In April 2021, a group of female scientists called Climate Sentinels set out on a 450 km long research expedition in Svalbard, using skis as their main transportation. They collected snow samples to study the impact of air pollution in the snow and the icy landscapes of Svalbard. One of the priorities on their expedition was to lower their carbon footprint by traveling on skis to show that science can be more sustainable, even in the most extreme environments.
The Hurtigruten Foundation is a proud supporter of Climate Sentinels, and this collaboration enabled the expedition to continue through the pandemic. The help from the foundation was especially appreciated in the preparation for the expedition when a lot of unforeseen expenses appeared. It had already been postponed a year, which resulted in two members of the team dropping out and new equipment having to be bought. The support from the funding made it possible for the scientists to finally pull through.
Despite incredibly tough conditions, the Climate Sentinels managed to collect all the data they planned to gather. The ice-cold weather was historically bad during the month they were there with insanely powerful storms and winds up to 140 KMH. It was the highest avalanche risk ever recorded on Svalbard and the ice they had to cross was considered weak. The group still used skis as transportation but admits that camping in the icy landscape for a whole month in one of the most challenging environments on Earth made them extremely vulnerable. But thanks to good communication and a solid team effort with experienced polar explorers, they survived.
Today the scientists can say that they have faced the impact of climate change directly on Svalbard, the fastest warming place on Earth. While the Arctic is warming three times faster than the globe, Svalbard’s temperatures are rising six to seven times faster than the global average, making the weather more extreme and more unpredictable. While the field part of the expedition is over, there is still a lot of work to be done. The Climate Sentinels are now processing the 100 snow samples collected during the expedition with Western Washington University, and they are also reconnecting with the schools and colleges that have followed them from the very beginning. The Climate Sentinels are already planning their next great exploration, hopefully one with less dramatic weather. Before the expedition to Svalbard, they realized that their mission is bigger than this one expedition. They knew they had to continue their work and Svalbard was just the beginning. They are eager to continue the snow and ice sample project in other regions badly impacted by air pollution and climate change, even though it is barely six months since they were in the field. Limiting their carbon footprint while doing their research will remain one of the pillars of Climate Sentinels, so anywhere they can travel on skis or on foot is a potential new expedition target. They admit that the dream is to study the impact of air pollution on the Himalayan glaciers and take their pulkas to Antarctica. The Arctic as we know it is disappearing with impacts already felt across the world, and it is time to act.
Where can I learn more?
Do you have a project for Hurtigruten Foundation? The scientists in Climate Sentinels succeeded in their work for a contribution from Hurtigruten Foundation by being passionate and honest about their project. They also had a media plan ready before they applied. You can read more about the foundation here.
About Climate Sentinels
Climate Sentinels is a group of female scientists and polar experts, with PhD’s in Glaciology and Education and a strong connection to the Svalbard glaciers. Their goal is to inspire the younger generations to study STEM, to make science more accessible and deliver a positive message on climate action. Follow the scientific adventures of Climate Sentinels on their website.