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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 February 2007, 12:12 GMT
Arctic trek to map climate impacts
Alain Hubert
You need young people to have access to these remote locations to see what is going on and understand why things are changing
Alain Hubert

Two Belgian polar explorers are preparing to embark on a 4,300km (2,672 mile) trek across the Arctic to collect scientific data and raise awareness of the impact of climate change.

Alain Hubert's and Dixie Danscercoer's Arctic Arc expedition will be the longest journey ever attempted in a single trip across the polar region.

Setting out from Siberia on 1 March, the pair will be on the ice for an estimated 110 days before arriving at the southern-most point in Greenland in June.

"I have always wanted to do a long crossing," Mr Hubert explains. "If you go from Siberia to Greenland, you cross an entire ocean.

"The first part of the expedition will be the crossing of the sea ice, and the second part involves us continuing through Greenland," he tells BBC News.

"No-one has tried to cross the sea, before heading up to the top of the ice cap and continue to the most southern point of Greenland."

The men will make the journey on skis, pulling 2.4m (7.8ft) sleds, which will weigh 120kg when fully loaded with food and equipment.

Sun shining on ice in the Arctic (Image: AP)
Scientists warn Arctic summer sea ice could disappear by 2040

To help speed their progress, they will be using kites that have their design origins in Nasa's Apollo programme to take advantage of the area's strong winds.

"For polar explorers, the wind has been the first enemy," Mr Hubert observes, "but with polar kites, this changes as it creates opportunities to cover the ground more quickly."

With the aid of the kites, the Belgians hope to cross Greenland in three weeks, weather conditions permitting.

"You are not the one deciding how far you will travel; when there is wind you have to sail, even if it is for 20 hours," concedes Mr Hubert.

Another problem that explorers are increasingly facing is melting sea ice.

Last year, Briton Jim McNeill had to abandon his attempt to become the first person to reach all four North Poles because he encountered wide stretches of open water rather than sea ice.

However, Mr Hubert is confident that this will not be too much of a problem.

"There is a critical point when we arrive at the end of the ocean, just before we go up on to the Greenland ice cap - I have no idea what we will find there," he admits.

"But our sleds are quite long, and we can tie them together to make a catamaran if it is needed."

Science on ice

The start date of 1 March coincides with the beginning of the International Polar Year, which will see scientists from all over the world carry out a range of research projects that focus on the polar regions.

As well as the endurance aspect of their trek, the men will also be carrying out a series of scientific studies.

ERS-2 (Esa)
Launched April 1995; works alongside Esa's lead Earth observing platform, Envisat
Equipped with two specialised radars, infrared imaging sensor, and ozone monitor
Spacecraft flies 800km-high polar orbit; covers entire globe in just three days
Wealth of data on ice cover, surface winds, vegetation, trace gases, earth movement, etc

One task will be to take measurements on the sea ice for the European Space Agency (Esa).

Mr Hubert explains: "Roughly, every 25km we will make about 100 measurements over a length of 300 metres. Overall, this will provide Esa with data covering about 2,000km of sea ice.

"It will help the scientists because they will compare this data with readings from their satellites (ERS-1 and ERS-2), and then they can adjust and understand the information from their satellites."

He adds that the data gathered during the expedition will also be used to calibrate the instruments on Esa's Cryosat-2 satellite, scheduled to be launched in 2009.

Another aim of the Arctic Arc expedition, sponsored by Rolex, is to raise awareness of the impact climate change is having on the region among eight to 18-year-olds.

In a partnership between the International Polar Foundation, which Mr Hubert co-founded, and a network of education institutions in 40 countries, students will follow the explorers progress via the foundation's website.

"You need young people to have access to these remote locations to see what is going on and understand why things are changing," Mr Hubert, a Unicef goodwill ambassador, explains.

"That is why explorers today have to take part in experiments and engage in education, so children are more aware of the issues."

Map showing the route of the Arctic Arc expedition (Image: BBC)

Alain Hubert will be filing regular updates during his Arctic Arc expedition in a journal for the BBC News website, starting at the end of February

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