Polar surveyors trial on-ice electronics ahead of scientific expedition

After extreme trials in Arctic winter conditions, three polar explorers in the Catlin Arctic Survey team are making final adjustments to their scientific equipment and kit ahead of their three-month expedition to the North Pole

In a 1,200 kilometre trek, which begins in four weeks time, the team will measure the thickness of the floating Arctic sea ice to help scientists determine how long it will survive.

The Catlin Arctic Survey team, headed up by Britain’s leading explorer Pen Hadow, has just returned to their UK headquarters from two weeks of rigorous training incorporating a five-day ‘stress-test’ expedition at Cape Broughton, on Broughton Island, in remote northern Canada. The team set up camp - in temperatures of minus 35C and darkness that lasts 20 hours per day – to test their own survival routines, scientific and communications equipment.

 Hadow says: “This short expedition was, in many ways, a reality check. We’ve clocked up dozens of polar expeditions between us but it’s only once you get back on the ice that you really remember what it’s like to live under such harsh conditions.”

For Hadow, leading woman explorer Ann Daniels and polar photographer Martin Hartley, it was vital that they tested their own routines in the kind of perilous conditions they will endure each day during their long trek, from 80°N 140°W, to the Geographic North Pole. This included dragging their sledges, weighing around 100 kilos, over mountainous blocks of ice, standing at 10 metres tall. During the trials a special night-vision camera captured dramatic images of the team scaling the ice in darkness.

Throughout the ‘training-expedition’ the team was on stand-by for polar bears, after having spotted several track-marks in the snow. According to Pen Hadow, the scientific work is what drives them on: “This expedition is about more than just survival and reaching the Geographic North Pole. During this mammoth expedition we will gather the essential data that scientists need to more accurately determine when the permanent floating sea ice will disappear altogether. We cannot afford to fail on this mission – there is too much at stake”.

When the survey is complete, the findings will be made available to inform international decision-makers gathering at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties, at Copenhagen, in 2009.

During the trials at Broughton Island, the specially-designed ice-penetrating radar, which will take millions of readings of the thickness of the snow and ice throughout the survey, was tested to its limit. The radar, which is attached to the rear of Hadow’s sledge, stood up well to the wear and tear of the polar conditions.

Image: Martin Hartley, www.martinhartley.com

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