The purpose of the expedition is to use our last opportunities to travel to some of the most remote parts of the Polar Regions to collect valuable scientific data about Arctic ice and snow – BEFORE IT’S GONE.
In preparation for the expedition, the team have been working with key expert science collaborators to design ways in which their ski journeys across the Arctic can be put to the best use to gather much needed data about this most inaccessible part of the world, a region which is so fundamental to much of the world’s climate systems.
The information gathered by the expedition will be used in a number of different studies being undertaken by scientists in the UK and beyond, investigating airborne microplastics, heavy metal pollution, black carbon, arctic clouds, albedo and snow depth as well as psychology in extreme environments.
I, along with everyone at The White Feather Foundation, am proud to support this truly historic mission to help us understand the impacts of climate change.
Not only will the team’s sea ice research provide vital scientific information, that has never previously been available, but I also see the incredible importance in the research they will conduct, regarding their mental health and the dangers these courageous women will endure, on their journey. Their work will empower all of us to take the best actions possible, to minimise the damage to our planet and all of her inhabitants.
The expedition journey so far :
The expedition was established in 2020 as the world became locked down in a global pandemic. It wasn’t until November 2021 that the team was able to undertake it’s first expedition journey. The 6‑woman team of Shadi, Andrea, Emma, Sadie, Bel and Felicity travelled to Vatnajokull in Iceland, a vast and intimidating glacier sitting on top of a volcano, to spend a week training in both expedition skills and scientific sampling protocols. They were preparing for a 10-day ski expedition across the last degree of latitude over the frozen Arctic Ocean to reach the North Pole, due to take place in April 2022.
The journey would involve hauling everything they would need in sledges behind them as they ski, camping out on the ice in temperatures that can fall as low as ‑40C/F and using the 24-hour daylight to navigate their way through obstacles of ice rubble and open water. The Arctic Ocean is a constantly shifting landscape that poses many risks, including polar bears, and a part of the world only accessible to skiers thanks to a complex logistical operation.
In March 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine and the logistical operation faltered, making travel to the Arctic Ocean impossible for that year. Instead, the team travelled to Svalbard, the archipelago of islands to the north of Norway. Felicity, Andrea, Bel, Sadie, Emma and new team member Kalyani set out on a 10-day ski expedition from the settlement of Barentsberg to Longyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard, sampling fast ice in Gronfjorden and Van Mijenfjorden collecting some 80kg of snow, ice and water samples for analysis.
The expedition was a success despite facing unexpectedly warm and wet conditions and provided a perfect training experience to prepare the team for the ski to the North Pole re-scheduled for April 2023…
On March 18th 2023, just a few weeks before travelling to the Arctic Ocean to start our ski journey to the North Pole, the team received the disappointing news that – once again – the season would not be taking place, this time for reasons of environmental protection. Undaunted, a recast team of Edel, Felicity, Julie, Andrea and Laura (with Emma and Bel in support) quickly rallied to a new plan, setting out on a ski traverse of remote Drangajokull, Iceland’s northernmost glacier. They successfully collected snow samples and a raft of valuable snow, ice and atmospheric data from five different locations across the glacier.
The intention remains to complete the B.I.G. project by skiing across Arctic Ocean sea ice next year to undertake planned sea ice research. The journey will feature the same landscape of pack ice, the same challenges of pressure ridges and polar bear encounters as well as traversing some of the most scientifically interesting ice in the Arctic – just not at the precise location of the Geographic North Pole.
Combining data collected by the team in Iceland and Svalbard over the last 2 years with the data we intend to collect from the Arctic Ocean next year, the B.I.G. North Pole project will deliver a pan-Arctic insight that is far more ambitious in its scope than we would ever have dared plan from the outset.
The B.I.G. North Pole Expedition was all about using our last opportunities to access the Arctic Ocean to collect vital sea ice data – and sadly, it seems that our fears were well-founded. We’d like to thank sponsors, partners and supporters for your continued confidence in us and in the project as it evolves.
The B.I.G. expedition team was created by British polar explorer, Felicity Aston MBE. Gathered via social media during the virtual era of covid, the team are six women with a broad range of skill sets and life experiences. What they have in common is a desire to give back, while simultaneously pushing themselves and encouraging others.
The team are each accomplished adventurers but none – bar Felicity – have ever embarked on an expedition like this. The expedition serves to prove that everyone has a valuable part to play in the global effort to create a better future for our planet.
This group of strong women have my full support in what they are setting out to achieve, particularly in conducting crucial research about the state of ice around the polar cap.
During my lifetime I have seen the impact of climate change, with increased forest fires, flooding, rising temperatures and sea levels rising at their fastest rate for 2,000 years. We are facing a climate emergency and my generation will be judged by subsequent ones on how it responds. We have got to push for change, with government’s key in making essential policy changes. We all have a part to play in saving the planet. I want there to be a healthy natural world for my children and grandchildren to enjoy. I commend the B.I.G North Pole team for the way they are highlighting this urgent issue and making people stop and think.