UK explorer to measure depth of Arctic ice cap

A British explorer who was the first man to reach the North Pole solo announced plans on Tuesday to lead an expedition to measure the thickness of the Arctic ice caps.

Pen Hadow (45), who reached the top of the world alone in 2003, will lead a three-person team on the Vanco Arctic Survey mission, which could provide key evidence on climate change.

“The Arctic ice cap is in crisis. It is going to disappear in the lifetime of many people here. The question is: When?” he told reporters as he unveiled the mission in London.

The survey results would give the clearest prediction yet of how long the ice cap would last before melting into the Arctic Ocean, he said.

“The only way to have a precise knowledge is by walking across the ice cap,” he said.

The latest estimates for how long it will take for the Arctic ice caps to melt range from 16 to 100 years, said Hadow.

Joao Rodrigues, from the University of Cambridge, added: “The melting of the ice cap will have global repercussions. It’s accelerating and is irreversible.

“This will be the first time that such a detailed survey of the ice thickness and snow load will be made from the surface over a full crossing of the Arctic Ocean,” he said.

Hadow will be joined on the mission by fellow scientists Ann Daniels (42) and Martin Hartley (39).

Daniels will be in charge of navigation and stewardship, while Hadow will take the measurements and Hartley “will be running around like a Jack Russell to take pictures and films”, Images will be relaid daily.

The expedition will kick off at Point Barrow, Alaska, in mid-February and the group will cover 2 000km to 2 200 km before they arrive at the geographic North Pole about 120 days later, in mid-June.

They hope to average about 18km a day, in temperatures that will dip as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius, while lugging 85kg of scientific equipment.

Their supplies will be replenished about every two weeks, and their route also involves swimming for about 100 hours in water as cold as minus 1,8 degrees Celsius.

An ice-penetrating radar will make survey measurements every 20 centimetres, while ice cores will be drilled through the ice every 20km to measure its density.

The mission will work with oceanographers, climatologists, Nasa, the United States Navy, Britain’s Met Office meteorological headquarters and several universities.

Beyond potential scrapes with polar bears, the team will traverse shifting ice flows in tough weather conditions.

The mission’s total budget runs to £2-million.

The Arctic ice cap covers just 3% of the total surface of the Earth, but reflects 80% of the solar energy that penetrates the planet’s atmosphere.

According to a statement announcing the expedition, 8% of the Arctic’s surface is believed to be melting each year, causing sea levels last century to rise between 10cm and 20cm.

“A further increase of between 20cm and 80cm could lead to 300-million people being flooded each year,” it said.—AFP

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