Ann Daniels : “Its soul-destroying…”

Published on 19.03.2009 - Catlin Arctic Survey

Pen Hadow's expedition set out from 81° 05' N / 130° W. They have approximately 1 000 kilometres to cover before they reach the North Pole. And thousands of readings and measurements to carry out while on the pack-ice.

Expedition headquarters in London confirmed that a Twin Otter dropped the trio off on the sea-ice at a point 1 075 kilometres from the northernmost tip of Canada, at 81° 05' N / 130° W, on Saturday 28th February at 23h30 UT. The aim of the three adventurers is to head for the North Pole on a trek of about 1 000 kilometres. Along the way, they will conduct an impressive array of scientific observations. In his first official press release, Hadow talks about taking millions of readings of the ice thickness using a revolutionary ice-penetrating radar device.

The scientific aspect of this expedition is especially important. Also in this first press release, Pen Hadow states: "This time around, things are going to be different. The only reason we are doing this is because there is an urgent need for scientists to obtain additional groundtruthing data about the Arctic pack-ice. If, as researchers claim, the ice really is thinning rapidly, the alarm needs to be sounded on a global level. And assuming we are able to carry out all of our observations, it will then be up to the specialists to interpret them. Personally, I believe that the loss of the sea-ice in the Arctic Ocean would be a genuine tragedy..."

Because the scientific side of this adventure is particularly 'impressive', we have written to one of the pre-eminent specialists in Arctic pack-ice modelling, Professor Wieslaw Maslowski of the Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in Monterey, California (which is precisely one of the institutes that Pen Hadow works with). We have asked the professor why all of the research conducted on this topic for decades by teams of researchers from numerous countries is still not enough to make a final diagnosis about the thinning of the Arctic sea-ice. We await his reply with interest.

As for the trio's current progress out on the ice, the main occurrence in the past week was the delay in the first drop-off of fresh supplies. On Saturday 14th March, although conditions appeared ideal for the operation, when it arrived over the drop zone, i.e. above the group's location, the Twin Otter had to turn back on account of a thick layer of cloud that would have made a landing dangerous. Four days later, the re-supply operation had still not be carried out, with the result that the three explorers have set out again towards the Pole, hoping to find another expanse of level ice suitable for a two-engined plane to land on.
But conditions appear to be difficult, especially because of the strong drifting motion the team has to cope with every day on its journey. While still in her sleeping bag, Ann Daniels wrote on 18th March: "All I can think of is that while we are sleeping, we are also in the process of drifting south. So the whole distance we gain by day, we lose again during the night... It's soul-destroying..."

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