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The Science

An expedition to research Arctic Ocean sea ice

We need to understand this environment better - Before It's Gone

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.

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It is the alarming speed at which the sea ice is changing that makes this expedition so vital.

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. The 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 aspect of life on the planet.

Kebbell is proud to support the important work this extraordinary team is undertaking.

Their commitment, diligence and selflessness to the cause is impressive and to have one of our own in their midst makes the expedition even more meaningful. Good luck and safe passage.

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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. 

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Dapa is delighted to sponsor this remarkable & intrepid all female team on their scientific expedition to collect vital data from the Arctic Ocean sea ice.

Climate change presents the biggest challenge of our time so we are immensely proud to contribute in the fight to reverse the impact of global warming on the melting polar ice caps before they are gone”. We would like to say thank you and good luck to this extraordinary team!

Dapa Interiors

The B.I.G team will be collecting data for several critical research studies throughout the expedition in collaboration with key scientific experts.

Black carbon is a form of pollution that results from the incomplete burning of fossil fuels. There are anthropogenic sources such as vehicles, shipping and industry as well as natural sources such as wild fires. The resulting black carbon can be transported around the world by the atmosphere and deposited far from its source.  

Black carbon can be carried into the Arctic where it can be deposited on snow and ice. There, it can contribute to increased melting because it s a material that absorbs light to a greater degree than other particles that might be present. It is thought the black carbon on sea ice absorbs light and therefore melts the snow and ice around it.

Little is known about the spatial and temporal distribution of black carbon deposited from the atmosphere across the Arctic region and in particular on high latitude Arctic Ocean sea ice. This information is particularly crucial when it comes to using computer models to accurately recreate conditions in the Arctic and therefore be able to provide greater understanding of the changes taking place in the past and present as well as predicting possible future outcomes.

The expedition will be collecting snow and ice samples under the guidance of Dr Ulyana Horodyskyj at the University of Colorado, which she will later analyse for levels of black carbon. This information will be used to gain a greater understanding of the distribution of black carbon across the Arctic Ocean.

It has been known for some years that marine microplastics are being frozen into Arctic Ocean sea ice but the distribution, pathways and processes connected to this form of pollutant is still not well understood, nor the consequences to environment and climate.

The contribution of airborne microplastic as a pollutant of Arctic sea ice has only recently started to be considered and the sources, pathways via atmospheric transport and distribution are all yet to be investigated.

The B.I.G. expedition team will be collecting snow, ice and water samples – as well as supporting data – from sea ice of varying age. The samples will be analysed for microplastics and heavy metals as part of research undertaken by Felicity Aston at the National Oceanography Centre of the University of Southampton in the UK, exploring the sources and accumulation of airborne microplastics in high latitude sea ice.

Understanding the distribution and deposition of microplastics on Arctic Ocean sea ice is of importance due to the consequent implications on cryospheric processes that are key to future global climate. There are specific suggestions that the Arctic may be a particularly sensitive receptor region to deposited light-absorbing material, such as microplastics, which can cause accelerated warming and melting of the cryosphere. Placed against a background of rapid and fundamental environmental change in the Arctic and of the ultimate implications airborne microplastics may have for human health, it is clear that there is a strong sense of urgency in furthering our understanding of the processes, extent and effects of the atmospheric deposition of microplastics on Arctic sea ice.

DRiFT is a research led digital support system to train and optimise behaviour, performance and health in extreme environments.

The system is being developed by Dr. Nathan Smith and Professor Emma Barrett at the department of Psychology, Security and Trust at the University of Manchester in the UK.

DRiFT is a digital regulatory flexibility tool for extreme environments which emphasises the importance of both accurate strategy selection and flexibility in stress, coping and self regulation process. It is designed to promote more resilient individual and team function in remote and high-risk settings. Flexible adjustment is particularly important in extreme environments where the stressors and demands faced are often dynamic and can change from moment to moment, day to day and week to week. DRiFT is designed to both optimise context sensitivity and help a person develop their regulatory strategy repertoire.

The B.I.G North Pole expedition will be field testing a beta version of DRiFT and will simultaneously contribute to a long term study in psychological and behavioural responses to extreme stress in extreme environments that has been conducted by Dr. Smith. 

The expedition will be contributing to a study being conducted by Paul Burgum at the University of Durham to investigate how resilience in extreme environments may be explained using broad theories in psychological science.

Self-determination theory proposes that the fulfillment of basic psychological needs can predict a person’s resilience in such environments. His current research will explore if this is supported in Polar regions with both natives and non-natives.

Under instruction from Dr Ulyana Horodyskyj at the University of Colorado, the expedition will be making Arctic cloud observations using the NASA GLOBE Observer app.

As Dr Horodyskyj writes, "Clouds are a major component of the Earth’s system that reflect, absorb and scatter sunlight and infrared emissions from Earth, which affects how energy passes through the atmosphere. Different types of clouds have different effects and the amount of cloud cover is also important. Clouds can change rapidly, so frequent observations are useful to track these changes. This citizen science data collection effort involves photographing clouds, recording sky observations and comparing them with NASA satellite data using the GLOBE Observer app on a smartphone. Given the perspective from the ground, looking up, these types of photographs help refine satellite-derived models and enhance scientific understanding of Earth’s atmosphere. With the app, you can check the timing of satellite flyovers for your locations and set notifications for making observations."

The expedition will be recording snow depth throughout their journey as part of the Community Snow Observations Citizen Science Campaign

The Community Snow Observations citizen science project aims to improve our understanding of snow depth variability. On-the-ground measurements aid interpretations of satellite and airborne snow measurements collected by NASA and other agencies. Snow data help improve water runoff models. Predicting and understanding variability in water runoff is important due to effects on snow avalanche hazards, water resources, tourism and impacts of a changing climate. A transect over sea ice in the North Pole would provide key in-situ field observations to create a baseline of information for the Arctic, where it is notoriously challenging to tease out snow depth.

The expedition is working with, and supported by, Groundtruth in field-testing innovative and pioneering new materials made from carbon emissions and recycled plastics, as well as custom design.

GROUNDTRUTH is founded on a commitment to innovate, and the drive to move the recycling industry forward. Working with a specialist textile mill in Taiwan, they have created a unique and bespoke new 100% recycled fabric.

Their high-performance GT-RK-001 textile is manufactured from 100% recycled PET, using plastic waste collected from landfill sites, waterways and oceans worldwide. With a 600 denier ballistic yarn structure for premium strength, a unique triangular ripstop weave, and a water-repellant TPU coating, it offers unparalleled durability and resistance to the elements.

Every Groundtruth product proudly displays the number of plastic bottles that have been removed from the ocean and repurposed within its fabric.

In addition Groundtruth have collaborated with Expedition Air and Polycore to develop the use of materials made from carbon dioxide emissions. Through world-leading Carbon Capture and Utilization technologies, the zips and even ink used in products not only use carbon dioxide emissions extracted from the air but they also displace carbon-intensive materials that are used to manufacture conventional products.

The Expedition will be using equipment that utilises these new innovations as well as new Groundtruth custom design of items such as sledge bags and emergency slings. The team is proud to support such pioneering innovation for the future.

Read more at groundtruth.global

Dr. Ulyana Horodyskyj is a scientist, mountaineer and educator based outside of Denver, Colorado. A former Mission Commander of the NASA Johnson Space Center’s HERA (Human Exploration Research Analog) XII mission, her research work has encompassed the measurement of black carbon and ice mass loss in the Arctic and Himalaya regions as well as the investigation of albedo (reflectivity) of snow and ice. Currently, she is a climate communications specialist for the North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center at the University of Colorado Boulder and her previous experiences include working as a research associate with the Alaska Climate Research Center (University of Alaska Fairbanks) and as visiting assistant professor in the environmental program with Colorado College, teaching courses on climate change. As founding CEO of Science In The Wild – an organisation specialising in adventurous citizen science programs – Dr Horodyskyj has been engaged as a consultant by organisations developing their own citizen science programs including the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson Arizona, the NASA citizen science community and CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow) Network, Alaska. Dr Horodyskyj received her Masters from Brown University and PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder. In 2013/14, she was the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship and lived abroad in Nepal for 10 months, hiking and climbing for science.

Dr Nathan Smith is a Research Fellow in Psychology, Security and Trust at the University of Manchester (UoM). He is primarily interested in psychological and behavioural responses to extreme stress. In the past, Nathan has studied and worked with defence and security personnel, expeditioners, astronauts and space simulation participants, and remote fieldworkers. Prior to joining the UoM, Nathan was a Senior Research Scientist at the UK Ministry of Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Associate of the Alpine Club and is working towards his Mountain Leader award. Nathan currently supports a range of individuals and organisations in preparing and training people to operate in remote and high-risk environments.

Paul Burgum is a research scientist within the Department of psychology at Durham University investigating resilience in extreme environments. He is also a social entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and youth worker (paulburgum.com)

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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.

As always, we ensure that the expedition carries as little waste material as possible into the Arctic and that any waste produced is removed and we are researching the most effective ways to carbon offset the expedition.

Felicity Aston