Two adventures in one

Published on 22.03.2010 - Catlin Arctic Survey - 2

Pen Hadow's Catlin Arctic Survey expedition is giving us an adventure with two faces: the scientists back at base on the one hand and the adventurers out on the ice on the other. And right now, they are making the acquaintance of copepods (tiny crustaceans).

15th March was day one of the Catlin Arctic Survey adventure and it was on that afternoon that the three members of the team (Ann Daniels, Martin Hartley and Charlie Paton, who are due to cover 500 kilometres across the Arctic pack-ice while collecting scientific data) were dropped off on the ice by Twin Otter from Resolute Bay.

Since then, the conditions they have experienced have not been too difficult, with temperatures around minus 35°C and the winds not too strong. Ann Daniels already has the impression that although it is 300 days since she was last in these types of conditions (see the Catlin Arctic Survey from last year), she feels as though she has never left the ice! On 21st March, she sent an audio message explaining just how much the Arctic pack-ice is both a terrifying yet fascinating world. In fact the ice is already beginning to be a little unforthcoming and here is more and more open water.

On the other side of the expedition coin, at the fixed scientific base, the tents have been set up with no problems. A 1-metre hole had to be drilled as soon as possible by the researchers approximately two kilometres from the camp. The work took an entire day because in that particular location, the ice was 1.5 metres thick. This area is vital for the scientific research envisaged by Pen Hadow, the man behind the project.

The next day, Ceri Lewis, one of the scientists at the base who works at Exeter University, explained that her job throughout the whole expedition will be to study the zooplankton gathered that lives beneath the Arctic pack-ice. She will then be able to determine how the zooplankton is reacting to the increasing acidification now being observed in Arctic waters.

Lewis was a little concerned when the hole was drilled through the ice, because she was by no means certain that the little creatures she hoped to find at this location in the ocean would actually be there. But fortunately there is a benevolent god looking down on polar researchers and after casting a net into the water and trawling it for two hundred metres like a fishing boat, the west-country biologist was able to harvest her first catch of copepods and the tiny shrimps called krill, which are the main food for whales (that thrive particularly in southern waters).

It appears that throughout this scientific adventure we will be kept informed about the role played by each of these tiny creatures in the food chain of the Arctic waters and the way in which carbon is carried into the depths.

STOP PRESS: because there has been a huge storm, with winds in excess of 100 km/h and temperatures plummeting below minus 45°C (minus 75°C with the windchill!), activity at the base has had to be halted for the time being and the generators shut down. For their part, the party on the ice has been slowed by a tremendous headwind and virtually impenetrable hummocks -"but so beautiful to look at," writes Daniels. In a recent report back to base, Ann explained that the extreme conditions have not prevented them from carrying out their work gathering information.

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