Saturday, October 25, 2008

Explorers to measure Arctic's vanishing summer ice

Source: The Star

British explorer Pen Hadow is to return to the North Pole five years after his record solo trek, in an attempt to establish when Arctic summer sea ice will disappear for good.

The receding ice has proved a battleground for countries surrounding the region as they race to stake claims on some of the richest untapped mineral and marine resources on the planet.

Hadow, the first person to walk solo from Canada to the Pole without aircraft resupplies, will be part of a three-man team collecting accurate readings of the ice's thickness.

Current estimates suggest the year-round ice is receding at a rate of 300,000 square km (116,000 square miles) per decade -- about the size of the British Isles.

But despite some submarine and satellite measurements there is no accurate measure of how rapidly it is thinning.

"Our physical efforts hauling equipment over the surface will amass data in unprecedented detail," Hadow said.

"The Arctic Ocean is not only an astonishingly beautiful place but a globally unique environment of immense significance to the balance of the Earth's whole eco-system."

Hadow and his fellow explorers are expected to travel 12 hours a day for up to 120 days, walking, skiing and swimming over some of the toughest terrain in the world in temperatures as low as minus 50 Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit).

The U.N.-backed team will take 10 million readings between February and May, providing data to help anticipate the impact of sea ice loss on wildlife and the planet.

Estimates of when the summer sea ice will disappear totally range anywhere from five to 100 years.

Russia has already claimed half of the Arctic sea bed, which is thought to hold large untapped reserves of gas and oil, and the summer opening of the Northwest Passage off Canada could cut weeks off east-west sea voyages.

Hadow said he expected the Arctic landscape to have changed dramatically since 2003, with more ice floes and thinner ice.

No comments: