Deliberation

I’m trying to find the best way of describing the wind blowing on your face, cutting across your skin, 24 hour darkness, and my recent 8 days in Svalbard. It was tough, mentally challenging, boring at points, exhilarating at others…. While I deliberate on the words for my next blog post, here are some pics.

1) The start of Arctic Andy’s with ice beard (it got better)
2) Me on polar bear watch at 3am (I was so pleased not to be sleeping in a snow trench)
3) Ropes for storm proofing the tent
4) The cooker – I sat  in ‘the kitchen’ and melted snow for 3 hours watching the stars

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Svalbard is calling

This weekend I will head out to the icy, snowy lands of Svalbard, Norway. It’s a wonderful training venue that sits just 600 miles from the Geographic North Pole. The whole island is home to 2000 people and around 3000 polar bears. It will be dark every day, all day. The polar night is in full force which will make expedition training somewhat difficult.

In Svalbard I will be reuniting myself with Mike and Howard, my skis; sit outside in my thermals until hypothermia sets in so I can remind myself what it feels like; I will be putting up and taking down the tent in the dark, possibly in a snow storm and attempting to keep a clear head and remember exactly how many tent pegs are going into the ground. I will be partaking in a search and rescue exercise, walking into the Greenland Sea once more and learning about how to recognise different ice – how to travel across it and the use of different equipment on the floe-edge. First Aid and Arctic medicine will be back on the training menu, as well as route finding, navigation and the orchestration of Arctic evacuation. It’s going to be a busy 8 days, but one that I am very much looking forward to.

The weather is dipping between -5’c and -20’c at the moment, but with an arctic wind, that will drop further.

I am looking forward to seeing the old miner of Longyearbyen who sits in the centre of the town, waiting patiently for the sun to shine upon him once more.

My kit is ready, my mind is ready, I am excited, I just need to find my head torch.

For an exciting view of the town see here.

 

A mixed month

It’s been a mixed month in the world of Ice Warrior, and it’s not even over yet.

The start of the month was spent in Somerset, dragging tyres over tufted grass, up over hills and through muddy lanes. It took 2 hours to drag Rocky and Sylvester (my tyres) 4 miles. It was challenging to say the least. In London I can generally drag Rocky and Sylvester 3 miles an hour, but the hills and the grass was a struggle. Every bump and rock was slowing me down; pulling the tyres over grass was like wading through treacle. Every part of my body was working – and it was working hard. The 4 mile loop that I usually run, felt slow, harrowing and made me get the hunger like never before. My parents dog ‘Tom Tom’ the spaniel came with me too – he didn’t like my slow pace. He had a look on his face of ‘will you hurry up please, I’ve rabbits to catch’.

I was pleased when the session was finished and pleased that I had pushed myself through the walk. Training needs to be tough, so that when it’s tough on the ice, I am mentally prepared.

The next day in Somerset I went clay pigeon shooting to attempt to make myself familiar with a rifle. I hate guns and the last time I had one in my hand at a shooting range, I cried. I am scared of them; I hate the noise of them. They have caused so many unnecessary deaths and injuries … I guess it’s not the guns fault, it’s the user!

My dad’s friend is a dab hand with a rifle (for shooting clays and the occasional mammal) so I went with him to practice. I held the rifle like a scared child whilst I was being informed what not to do, what I should do and what to expect when it goes off. The first clay released from the trap, I shot the rifle and closed my eyes. This caused some amusement. After several practice shots and attempts to follow the clay into the air, I managed to shoot a few and keep my eyes open. I didn’t like it, but I felt more comfortable with the rifle in my hands. Clays were placed on the ground which I also shot. An hour and a half later, I wasn’t a quivering wreck; I didn’t feel like my heart was about to pop out of my chest and although still not entirely at ease with the rifle, I did feel better and more competent. I still need more practice, but it’s progression from my day in Svalbard crying whenever anyone let a bullet fly out the gun.

I’ve been really pleased with my fitness training over the past month (and few months for that matter); Steph at BootcampSE16 is working with me to strengthen my hips and glutes; to compliment my tyre dragging. I am also doing lots of upper body work 2-3 times a week, training chest, back and arms which has been great fun. I also ran a half marathon after work last week. It’s all go and I have muscles 🙂

This week took a different direction: the decision was made to postpone the expedition until 2016. This will allow us to use 2015 to complete some crucial preparation and to maximise the communication benefit for sponsors i.e. build a proper campaign around what we are doing. This will also allow us to work with Ocean Outdoor to add a high impact digital outdoor campaign to the opportunity…. which will hopefully get us more coverage and interest in what we are doing. The main benefit of having an extra year is to work on the science. Bjorn is doing a great job at linking our efforts across the world; we have China, Russia, USA, France, UK and Canada involved at the moment. I think another year will make this expedition bigger and better, although at the moment, I just want to get out on the ice!

I’ve no idea what the rest of the month will hold, but as I’ve 21 days to go, it could lead me anywhere…

Til soon 🙂

The Meaning of Ice

Last night I went to a fascinating lecture at The British Museum on ‘The Meaning of Ice: people and sea ice in three arctic communities’. The speaker was Dr Shari Fox Gearheard of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre. Shari took the audience through what the arctic ice means to three communities who live on the ice; Inuit from Canada, Iñupiat from Alaska and Inughuit from Northern Greenland.

It was both refreshing and grounding to hear stories from the ice – tales from those who have the sea ice as their home, their food source, their freedom and their way of life.

Shari took the audience through photos and stories of those who live on the ice; she, herself has been living with Inuit for 20 years and has become part of the community in Clyde River, Nunavut.

Dog sledding, hunting, clothing, family bonds, culture and stories from the sea, such as Sedna the sea goddess were shared.

It was truly inspiring and showed how important the Arctic is for so many. The communities who live there are at risk from seismic testing, offshore oil development and climate change.  We must remember to be gentle with our planet, and respectful, for sometimes we forgot those who we cannot see. The science behind the Ice Warrior expedition is extremely important but I also think showing the culture and the way of life for those who rely on the ice is equally as important.

If you are looking for some Arctic culture, I’d recommend the book.

Finding the pole of inaccessibility.

Finding The Pole Of Inaccessibility is a short paper by Gareth Rees, Robert Headland, Ted Scambos and Terry Haran on defining and locating the 4th pole. I cannot wait to walk towards it in February 2015.

The authors are from the Scott Polar Research Institute and National Snow and Ice Data Center, two of our partners in our quest for the pole.

Making time for science

Arctic sea ice extent on 12 September 2012 c/o NSIDC

I am always rushing around doing ‘things’; training, eating, working, replying to emails, catching up with people, sorting out the garden, cleaning the house, writing about the expedition, securing funding but there is one thing that I feel has been missing for a while on this blog.

The missing element is something that perhaps is so important to the expedition that I don’t really think about it. It’s ingrained in my head. It’s the science.

It’s easy to write about pulling tyres as its fun, but the science behind this trip is technical, and not so easy to write about.

Today, I am making time for science.

The basics

We’ve lost 40% of Arctic sea ice in the last 40 years, We’ve more melt days, less freeze days, More open water absorbing the sun’s radiation, Heating the planet.

The expedition

We are working with some fantastic scientific partners to monitor the state of the Arctic Ocean, on a transect never travelled before. Our 800 mile journey will involve team members, under the guidance of Bjorn Erlingsson, researcher at the Icelandic Meteorological Office to record:

  • Ice properties e.g. ice-type ridging/rafting stage, ice-free-board, ice-type thickness
  • Snow thickness, snow density and snow crystal properties
  • Ice mechanics, growth of winter ice (rafted/ridged vs. thermodynamic), crossover thickness and block thickness in ridges and cohesion of ice blocks.

This data will be fed into the NASA funded National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) scientists, The Met Office, The Scott Polar Institute, The Norwegian Polar Institute and the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute to name a few. All of the data collected will be ‘open source’ so that anyone can use it. We are part of a huge citizen science project.

The Royal Society

I went to a conference back in September at The Royal Society where ‘Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models and global impacts’ was the topic of the day. Quite a topic for someone who is getting to grips with ice science.  It was a worthwhile event with a range of speakers from the National Oceanography Centre to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre to the Universities of Reading and Cambridge. I learnt a lot and came out feeling proud to play a part to help decipher what is happening in the Arctic.

A few key points re the state of the Arctic:

  • It has been noted that multi-year ice in the Arctic is on the decrease. This older ice helps to stabilise the new ice which forms. With this on the decrease, the ice is more susceptible to change from a warming climate.
  • The melt season in the Arctic is changing. The melt season begins earlier and has a later freeze point in the autumn. This gives rise to a longer melt season and an ability to melt more of the ice.
  • Satellite evidence and models show a decline in multi-year ice from 1999-2014. QuickSCAT and ASCAT scan the region every 3 days. In the past 15 years, the ice has decreased in the Arctic by 2 million square kilometres – 30% of the Arctic Ocean!
  • Satellite data cannot always differentiate between snow and ice, so our measurements on the ice will help ground-truth satellite imagery for the region.
  • Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge spoke about the Arctic Death Spiral and its impact on the planet. Quite scary!
  • Factors which influence the extent of sea ice include dynamic influences i.e. wind force, divergence/convergence; thermodynamic influence i.e. surface winds, weather; cloud cover; arctic oscillation and changes in ice albedo (reflection).

Summary

I am enjoying learning about the science and how we continue to monitor the Arctic for changes. It’s a new world to me, but having an ongoing dialogue with Bjorn is helping me get to grips with how important our expedition is.  Maybe I’ll have a new career in ice science one day.