An Arctic expedition designed to demonstrate the threat of climate change has ended in tragedy with the deaths of two Dutch researchers, Marc Cornelissen, and Philip de Roo. The pair are believed to have fallen through thin ice nearly three weeks into their trip. (h/t NoTricksZone)
The men had been travelling from Resolute Bay in Canada northwards to Bathurst Island across melting summer ice – dubbed “The Last Ice Area” by climate change advocates who believe it to be the Artic area most resilient to global warming – in order to collect data for climate scientists at York University, Toronto.
After discussions with Christian Haas at the university the team decided to shift course “to make their route a bit more interesting and challenging,” according to Cornelissen. The new course took them north east over multi-year ice and rubble; they also encountered areas of open sea.
A week later Cold Facts, the organisation behind their expedition, announced on Twitter that the men were missing. A search and rescue operation mounted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police eventually found the body of Mr Cornelissen, but Mr de Roo has not been found. Both are believed to have drowned after falling through the ice. A guard dog which the pair had taken with them was also recovered in good health.
— Cold Facts (@coldfactsorg) April 30, 2015
Questions are now being raised over why the two men were on the expedition at all. Neither of the participants were climate scientists; Mr Cornelissen held a degree in architecture and seemed to have been drawn to the Arctic as an amateur adventurer. His first attempt to cross the icy terrain involved a mountain bike, which was quickly discarded as useless in favour of skis.
Along their route, the two tweeted reports from the ice in which they mentioned “Skiing in shorts [during a] tropical day in the Artic”, and “unusually warm weather”. The temperature is understood to have hit a ‘high’ of zero degrees Celsius on the warmest day, but was more regularly at -12 to -14 degrees.
Cold Facts, which is supported by the World Wildlife Fund amongst other backers, states on its website that its mission involves mounting expeditions to the Arctic to monitor the effects of global warming. “In the northern hemisphere, sea ice extent and thickness has been decreasing significantly over the last decades. Monitoring these changes is critically important,” its website says.
What is certain is that climate change advocates are already using the men’s deaths to push the climate change agenda. “This is meant to be the Last Ice Area, and it is meant to be the thickest,” George Divoky, an ornithologist at the University of Alaska told e&e news. “One of the things that’ll come out of this tragedy is that people will be more aware of just how thin the ice is.”
Marielle Feenstra, spokeswoman at Cold Facts said that the tragic accident proves “that this is a very fragile region that really needs more information to make sure this will be protected.” They have cited WWF who are pushing for the Last Ice Area to be protected in law thanks to climate change eroding ice elsewhere.
And the Guardian reported that “Unusually thin ice likely played a role in their presumed death in the Canadian Arctic this week”, under the headline “Two Arctic ice researchers presumed drowned after unseasonably high temperatures”.
The paper took the opportunity to quote Stephanie Pfirman, an environmental science professor at Barnard College who told colleagues on a conference call “The Arctic is warming faster than just about any place on Earth. “And the Arctic winters are much milder than they were in the past.”
The doomed expedition has drawn comparisons to the plight of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition in late 2013 which became lodged in Antarctic ice whilst trying to prove that global warming was eroding the ice caps. The boat, dubbed the ‘ship of fools’ was eventually freed, but not before the lives of all 74 passengers, including four journalists, was placed in jeopardy.
Commenting at the NoTricksZone blog, Pierre Gosselin called for an inquiry into what went wrong, commenting “Personally I think the expedition smacks more of a poorly judged publicity stunt by activists, and much less a scientific expedition to explore the unknown. There needs to be an independent inquiry into this accident.”