Our expedition also has an important scientific goal. I’m not a scientist. And I know most people reading this won’t be either. So I want to try and explain this in a way that most people will understand.
So here’s how it was explained to me….
There’s a big polar ice cap up in the Arctic, which is a big expanse of white ice. (Ok so far?!).
The white ice reflects off the sun’s rays; so the more ice there is, the more the sun’s warmth gets reflected back into space, rather than getting absorbed into the planet.
The more ice there is, the colder the planet. The more sea there is, the warmer the planet. The sea acts as a good container for heat – it holds onto it.
Also if the ice is thin, it will have pockets of water on it, which I’m guessing will reduce its ability to reflect the sun back.
So it’s not too difficult to see that what happens here – if there is less ice, the planet is warmer, which leads to less ice and so on…it’s an accelerating process and that’s what’s so worrying.
We may not have too big a problem now and some would say that everyone’s going on about this and it’s not got much worse, but it’s going to get worse at an exponential rate. Apparently (and this is a rough estimate) the ice cap is a third of what it was in the 1940s, and it’s getting smaller at a faster and faster rate.
There’s other stuff too.
In an area of sea, there’s water moisture in the air. In an area of ice, there’s less of this. This affects the amount of water moisture in the air both worldwide and locally in the Arctic, which impacts on our weather systems.
Also, if we’ve got less ice, then when it melts in the summer, there’s less cold water created. The cold water sets off Arctic currents which affect the whole world’s currents. And our weather systems.
And another thing. When the sea freezes in the winter, it takes fresh water, leaving the salt behind. If there’s less ice created, the sea will be less salty. A sea that is salty sinks, apparently, and this creates vertical currents in the oceans which again affects all our weather systems. So these are affected, too, as our ice cap shrinks.
So how is our expedition going to help?
Well, places like the Met Office will run different models to try and work out what’s going to happen with different amounts of ice melt. How is our planet going to be affected by all this. What will our children be dealing with? But they’re only best guesses. They need the starting data to be accurate, so these models can be accurate. That’s where we come in. We are going to be measuring the depth of the ice at very regular intervals (daily I think).
But surely this is happening loads by satellite and aircraft?
Well, there’s a problem with satellite data. It can be fooled by things on the ground, like snow on top of the ice. They need corrective data to calibrate their satellites. That’s one of our jobs.
What about planes or hovercrafts then?
These can be very useful. And we will be using these to help us gather data on this expedition too. But the problem with this way of gathering data is that you get lots of concentrated data, but it’s not spread out across the Arctic. Our expedition will be able to gather data at small regular intervals right across the Arctic ice cap. Perfect for what they need.
And if you don’t believe in global warming?
No-one is disputing that the extent of the ice cap is declining. People question the impact of this. So maybe it’s even more important, then, that the predictive models are accurate. And for that we need the ground data.
So if you’re interested, I’m hoping that helps. Thanks to Catherine for explaining this to me. She’s an Ice Warrior too, here’s the link to her page if you want to know more. If you’ve read this and realise you know a whole lot more than me, then email me and tell me what you know. If I’ve got anything wrong then let me know. I’m not a scientist. But I am excited about being able to help with all this. It’s huge stuff.