Willis Resilience Expedition
The Willis Resilience Expedition is a scientific and exploratory program taking place in Antarctica from November 2013 to January 2014, with goals of gaining a better understanding of the Earth's changing climate and weather-related risk. Announced in August 2013, the Expedition will be led by Parker Liautaud, a teenage polar adventurer and environmental campaigner, and fellow explorer Douglas Stoup. The expedition is being underwritten by Willis Group, a global risk advisor, insurance and reinsurance broker.
The expedition is significant for a number of reasons:
- Science. Liautaud and Stoup plan to conduct an isotope transect of Antarctica by collecting snow samples on which stable isotope analysis will be conducted in the hope of providing a valuable contribution to human understanding of Antarctic climate and potential for climate change.
- World Record Attempt. Parker Liautaud will attempt to ski 640 km unsupported from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole in 22 days, in the hope of setting a “coast to Pole” speed record. At 19 years old, he also hopes to become the youngest person to ski to both the North and the South Poles.
- Live Communications. The Expedition will be accompanied by a custom-built 6x6 communications truck outfitted with equipment that will provide 24x7 connectivity to the rest of the world, enabling Liautaud and Stoup to document the journey in real time.
The Science: Antarctica as a Source of Environmental Information
While one of the harshest environments on the planet, Antarctica offers scientists important clues about environmental change. Its ice sheet contains a record of past climates, chronicling changes in temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere stretching back hundreds of thousands of years.
According to the British Antarctic Survey, the Antarctic Peninsula is also one of the fastest warming parts of the planet. Melting of Antarctica's ice sheets could cause sea levels to rise much more than already predicted. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea levels are expected to rise by 18–59 centimeters (7.1–23.2 inches) over the next hundred years.
Weather Station Deployment
Liautaud and Stoup plan to deploy and test a lightweight weather station, the ColdFacts-3000BX, developed at the Delft University of Technology and previously untested in Antarctica. The weather station will be deployed near Union Glacier camp and tested over a period of five weeks, relaying meteorological data every 30 minutes.
Isotope Hydrology Sampling
The Expedition will also undertake a “coast-to-Pole-to-coast” survey of Antarctic stable isotope trends, covering hundreds of kilometers of previously unstudied territory. These observations will provide new information on the rate of change in Antarctic temperatures in recent years. Samples will be sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency Isotope Hydrology laboratories for analysis.
Transcontinental Tritium Study
The team will conduct a transcontinental study of the deposition rate of Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, across Antarctica. The relatively short half-life of Tritium means it can be used to date snow and ice up to around 150 years old. The data can then be used to better understand the global water cycle, which is intrinsically linked to changes in climate. This will be the first large-scale study of Tritium in Antarctica since Tritium returned to normal levels following the spike caused by thermonuclear tests in the 1960s. The samples will be sent to GNS Science, a New Zealand Crown Research Institute, for analysis.
World Speed Record Attempt
Once the scientific survey is complete, the Willis Resilience Expedition will set off on December 3, 2013 from the Ross Ice Shelf where Liautaud and Stoup will ski 640 km to the South Pole, crossing the Transantarctic Mountains, which ascend to 4,500 meters at the summit.
They have announced an intent to set an unsupported “coast to Pole” speed record. The last such record was set in 2011 by Norway’s Christian Eide, via a different route. If successful, Liautaud will also become the youngest person to reach both the North and the South Poles.
The expedition truck that will be used as transport during the sample-taking portion of the expedition will be used to transmit live video and data online during the speed race. The communication system will employ two Iridium Pilot systems and a remote camera rig. The truck will not provide expedition support during the race to the Pole.
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- "IPCC Working Group I assessment report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis" (PDF). www.ipcc.ch. 2013-09-27. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
- Correne Coetzer (2011-01-13). "Breaking news: Christian Eide bags the South Pole solo speed ski world record". explorersweb.com. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
- "A Custom-Built Communications Centre On Six Wheels". WillisResilience.com. 2013-10-01. Retrieved 2013-10-07.