A Scientific exploration of Arctic Ocean Sea Ice - Before It's Gone
About the expedition
We are an all female team, skiing to the North Pole in 2022 collecting crucial sea ice data that will contribute to our understanding of climate and environmental change in the Arctic.
The expedition will fly from Longyearbyen, capital of Svalbard (which is part of Norway) early in April 2022 to Barneo, a floating base camp located on the Arctic Ocean sea ice. From Barneo, they will be flown by helicopter to a latitude of 89N where they will begin their ski journey of approximately 110km to the Geographic North Pole at 90N – the top of the world – in less than 10 days.
It is a swift but intense expedition. The team will travel by ski, pulling sledges containing all the food, fuel and equipment they will need and will camp on the sea ice each evening. Not only will the team need to contend with temperatures that can be as low as -40C (likely twice as cold as the inside of your home freezer) and the possibility of encountering polar bears, but also the terrain which is extremely challenging.
The sea ice the team will travel over is constantly moving, making navigation difficult. In places, the movement of the ice creates bands of ice rubble – called pressure ridges – that must be traversed, or cracks the ice apart to reveal open water.
Throughout the ski expedition the team will be collecting data as well as snow, ice and water samples at regular intervals along their route to the North Pole. The purpose of the journey is not just to reach the North Pole but to gather vital information about high latitude Arctic Ocean sea ice – before it’s gone.
The terrain is extremely challenging because the pack ice is always moving which makes navigation difficult, as well as significant bands of ice rubble that must be traversed and the likelihood of coming across open water. It is a swift and intense journey but one which will serve to gather vital scientific data, before the sea ice is gone.
Even as it disappears, Arctic Ocean sea ice is still a relative data blank.
In 1969 Sir Wally Herbert and his team became the first men to travel over the surface of the Arctic Ocean to stand at the North Pole.
Just 50 years later, it is no longer possible to repeat his journey.
The last expedition to travel from land and across the sea ice to the North Pole occurred in 2014. Today, it is only possible to make partial ski journeys to the pole, using starting locations somewhere on the Arctic Ocean.
Since the monitoring of Arctic Ocean sea ice by satellite began in 1979, there has been observed a clear trend of decline. It is not just that there is much less sea ice, it is also the case that what ice is there is thinner, newer and less stable. Such rapid and extensive change to an environment that is critical to fundamental global climate systems such as ocean currents and atmospheric circulation, will have far-reaching consequences across the world and will affect every life on the planet.
Yet, even as it disappears, there is much detail we still do not know about this unique environment. The need for data is particularly acute because the accuracy of the computer models we rely on to predict climate change and future climate, as well as to unpick the causes and impacts of the climate and environmental change that has already taken place, depends on the quality and extent of the initial data provided.
The ‘Before It’s Gone’ team will be collecting data for three important research studies throughout the expedition.
As an expedition we are very conscious of the impact our travel into the fragile Arctic region may have and have sought ways to reduce and minimise that impact as much as possible.
Will are researching the best ways to carbon offset the expedition and are
working with GroundTruth to use bags made of material that reclaims disguarded single-use plastic and zips that contain sequestered atmospheric carbon.
As always we ensure that the expedition carries as little waste material as possible into the Arctic and that any waste produced is removed.
NASA funded Black Carbon Research by Dr Alia Khan, Western Washington University
The B.I.G. expedition will be collecting snow and ice samples as well as supplementary data for Dr Alia Khan, Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA.
Dr Khan applies environmental chemistry in the cryosphere – the frozen water domain – to document global change of glacier and snow melt in mountainous and polar regions. Her research explores the impact of aerosol deposition to the surface of snow and ice, and the resulting impacts on spectral albedo, melt and water quality.
She has studied snow packs, lakes and reservoirs in Colorado, and glaciers, snow packs, and lakes in the Arctic, Antarctic, and major mountain regions including the Himalayas, Rockies, Andes and New Zealand Southern Alps.
The samples collected by the expedition will be analysed by Dr Khan for black carbon and the results used in her NASA funded research into the distribution of black carbon across Arctic Ocean sea ice.
Black carbon primarily comes from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass. Thus, anthropogenic activity, such as shipping emissions, as well as natural occurrences, such as wildfires, are both sources of black carbon in the Arctic. Black carbon produced in the Northern Hemisphere is also transported to the Arctic via long-range atmospheric transport.
In the atmosphere, freshly emitted black carbon aerosols absorb solar radiation, leading to atmospheric heating. Once deposited on snow and ice, the dark coloured aerosols enhance absorption of solar radiation, lowering the albedo (or amount of light that is reflected), which can lead to regional impacts on the surface energy balance, as well as localized melting of snow and ice. Changes to the regional Arctic energy balance, are likely to also have global implications.
Dr Khan's research will investigate the impacts of black carbon deposition on Arctic Ocean Sea Ice and will also be used to verify global aerosol and climate model representation of black carbon deposition and the consequent impacts on surface energy balance and climate change.
Meet the Team
Felicity Aston MBE
Felicity is an experienced Polar Explorer, author and public speaker, who has led record setting expeditions to both the North and South Pole.
In 2012 she became the first woman to ski across Antarctica alone, a 1744km journey that took her 59 days and earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.In 2015 she was appointed MBE for services to polar exploration and was awarded the Polar Medal.
She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London and The Explorers Club in New York.
Shadi is a philanthropist, adventurer and public speaker. An extraordinary talent for inspiring others, fuelled quite simply, by her sole desire to help the world. Shadi is co-founder of a community interest company SHAPE Hampshire which provides Mind, Body and Education support to Hampshire Schools and is also founder of Team GC, leading expeditions and challenge experiences which have raised thousands of pounds for charitable causes. Shadi has a passion for education and loves working with children and runs a series of inspirational talks to schools, communities and businesses.
Shadi is a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society
Sadie is an adventure travel writer and photographer who has been based in London and New York and is currently on the map somewhere.
Her storytelling exploits have led her to do everything from polar plunges on both sides of the globe, to completing the World’s Toughest Mudder 24-hour race in Las Vegas and attending the world’s highest dinner party on the North Col of Mount Everest at 7,050m.
Published in titles including the Daily Mail, Independent, Culture Trip, Adventure Travel Magazine, The Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard. Sadie is a member of The Explorers Club and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
Annabel Jackson Prow
Bel works with her Sister to run her family company, providing insurance and financial advice.
After recognising the challenges that families can have working together she set up a not for profit initiative to support and promote Family Businesses in the UK; this has raised over £350,000 for charities that support young people. When not working, Annabel can usually be found being active and having adventures, and has a particular interest in human powered journeys in natural and remote environments, be it cycling over mountain ranges, summiting 4000m peaks, running the long distance paths of Europe or swimming the length of UK lakes.
A sales and marketing director for a home building company, an industry she has been in for 30 years.
Although she loves her job and her family she is at a stage in her life where she has the capacity to focus on her lifelong ambitions and prove to the working woman that it is never too late to achieve your dreams.
Andrea has Arctic experience by completing the Yukon Ultra Arctic Race in 2019 and was due to ski to the North Pole in 2020 before the Covid-19 lockdown. This has been postponed to 2021 and she is registered for the 430 miles Yukon Ultra race in 2021.
Emma is based in Bermuda and when not exploring the reef and coastline there works in reinsurance. Emma is passionate about the outdoors, and is a very keen skier, ski tourer and mountaineer, having climbed Mont Blanc along with other peaks in the Alps. Working in an industry based around natural catastrophe risk Emma is acutely aware of the impact of climate change on these events, the consequences these have on the world and why expeditions like BIG2022 are crucial for improving our understanding of the influence human emissions have on our natural world.
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Get in touch with Before It's Gone 2022: Arctic Sea Ice Research Expedition to learn more about our work and how you can get involved.
+44 (0) 7970 649779