Category Archives: Arctic science

About Martin Hartley

The second man in our explorer team is our expedition Bristol (UK)-based photographer Martin Hartley. He is one of the leading expedition and adventure photographers of the world, working in this profession since 1987. Back then he won the second price for the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year, being only 17 years old.
His expeditions have taken him to see the vast landscapes of the Arctic and Antarctic as well as isolated villages in for example, Siberia, Namibia and Oman. Overall, he has documented 20 individual polar-tasks and is the only professional photographer who has crossed the Arctic Ocean on foot and with the help of dogs.

About Eric Philips

If you have followed the expedition hope’s blog regularly you have already come across the name Eric Philips. If you haven’t or want to know more about him, keep on reading…Eric is our guide of the expedition. He was born in 1962 and has worked for more than 25 years, among others, as Polar Guide.
He’s for example also active as musician or film maker. Besides his work as a guide, he also developed ski equipment which is influenced by his own experiences. The native Australian expedition leader was the first Australian who has reached the North and the South Pole on skis. Also, he has travelled all continents of the world. Eric was also the guide who accompanied the expedition “walking with the wounded” to the South Pole which raised money for wounded and support them to find a new job outside the Military. It was also attended by Prince Harry.

Northern lights

A phenomenon which our adventurers might observe is beautiful light which come in green, red, blue, orange, purple colors. These lights which can be seen in polar regions is the polar light. In Arctic areas the scientific term of the appearance is called ‘aurora borealis’, in the Antarctic ‘aurora australis’. Outside Pole regions it is only rarely visible.
This phenomenon results due to a reaction between particles which enter the atmosphere from outside and the earth’s magnetic lines. These responsible particles originate from the magnetosphere and travel along the earth’s magnetic lines. In order to see the aurora the sky needs to be black and cloudless. This makes the phenomenon with a bottom line of 100 km height, visible. The color of the aurora appears by the density of the atmosphere. So, it’s not all white ice what our explorer get to see on their trip!

Waterways

Besides the Northern Sea Route which you got to know yesterday, there is also the Northwest Passage on the other side, passing from the Bering Strait along the Canadian coast towards Greenland. It is approximately 5,780 km long. Who owns the Atlantic area around the Northwest Passage is controversial. Canada wants it to belong to their country. Other countries however vote that the route stays free navigable.
In August 2007 the first time there was no need for an icebreaker to go through the Northwest Passage and in August 2008 it was again free of ice. Since 2009 the route has been passable through almost the whole year. In September 2013 the first commercial cargo ship from China passed the way and experts assume that the transportation of cargo on this sea route is going to increase about 25%. Due to the warmer climate also the Northern Sea Route has been used in the past years more often. In 2010 four ships passed the route. 2012 it were 46 and 2013 400 ships. 2030 2% of the global ship traffic could pass via the Arctic, until 2050 even 50%. Most of the ships transport oil or gas. In the 1990s the Northern Sea Route was firstly used by a as cruise ship-rebuilt icebreaker. This was the beginning of the route’s tourism. Since then the Arctic tourism has increased further. Important is, that ice-free doesn’t mean completely without ice. The ships still need to be icebreakers. Now you can go around the North Pole because both sea routes, the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route are navigable at the same time.

The Northern Sea Route

In order to travel from Russia to China you would need to go all the way along Europe, through the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean, pass South East Asia on the journey to China. Or you could take the Northern Sea Route. The start is the Russian port Murmansk on the peninsula Kola. The next stops are the Barents Lake, along the Siberian coast to the Bering Strait. The route runs along the Arctic coast of Norway and Russia up to the Pacific and is partly only 2 months negotiable for ships. As it is an Arctic water body, it is frozen most of the times. The Northern Sea Route is more than 6,000 km long. Since the beginning of the 20th century it has been officially this Route and was defined by Russia. It connects the Atlantic with the Pacific. There have been expeditions starting from both sides, beginning and ending, of the route. The western part was explored by north European countries while seeking an alternative ocean route to India in the 16th century. In 1729 the Danish Vitus Bering proved that Alaska and Russia are divided by a strait which was then named after him. Thereby the possibility of the existence of a Northern Sea Route was demonstrated. The first person to pass the passage from 1878 to 1879 was the Swedish researcher Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. In the mid-19th century there was evidence that the complete route could be passed by ship. With the help of icebreakers it became possible to use the route effectively even when the ice on the surface was frozen.

Climate change vs. shortage of raw materials

The ongoing global warming lets the Arctic ice melt further and faster. Scientists estimate a 5-10% reduction per year of drift ice and 10-15% reduction of the thickness of the ice. It is predicted that drift ice in summer will float away further from the Arctic main land which would open new ship routes and extent the time of possible ship traffic.

Also, the decreasing ice simplifies the access to unused gas and oil deposits. This is very tempting as we don’t know how long the oil resources in the south will last. However, to reach the resources in the Arctic, high risks need to be taken. The main risks are disasters with leakages of tons of oils and chemicals. These would damage the sensitive Arctic ecosystem and couldn’t be reverted. There is no machine which could vacuum off the high toxic oil in the drift ice. Indigenous peoples have been managing the Arctic resources sustainably for thousands of years. However, today, it’s the industry countries, including the EU, which are both the main user of resources and the main causer of pollution that burdens the region. The indigenous peoples suffer the most due to the negative impacts of this exploitation because they are living there and they only benefit to a minimum.

Icecamp Barneo

In order to reach the North Pole, our adventurers traveled from Spitsbergen and stopped at Camp Barneo which was like the “base camp” for the continuation of the journey to the Pole. This sounds like there a few tents built up where they are camping, but no, it is a private camp which is operated by the Russians.

The exact position of the camp varies from year to year as it is a so-called “drift station”, an ice floe. However, it can be estimated that every year it is set up on an ice floe about more or less 100-150 kilometers from the North Pole. Each year the camp opens in April as the climatic conditions for ice are the most stable ones around this time of the year. When the camp is set up, it comprises a total of 12 residential units, 2 trade fairs, a medical tent and the command tent. The average temperature in these units is about 16-18°C. For emergencies two helicopters type MI-8 are available. A total of about 30 people are working in the camp. The communication with the “outside world” is made possible by using the satellite system “Iridium”.

The first expeditions

Our adventurers are of course, not the first people traveling the Arctic. The American Robert Edwin Peary and his assistant as well as some Inuit are said to be the first ones who reached the North Pole in April 1909.
In their expedition they used the great knowledge of the local Inuit: They could always accurately assess the weather situation and were also able to detect thin spots in the ice in time, so that the researchers did not collapse with their sledge. If he really was the first man who has entered the North Pole, however, is not certainly proved.
Also, the researcher Frederik Cook stated that he had first reached the North Pole, but that was disproved.
The first man to reach the pole on foot and which is verified was the Briton Sir Walter William Herbert (image)  in 1969.

Sir-Wally-Herbert

They traveled with four sleds and 40 huskies on the 3,800 miles (= 6,100 km) long transarctic expedition from Alaska to Spitsbergen.
The first flight over the North Pole was in 1926 by Umberto Nobile, Ronald Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth on board the Norge.

The Lomonosov Ridge

Besides issues concerning the Arctic resources or the continental shelf of a riparian state to expand their exclusive economic zone, some of the riparian discuss about the ownership of certain landscapes. The most desired one is the Lomonosov Ridge. These are mountains below the water which is located in the central Arctic and they run exactly through the thought North Pole.
The problem with this Arctic area is that three nations – Russia, Canada and Denmark – claim these mountains for themselves and they have handed in requests at the responsible Commission of Continental Shelf. Canada defines the Lomonosov Ridge as underground part of the Ellesmere islands. To keep the 10 years deadline a temporary request was made on 6th of Dec 2013 which also included other areas. Denmark describes the Ridge as continuation of Greenland. The oldest request concerning these submarine mountains was made by Russia. Already 2001 a respective claim was given to the commission of continental shelf which however, had to be expanded with more data. 2013 a corresponding actualization was made.
Reasons why the Lomonosov Ridge is so hardly ‘embattled’ is being explained by the theory that it isn’t only about resources but rather about power stabilization in this area as the thought North Pole is lying underneath. In 2007 Russia put a flag at the point below the water where the North Pole is supposed to be.

Antarctic Treaty System

As you know there is a pole at the southern hemisphere as well. Different to the Arctic, the ownership circumstances in the Antarctic are strictly regulated by the Antarctic Treaty System. The countries of the Arctic however, don’t want such a contract. But let’s see how it works anyway.
The contract was adopted on 1st December, 1959, at a conference in Washington D.C. which was initiated by the U.S. and which became effective from 23rd June, 1961, onwards. Prior to this was the international geophysical Year (GYI) 1957/58. The 12 countries whose scientists were actively working in the Antarctic that year, signed the contract. Seven of the countries had territorial claims which partly overlapped. These countries were Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and Great Britain. During the coming years the number of signatories increased to 50. Germany signed it on the 5th of Feb 1979.
Main aspect of this contract is that no country can raise solitary sovereignty over the Antarctic because claims will neither be acknowledged nor rejected. Main goal of the contract are the commitment to peaceful goals (article 1), research freedom (article 2) and scientific exchange (article 3).