Catlin Arctic Team in Peril?


Members of the Catlin Arctic Survey battle the elements in the name of science, and their own survival.

Pen Hadow and Martin Hartley of the Catlin Arctic Survey battle the elements in the name of science, and their own survival.

The three-person team of British explorers on the Arctic ice cap may or may not be in danger, depending upon which of the team’s representatives back at headquarters in London is doing the talking.

Martin Hartley, Pen Hadow, and Ann Daniels have been on a “scientific” mission to measure sea ice thickness that is routinely measured by satellite and buoys. Unfortunately, just about all of their equipment failed as soon as the team got onto the ice, due to what the BBC has reported as unexpected wind chill values as low as minus 70 degrees Celsius.

On the health front, according to Catlin Arctic Survey medical adviser Doctor Martin Rhodes, the team are battling chronic hypothermia. Additionally, Martin Hartley has frostbite on one foot, photographs of which are on the mission website, with a disclaimer for the faint of heart.

On the other hand, according to Catlin communications director Rod Macrae, all is well. “They’re fine,” he said, in a phone interview Thursday. “There is no hypothermia.” Macrae maintained that people with agendas that he didn’t even want to speculate about were looking to criticize the team, when, actually everything is going very well indeed. “Pen [the team leader] has said, ‘Were stuck in the tent, and we’re unable to take any measurements.’ And people have rushed to all sorts of hasty conclusions about their situation being dire or something.”

And yet, according to a blog entry on the Catlin website by support team member Gaby Dean, the team members do not sound normal when they phone in each day, their words slurred and muddled. Macrae was surprised to learn that the team’s “live” biotelemetry (heart rate, breaths per minute, core temperature, and skin temperature) had been repeating for upwards of a week (closer to a month, it turned out). Hadow’s core temperature reading of 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit), day after day, had given plenty of the people following the mission pause, if not a sense of foreboding. As for the slurred speech, Macrae explained that when the facial muscles get cold, they do not perform normally.

“All clothing can do is slow down the process of losing heat,” Doctor Rhodes said. “The only way they can keep the hypothermia at bay is to keep moving and to keep eating.”

Although the team is equipped with the highest-tech cold-weather gear that money can buy, many have questioned the decision not to use traditional seal and animal fur gear, considered by some experts to be superior in the extreme environment.

As of the end of the day on Thursday, which was a rest day, the team had progressed 245 kilometers. Their goal is to take ice measurements all the way to the north pole, but with only 40 days left before they will be removed from the ice, their pace will have to quicken in order for them to attain their goal. They have 678 kilometers still to travel.

The pilots who have brought the team two resupplies are the same ones who will pick them up at the end of the expedition, and they have stated that they are unwilling to risk their aircraft and personal safety on the increasingly questionable ice after May 25, according to Macrae.

“To be honest, reaching the pole is entirely secondary to capturing the scientific data,” Macrae said. When asked whether any sea ice data (live streaming data had been promised prior to the expedition) could be made available, Macrae explained that Catlin had decided to hold off on that for the time being. “We will be putting some data up onto the website, when we think it’s substantial enough to provide something of interest.”

He was pointed in denying that any discussion of removing the team from the ice had taken place. “No, never,” he said. “I think there has been a fairly serious misinterpretation of the situation.”

When informed later in the day that the team’s own medical adviser had diagnosed them, albeit remotely, with chronic hypothermia, Macrae responded with an e-mail: “What has been said and is, as you I am sure aware pretty obvious, they are constantly battling hypothermia.”

About Harold Ambler

I am a lifelong environmentalist. I started my journalism career at The New Yorker, where I worked as a copy editor. Since then, my own work has appeared in The New York Daily News, The National Review Online, The Atlantic Wire, The Huffington Post, The Berkeley Daily Planet, The Providence Journal, Brown Alumni Monthly, The Narragansett Times, Rhode Island Monthly, and Providence Business News.
This entry was posted in Climate change, global cooling, global warming, Uncategorized, weather, winter. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Catlin Arctic Team in Peril?

  1. James P says:

    >Macrae was surprised to learn that the team’s “live” biotelemetry (heart rate, breaths per minute, core temperature, and skin temperature) had been repeating for upwards of a week (closer to a month, it turned out).

    Which rather implies that he didn’t know! Does he know what they are now, I wonder? So much for ‘communications director’…

  2. Jeff Alberts says:

    He’s a PR guy, I wouldn’t expect him to know anything of substance.

    Nice report!

  3. Charles Colenaty says:

    Harold Ambler,

    Thanks for digging up this additional (to that in the WUWT) information. The new information does raise an issue, though. From the outset this expedition has been billed at a jaunt to the north pole, yet all concerned must have been aware that the pick up date was April 25 or so, which would assuredly leave the paty well short of rreaching the pole.

    With what appears to be a complete reak-down of the technical equipment the measurements of ice thickness obtained by drilling holes in the ice seems to be the sole remaining source of “scientific” data. I imagine that the procedure for obtaining such measurements must have been worked out long ago, but I can think of a way to do it. Certainly just sticking a tape measure down the hole won’t do it.

    Thanks for providing these quotes from the back-up team.

  4. AL Morris says:

    What a supreme waste of money and resources for nothing

  5. Beano says:

    And who is verifying these drilling measurements?

  6. mr.artday says:

    Mr Macrae may end up with frozen blood on his hands.

  7. Tim says:

    Nothing these people say can be trusted.

    It’s colder and the ice is much thicker than they expected, so conveniently (aside frm faking body data for one month) their equiptment has failed.

    Or maybe the results did not fit their agenda?

    Where is even the ice hole data – depths – gps locations ect?

    The whole thing stinks to me!!!!!!

    • Harold Ambler says:

      It seems overwhelmingly likely that they will stress the open water they sometimes encounter, to the exclusion of the pressure ridges, some of some of which are several meters high. Of course pack ice with strong currents beneath it and winds over it always moves, opening and closing unpredictably, as any readers of Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage will remember.

      The fairy tale that the Arctic is on its way to being ice-free may or may not have been smashed in the minds of these three exponents of anthropogenic global warming, however. The religion runs deep.

  8. James P says:

    “The religion runs deep”

    It certainly does. So much so, that they post pictures like this, with no apparent sense of irony..

  9. Cal Smith says:

    We will soon see another prime example of Cognitive Dissonance. The mission will be declared a smashing success regardless whether they fall into open water and drown or fall into a 5 meter deep crack in the ice. AG will probably shorten the predicted time span for an ice free arctic to 3 years.

  10. David Corcoran says:

    Thanks for posting this Mr. Ambler. It is obvious that with broken equipment and more blizzards on the way, the Catlin team is accomplishing no scientific purpose by staying. But wasn’t the real purpose always the production of a nice Discovery Channel-type documentary? One with lots of drama? They’ve reached that goal.

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