Exclusive: Polar survey triggers alarming ice warning

by GreenWire.org.uk. Published Wed 13 May 2009 16:16
Catlin Arctic Survey reports worrying new data

Polar explorer Pen Hadow has described his latest expedition as the most important of his career as the two-month survey mission revealed startling new evidence of the effects of global warming.

Speaking on satellite phone as he waited to be collected off the ice shelf, Hadow described his expedition as a “huge success” but warned that the data collected showed the ice cap would no longer be a permanent feature of the planet.

The leader of the three-strong survey team said the initial results of the 14,400 measurements taken on the intrepid trek showed the ice was actually half the thickness the scientific community had previously believed.

Father-of-two Hadow, 47, said the thickness of the ice sheet was always believed to be around three metres from the interpretation of satellite images and computer modelling.

But after drilling up to 10 measurement holes a day, Hadow and his team found the average thickness of the ice was just 1.77 metres.

And he warned that the ice could disappear altogether as early as this summer.

“The top line indications suggested by the data show that the sea ice on the Arctic Ocean is unlikely to survive as a year-round permanent feature,” he said. “It may be that this area may all be open water as soon as the end of this summer.

“Although the results of our measurements have not been properly analysed and the numbers still need to be crunched, the scientific community has been struck by exactly how much thinner the sea ice is than what they were expecting.”

After a gruelling 73 days on the frozen Arctic Ocean, Hadow and fellow team members Ann Daniels and Martin Hartley were scheduled to be lifted off the ice in a planned operation last night (WEDS).

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

During the expedition the team travelled and surveyed 434 kilometres across the surface of the frozen Arctic Ocean in temperatures of minus 46 degrees Celsius with a wind chill factor on occasions down to minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Speaking from the ice, Hadow added: “I think the abiding memory of this expedition has been the desperate struggle and effort required. We kept moving north with the sledges and drilling every night – it was so cold all our strength would be sapped as soon as we started the measurement work.

“We were so tired after a day of sledging it would sometimes take us five hours to drill 10 holes – but we knew we were collecting valuable data and the feeling that the numbers would make a big difference really drove us forward.

“It was such an important expedition because we were collecting real information, the numbers couldn't have been more accurate, and that sustained us through some low points.

“I think we have only spoken to each other for a maximum of 20 or 30 minutes a day over supper. The rest of the time has been spent either sledging or taking measurements – we have lived a monastic existence.

“This has been a great expedition and it has been a fantastic personal journey – I thought I knew everything that could be known about the ice shelf.

“But looking back I now realise I knew very little – working on these scientific measurements has given me a much better understanding of how the sea ice works, how it moves, develops, morphs and melts.

“I have travelled all over for the past 20 years but this is the first time I believe I truly really know about its complexities.”

Hadow said he was looking forward to showing his two young children his bushy beard after 73 days without a shave.

“They will be startled and probably be horrified,” he added. “I can't wait for that train journey back to Devon and to see how everything is so rich, lush and fertile.

“From this barren environment it will be amazing to see the crops waving in the wind, the hedgerows alive with all their wildlife and all the views bursting with colour."

Hadow said the lowest point of the trek was realising there was a problem with the power supply to a portable ground radar unit that the team had spent two years developing.

But he was spurred on by the realisation that the data they were collecting would be used by the scientific community for years to come to explain the dangers of climate change.

The expedition's navigator, Ann Daniels, asked her family back in Devon to turn the central heating on and shake the duvet in preparation for her return home.

“I can't wait to crawl into my own bed,” she said. “It will be paradise not to have to get inside a wet and icy sleeping bag any more.”

Commenting on the end of the expedition, Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge, said: "The data already sent back shows the team has been travelling on new, First Year ice and provides an insight into its rate of growth this year.

“The rest of the data the team will provide on its return will help us to process and interpret it further and make a valuable contribution to data available to sea ice scientists."

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Comments about Exclusive: Polar survey triggers alarming ice warning

Buzuev (1966, 1968) showed that average first-year Arctic ice thickness was 1.6 - 1.9 m. What Mr Hadow found is average. Why is he worried?
Bryan C, Eltham around 4 years, 7 months ago
If satellite data is bad, then comparing the thickness against satellite data is erroneous. Scientists are funny.
Larrydalooza, USA around 4 years, 7 months ago

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