A citizen science project aiming to contribute to Arctic Ocean knowledge by collecting valuable sea ice data at the North Pole.
What Is This?
In July and August 2015, expedition photographer Lauren Farmer and geologist Alex Cowan worked as expedition staff on board nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 let Pobedy. During four return trips from Murmansk, the ship broke through hundreds of miles of 1-3 meter-thick of sea ice, carrying 520 adventurous travelers to stand on top of the world at the Geographic North Pole. While doing so they collected valuable sea ice data to provide to this project's partners in the sea ice research community.
The aim with this citizen science project was to prove to the polar tourism industry that we can be more than just visitors to the most remote and fragile environments of our earth. With our extended access to these areas, we were and are in a position to collect and deliver extensive sea ice data to institutes and organizations who seek it.
Scroll down to learn more. For photos and updates from the data collection phase, see our blog.
How Is Our Data Being Used?
From the bridge of the ship we assessed sea ice thickness and concentration visually; data collected in this way from a ship is more detailed and accurate than possible with satellite remote sensing and it is useful for researchers who are making prediction models for ice in the Arctic Ocean. At the end of the summer it became apparent that this project was the only provider of thickness data on this side of the Arctic Ocean.
The data is of most use to researchers studying summer melting and breakup processes, and the melt pond measurements will validate models of the the absorption and transport of the sun’s heat in the Arctic Ocean, as melt ponds absorb a lot more heat than the the ice surrounding them.
Why Is This Important?
The Arctic Ocean is seeing rapid changes in its sea ice thickness and extent. This change is very probably a result of an increase in the amount of heat in the ocean/atmosphere system and it has potentially disastrous effects for polar bears and other creatures who make their home in, on or under the ice.
The number of research cruises collecting sea ice data each year is naturally limited by cost, and so by incorporating projects onto tourism vessels we have the potential to greatly increase the number of platforms available to collect data.
This project does not only collect useful data for sea ice scientists, providing eight transects of the Arctic Ocean along the same route, but it also provides inspiration to both the polar tourism industry and to the sea ice research community.
By implementing our data collection program into a tour venture, we hope to show the polar tourism industry just how easy it can be to give back to the regions we travel to, using their own expedition staff instead of always having to bring on an independent scientist. If all of the passenger ships traveling in Antarctica and the Arctic began involving science in their itineraries, how many more platforms would there be for scientific efforts?
We hope that the mere existence of this project encourages others in the polar tourism industry to follow our lead. Not only would this provide the sea ice community with a significant quantity of data but it would serve to open lines of communication between two separate communities of polar professionals that may have a lot to gain from each other. We also hope it will inspire adventurous travelers, enhance their trip with us, and give them a feeling of connection with the Arctic, having collected valuable scientific data and been more than 'just a visitor’. Our role as professionals in the polar tourism industry is to create a corps of ambassadors for the regions in which we travel, who will go home and, we hope, act as advocates for protecting these wild and beautiful places.
Lauren Farmer is a polar expedition photographer and assistant expedition leader. She spends half the year working on expedition ships in Antarctica and the Arctic. When she's not on the ice, she works as a Digital Strategist in New York City.
Alex Cowan is trained as a geologist and used to work as a researcher at Cambridge University. Today he lives as a seafarer and works in polar regions as a geologist and expedition leader.
Together they work as Expedition Staff on board nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 let Pobedy and are proud members of The Explorers Club.
Professor Bruno Tremblay of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at McGill University
Dr Don Perovich of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ERDC Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory
Thank you to the backers of our Kickstarter campaign who have so generously funded the equipment necessary for this project. Please view their names here on our Supporters page.
We are grateful to expedition leader Jan Bryde (Poseidon Expeditions) for his logistical support and to illustrator Thyra Heder and musician Greg Thomas for lending their time and talents to this project.
This project took place between July 8 and August 21, 2015. If you're interested in learning more or to reach Alex and Lauren, contact us here.