The 2011 Catlin Arctic Survey came to an official end last week when the Explorers Team was finally picked up from the ice. That team, consisting of Ann Daniels, Tyler Fish, Adrian McCallum, and Phil Coates, had been traveling south from the North Pole towards Greenland for the past six weeks.
Last Wednesday, the team had nearly given up on finding a suitable landing area for a plane to land to complete the pick-up. The ice was thinning and there were more and more open leads of water, which made travel problematic for them on foot, let alone allowing a plane to land. While they would, on occasion, find patches of ice long enough for a landing, they were often not thick enough to support the weight of an aircraft.
Eventually they did find a proper piece of ice, and the evacuation plane was able to locate them and pluck them off the ice. From there they were flown to Eureka weather station for a brief overnight rest, before continuing on to Resolute Bay, and eventually home. After two months of travel in the Arctic, they were no doubt ready to get back to the comforts of their own beds.
Their evacuation from the ice officially brings to an end the 2011 Catlin Survey, which focused on the health of the pack ice this season. In addition to the Explorers Team, there was also an Ice Base Team, which consisted of scientists and researchers, who stayed at a permanent base for the length of the study.
Both teams collected a variety of data and measurements, which will now be turned over to climate scientists to study. The hope is to get a better understanding of how the loss of ice in the Arctic Ocean can affect the weather in both North America and Europe.
To my knowledge, the Catlin team was the final group that was still out on the ice when they were picked-up. It was a long and very challenging season in the Arctic, and it is clear that climate change is altering the place dramatically. I honestly believe the days of skiing to the North Pole, at least in the classic sense, may be behind us. Yes, we’ll continue to see Last Degree journeys for some time, but the big polar expeditions to the North Pole may be behind us. At the very least, their days are numbered.