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An innovative expedition to fight against melting ice

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Over the past 20 years, the Arctic has lost 1.6 million square kilometres of ice. The summer ice pack could completely disappear by 2030, which would have a decisive impact on the climate. This Tuesday, June 19 began The Way to the Pole, a human adventure and a scientific expedition, led by the explorer Sébastien ROUBINET who will sail across the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole. Its scientific goal: to study the impact of human activity on the melting of the ice. He and his crew will take scientific samples for three months, weather permitting.
 
C’is a unique adventure, as much in terms of sport as technology and science, for a world first as this crossing of the Arctic Ocean by sail, via the North Pole. After a first attempt in 2010 with Rodolphe André and a second in 2013 with Vincent Berthet, Sébastien Roubinet, accompanied this time by two very experienced team-mates, Éric André and Vincent Colliard, is setting off once again to take up the challenge.
Four years have just passed, entirely dedicated to the construction of the yacht and to the preparation of this ambitious challenge, including a year and a half on the East coast of Greenland. The new hybrid catamaran/ice tank prototype is capable of sailing on the water but also on the ice pack.
 
It's a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. At first it's a sporting one because they're going to link Alaska to Spitsbergen. 3000km to be swallowed, without assistance, without motor and only with the force of the wind, the sea and men.
 
 
Then, technological, because the design and construction of the prototype is not just a stage of the project, it is the essence of the project, as much as the sporting parameter. It was necessary to invent and innovate to meet the specifications of this very special project. This is what has driven Sébastien Roubinet for years: finding solutions to adapt to the constraints of the projects he carries out.
 
For this project of The Way to the PoleIn order to meet the requirements of the new generation of skiers, it was necessary to design hulls equipped with skis that were both very light and very strong at impact, and a pedal system to produce the energy necessary for their autonomy (heating water for food, in particular). The advantage of the three explorers' boat is its size and weight (5m, 400kg). Much lighter and smaller than the boats usually used. With its meagre proportions and the absence of mechanical propulsion, it skims the Arctic Ocean, without disturbing the environment crossed. Hybrid craft capable of operating on water and on pack ice, it is therefore a unique observation platform capable of providing first-rate data.
 
The hybrid sailboat ©Arnaud Mansat
 

Finally, scientific, because the prototype of the Pole, thanks to its lightness and the absence of mechanical propulsion, proves to be an ideal platform for obtaining information on the Arctic environment without disturbing it.
 
Remember that the Artctic Ocean is the last ocean that has never been crossed by sail. That our explorers will be assisted only by the wind... A daring technological gamble, an exceptional sporting and human challenge.
 

Objectives of this expedition: to show that no place on the planet is free from pollution due to human activity, in particular by proving the presence of micro-plastics and mercury in the ice; and to raise awareness among the general public: in the last 20 years, the Arctic has lost 1.6 million km² of ice. The summer ice pack could completely disappear by 2030.
 
 
Concretely, thanks to this highly innovative hybrid sailboat, the expedition team will carry out unique scientific samples. The readings will be analyzed at Toulouse INP by the EcoLab laboratory. (1), as part of the Toulouse INP Cryoconite Research Project.
This research project consists of studying the impact of Cryoconite on ice melting. Cryoconite is dust generated by human activity and carried by the wind to the ice pack. This black granular material absorbs solar radiation, heats the surface and creates micro-packs of melted ice.
 
For Roman TEISSERENC, scientific leader of the expedition and teacher-researcher at Toulouse INP One of the originalities of the mission is to sail on a hybrid yacht that can operate on water as well as on ice, only under sail and therefore without any impact on the environment. The team will therefore collect samples that have never been taken before, and the scientific community will have access to unique measurements. The expedition will show that no place on the planet is free of pollution due to human activity. Among these pollutants travelling thousands of kilometres to the Poles are micro-plastics and mercury.
 
The researchers - Ramya Bala Prabhakaran, Steve Allen and Deonie Allen - will focus on two contaminants found in cryoconite: mercury and microplastics. Mercury is a very harmful contaminant: stored in the fat of animals, it is passed on to humans through the food chain, particularly through the consumption of fish. The components of micro-plastics, on the other hand, pollute the environment and are harmful to humans and wildlife.
Ramya Bala Prabhakaran is a post-doctoral researcher working at Toulouse INP (SERB Overseas Post-Doctoral Fellow) on cryoconite.
Steve Allen is a PhD student studying micro-plastics with the University of Strathclyde (under Vern Pheonix). He is hired as a research assistant at Toulouse INP.
And Deonie Allen is a post-doctoral researcher at Toulouse INP (Marie Curie Prestige Fellow).
 
All the best to the team!
 
 
(1) The EcoLab* (functional ecology and environment) laboratory conducts research on the functioning of ecosystems and studies the human impact on these ecosystems. With 17 laboratories, Toulouse INP is one of the major players in research. The Establishment files an average of 12 patents per year and has a portfolio of 450 active contracts in partnership research, representing €20 million of activity per year.
 

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