Pen Hadow –
In 2003 I trekked across the sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean from Canada’s northern coast to the North Geographic Pole – I did this solo and with no resupplies or outside assistance. Or did I?
Of the 850 hours spent travelling northward – over the 64-day endeavor – I had to climb into an immersion suit and swim across numerous stretches of open water between the ever-shifting ice floes. I spent over 30 of those hours in liquid water, rather than on its frozen upper surface (and so technically I didn’t ‘trek’ for my entire journey).
Without this ‘amphibious option’ – which included an inflatable raft for my sledge – I would have run out of food long before reaching the Pole – as I would have had to find a way to trek on skis around the ever-increasing amount of open water.
This unique experience got me thinking. How extensive is the seasonal sea-ice loss across this part of the ocean? What is causing the sea ice loss? Aside from stopping coast-to-Pole trekking expeditions, how might the lands and ocean to the south be affected weather-wise?
These questions set in motion the program of scientific exploration I led on the Arctic Ocean: The Catlin Arctic Surveys (2008-12). We hooked up polar field scientists with experienced explorers and guides, and hosted one of the very few sea-ice research facilities in the world. We investigated how sea-ice thickness contributes to sea-ice loss forecasts. We studied the effects of ocean acidification in polar waters on marine life, and we took measurements of the temperature, salinity, flow-direction and the speed of the distinct layers of water under the sea ice. During this momentous project, I realised something fundamental to my life and to my work as an explorer – that I knew enough to take the next step.
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©Image from Conor McDonnell