Follow A Historic Journey: The B.I.G. North Pole Expedition

By Julian Lennon and Tassoula Kokkoris
Next Life Square

In the spring of 2021, we made the decision to sponsor the B.I.G. Arctic Research Expedition to the North Pole, which would scientifically collect, measure and record the fragile arctic landscape, “Before It’s Gone…”

That trip, which was originally scheduled for April 2022, is now underway.

The Journey

To kick things off, in the summer of 2021, we conducted an interview with the trip leader, Felicity Aston, MBE, to learn more about the expedition.

The group journeyed to Vatnajokull in southern Iceland for their first extended training that November. Vatnajokull is the largest glacier in Europe and covers 8% of the country’s landmass. Did we also mention it sits atop a volcano that last erupted in 2010? That didn’t faze this team ….

Though storms and wind made their time on the glacier challenging, the experience was successful—and quite valuable—enabling the women to test their equipment and make necessary adjustments to their original plan. 

The group was energised and ready to go. The following April, they arrived at their departure point in great anticipation of the days ahead. Then, the unthinkable happened: Russia’s War on Ukraine began, just weeks before the team was scheduled to depart, and because all expeditions were cancelled in the area, they were unable to proceed.

Undeterred, they pivoted and used the time for a second training in Svalbard that same month, collecting 80 kg of sea ice samples amidst the harsh realities of polar travel.

Unable to make the rescheduled North Pole trip in 2023, they instead returned to Iceland for additional training, but switched locations. This time, they went to the northernmost glacier in the country (located just a little to the south of the Arctic Circle), Drangajokull. The conditions there proved challenging not because of the cold, but because of the unexpected warm climate, which resulted in a lack of snow.

Through it all, they persevered and in these past three years, the team has evolved from a British-only group to an international crew, made up of women from around the world. 

These brave women will face the dangers of the current expedition head-on, which include shifting Arctic Ocean pack ice, potential polar bear encounters, and frigid temperatures that can plummet as low as minus 40 degrees.

The Science

Monitoring sea ice is nothing new—explorers have been researching it since the early 1970s, but its rapid decline makes this current mission crucial. Because the ice is melting so fast, the conditions are far less stable … as in the ice is thinning for those who travel upon it. 

The B.I.G. North Pole Expedition team will specifically look for pollution generated by plastics and lead, as well as report on the mental health of their group as they progress along the journey.

To be more specific, Black Carbon, which results from the incomplete burning of fossil fuels, is one area of focus. It is believed that Black Carbon melts snow and ice due to the way its material makeup absorbs light. Scientists need data and samples from this trip to learn more about how Black Carbon impacts the Arctic, so they can analyse how the landscape has changed thus far and help predict future outcomes.

Microplastics, and how they’re distributed in the Arctic, will also be examined based on samples collected by the explorers. Scientists at the National Oceanography Centre and the University of Southampton will analyse the pathways and the longevity of microplastics existence in the space using infrared spectroscopy.

The team will also record data using NASA’s Globe Observer app to share observations about Arctic Clouds. Followers of the journey can also contribute to the study by downloading the app, choosing the ‘Clouds’ protocol and sharing comparative observations about clouds in their own community.

The final portion of the atmospheric research will include the recording of Snow Depth as the team progresses along their journey. This will inform scientists about the impacts of climate change and potentially help improve water runoff models, which aid in water resources, avalanche safety and tourism.

In addition to all of these aspects of their mission, the team will contribute data about their mental health along the way for two purposes:

The first, The Psychology of Resilience, is a current study at the University of Durham, by Paul Burgam, who is testing to see if the self-determination theory, which can predict a person’s resilience based on ‘the fulfilment of basic psychological needs,’ is applicable in the Polar regions for those subjected to this expedition. 

The second, Positive Psychological Outcomes in Spaceflight Analogs will investigate the good aftereffects of the journey, which may include deep psychological shifts in values, motivations and attitudes. These mental shifts can be seen in persons after spending time in an analog environment, which is any ‘isolated, confined, or extreme (ICE) environment where the effects of living in space are replicated.’

The Expedition

We encourage everyone to track the expedition on the B.I.G. North Pole website and follow the team @bignorthpole on Instagram. We will also share regular updates to our social media channels and news page. 

If you’d like to support future projects like this, we invite you to become a member of The Desert Bloom, which is our monthly donor program that allocates funds specifically to environmental initiatives. You can also make a one-time donation on that same page.

In the meantime, we wish Felicity, Sadie and the entire B.I.G. North Pole team a safe and productive trip. Your work will make our world a better place.

We are cheering you on, every step of the way … Godspeed. 🙏

“Next Life,” 2019 © Julian Lennon is available for purchase at Artsy.

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Karen Salvatore
Karen Salvatore
April 10, 2024 11:44

Thank you for this fascinating newsletter. I am so amazed and admire these resilient woman. I wish more people in power would listen and do something right by our planet. It sad that these people don’t listen to the scientists when it comes to this. Thank you for your educational information and your generous support of these amazing people. God bless all your efforts. Peace, Love and Joy

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