have told you that the reason for the expedition to the Arctic is to raise awareness of global warming and its worldwide impacts and to urge the necessary action which needs to be taken to fight global warming. But how exactly do the impacts influence global population?
Due to the warmer temperatures the glaciers and ice shields of the world are in great danger to melt. This means that a higher amount of water is feeding the oceans as it isn’t present in frozen form anymore. The greater water volume would lead to a higher sea level and therefore, would endanger a lot of coastal places. Not only small islands which would be the first ones experiencing the sea level rise, also the big cities of the world would be in great danger. Most cities are located to water bodies, especially the oceans. This location threatens the home of millions of people. An animation of National Geographic shows the possible coastlines if all ice would melt. Resulting in vanishing cities like London, New York, Cairo or Buenos Aires, just to name a few. If all inhabitants of these cities are becoming climate refugees there would be millions of people on escape to find safer places and crowding continental cities, making urban supply with food and living area a huge challenge. And this all resulting by the ice melting…! This is why it is important that you take your first steps at home to fight climate change and convince people around you to help you!

On this interactive map that National Geographic have put together you can see what the world will look like if all the all the ice on land melts.

How do the bodies react to extreme cold?

As you were able to read in the past, Bernice, Eric and Martin have to experience temperatures of -20°C to -25°C during their trip. Difficult to imagine, while we are enjoying the summer-like sun in Europe…But how does the body react to such an extreme cold?
Signs of a slow onset of hypothermia are exhaustion and strong tremors. At a body temperature between 32 and 35°C the body experiences cold stress. To activate its reserves, the body reacts with hyperglycemia. This is an elevated blood sugar level. From a body temperature of 33°C on people are only sluggish and no longer responsive because the blood sugar level is significantly increased. At a temperature below 30°C around the heart there is also a threatening high proportion of potassium in the blood. In general, the process of sub-cooling takes several hours.
You can only adjust to the cold by behaving properly. The best protection against the cold is good clothes. These should be able to keep the wind out, be breathable and be transparent for body sweat. If the sweat remains on the skin, individuals begin to freeze very quickly. Mostly, several layers of clothes, for example for trekking and/or expeditions, are required. At a greater exposure to cold, warmth can be obtained by wearing mittens instead of finger cots. Also, ensure an adequate headgear as up to 50% of body heat is lost through the head region.

What do the adventurers eat?

As our adventurers have to pull their heavy sleds over the ice and having to be in good shape for that, you would expect them to eat healthy food as athletes usually do it. But not this time!
Instead of buying the usual organic products with low sodium, fat and sugar content, our explorer Bernice went to get 11 kg of butter, 5 kg of instant oatmeal, 5 kg of protein powder which is being mixed with the oatmeal, ramen noodle soup as well as cheese, salami and nuts each with the highest fat and calorie content that was available. The polar explorers will consume more than 6.000 calories per day; nevertheless, they will have lost over 10 kilos by the end of the expedition. Bernice told us, that for lunch she will have salami, chocolate, cheese, energy bars and crackers. A lot of calories so the adventurers are strengthened for the rest of the day and able to master the energy-sapping environment of the Arctic.