Arctic ice thickness survey comes to an end

After more than two months on the northern polar icecap the Catlin Arctic Survey has returned to dry land with a massive set of ice-thickness data that will assist with the analysis of the impact of global warming 

Two twin otter planes removed them and their kit from their final position, 434kms further north of their drop off point on February 28th.

The scientific expedition – in which the team measured the thickness of the floating sea ice to help scientists studying the impacts of global warming in the region - is ending slightly ahead of schedule to ensure a safe pick up.

Speaking from the high Arctic on a live link from the pick up landing strip Pen Hadow  said: “It was a gruelling but successful expedition. In our time here we have captured around 16,000 observations and taking 1500 measurements of the thickness of the ice and snow as well as its density. That’s a valuable set of data we’ve collected for scientists. So we’re handing it over to them now.”

Hadow revealed that over the length of the survey the average thickness of the sea ice was 1.774 metres.

Simon Harris-Ward, Director of Operations said: “The team has identified a good landing strip for the pick up flights. They’re in an excellent position to know the exact state of the ice because they have been measuring its thickness daily. We have been keeping a close eye on conditions because at this time of year we have to factor in the weather conditions for a safe landing and the annual summer break up and thaw of the ice which we are keen to avoid.” 

 The Survey and Expedition

•      The expedition has surveyed 434 kilometres across the surface of the frozen arctic ocean – something only experienced polar explorers could achieve.

•      It has been a tremendously hard challenge.  In the early weeks of the expedition temperatures hovered around -46 degrees Celsius with a wind chill factor on occasions down to minus 70 degrees Celsius.  The team experienced both physical and technological difficulties: Hartley has frostbite in his right big toe and much of the team’s equipment failed to stand up to the hostile conditions. The survey work continued to be undertaken manually.

•      The explorers have made their contribution to the scientific study of this remote region about which they are all passionate by collecting the data.  On their return it will delivered to scientists to interpret and use in their studies.

•      The team has collected thousands of measurements of snow & ice depth and density by drilling and physically measuring as well as making comprehensive observations.

Commenting on the end of the expedition, Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge said: "The data already sent back shows the team have been travelling on First Year Ice and provided an insight into its rate of growth this year. The

rest of the data the team will provide on their return will help us to process and interpret it further and make a valuable contribution to data available to Sea Ice Scientists."

Image: (left to right) Ann Daniels, Pen Hadow and Martin Hartley in the Arctic Ice at the end of the survey, immediately prior to being air-lifted of the ice in a scheduled operation. Photo courtesy of BBC

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