Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 13:58 UK

Ice team endures meagre rations

By David Shukman
Science and environment correspondent, BBC News

Ice camp (M.Hartley)
The science came to a halt as the team sought to conserve energy

Three UK explorers surveying the Arctic ice were down to rations of just 90g of food each per day until a resupply flight reached them on Tuesday.

Bad weather had frustrated repeated attempts to land new food stocks at the ice camp set up by Pen Hadow, Ann Daniels and Martin Hartley.

The explorers, from the Catlin Arctic Survey, usually consume enough food to give them about 6,000 calories per day.

The cut in rations took them down to just 1,000 calories each.

In the last few days before the flight landed, the team had gone without any hot food and were described as "hungry, lethargic, and excruciatingly bored".

At one point, cameraman Martin Hartley said he was surviving on the equivalent of three Mars bars - even less in the last few days - and listed his rations:

"Today I've had a cup of porridge, three pork scratchings, a piece of dried coconut and a finger of shortbread. I've got 12 raisins left in my bag and nine pieces of pineapple, each the size of a little finger."

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Ann Daniels describes the 6,000-calorie diet that the team would normally eat

Ann Daniels, navigator and cook, said after this morning's delivery: "Our spirits are restored. Now we just need our bodies to catch up.

"I can't tell you how happy we are that the plane landed, rather than just did an air-drop of food. It meant we had some human contact."

Expedition leader Pen Hadow said that the shortage of food forced them to stop their task of measuring the thickness of the sea-ice.

Pen Hadow (M.Hartley)
The team will now be picked up a week earlier than originally planned

"We had to stop drilling and doing scientific observations for a few days because it simply wouldn't have been sensible, given the cold, the energy that the experiments demand and the lack of calorie intake."

Daniels said that when her colleagues left the tent to drill a few days into the wait, they came back feeling sick and wobbly and took longer than usual to warm up.

Poor visibility at a refuelling point - half-way between the team's position and Resolute, the nearest settlement - meant that for day after day the resupply mission was stalled (the successful flight arrived 11 days late).

This is the second time that the team has been on reduced rations. Another resupply flight last month was also delayed by bad weather.

Ocean instrument

The latest resupply was only made possible because the charter firm Kenn Borek Air fitted special fuel tanks to allow the aircraft extra range and so avoid the need for a refuelling stop.

This limited the amount of weight that could be carried, so while food, fuel and batteries were delivered, a scientific instrument known as SeaCat, designed to to be lowered into the sea beneath the ice, had to be left behind.

Chip Cunliffe, operations chief in London, said: "It has been a difficult 10 days trying to get the flight in, with the weather consistently frustrating us, and a technical problem with one plane causing us to turn back on one earlier attempt to reach them.

"Using additional fuel tanks has made this resupply easier in the end; and it's a relief to get the team moving once again."

The expedition, originally due to run into the end of May, is now being concluded a week early amid concern about the strength of the ice as the summer melt approaches.

The Catlin Arctic Survey team hopes its ice thickness data - coming primarily now from drilling following the failure of a mobile radar unit - will help scientists better understand the changes taking place at the highest latitudes.



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