Planet Earth is changing rapidly and the Arctic is melting. For many decades, climate scientists have tried to communicate and advocate for conservation of nature and sustainable solutions.
Did we listen at all?
Did we do enough?
150 years apart but connected through the ages
On 4 July 1872 Professor A.E. Nordenskiöld and his team set off from Gothenburg, Sweden towards Svalbard.
After spending a challenging winter in Svalbard the team set off on the 6th of May to attempt to be the first team to ever reach the North Pole.
The attempt to reach the North Pole was abandoned on 17th of May and the team became the first to explore North East Land instead.
Now, 150 years later, a science expedition team will follow in the same path as of professor Nordenskiöld to research and document the changing climate in the Arctic. Will it even be possible to retrace his footsteps?
The team will set off on an unsupported expedition and expect to be out for approx. 35 days to complete the journey and conduct climate science to compare findings today with those made by Prof. Nordenskiöld 150 years ago.
Expedition Start Date
1 May 2022
A comparison between Prof. Nordenskiöld's findings from 150 years ago with today
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The Swedish Polar Expedition of 1872-1873
A story of ill-fortune, sacrifice, perseverance and courage
Also know as the expedition where absolutely everything went wrong...
Names like Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen, Robert Peary and Sir Ernest Shackleton and their achievements as the early explorers of the Polar Regions are well known. The history of polar exploration is filled with stories of courage and endurance, as well as triumph and tragedy. The Polar race - to be the first to reach the North and South Pole - was a race that captured the imagination of the world. First among the Swedish Polar explorers was Professor Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld (1832-1901). In his career, he led many expeditions to Svalbard (1864, 1868, 1872-1873) and Greenland (1870, 1883), but was perhaps most known for the Vega Expedition of 1878–1880, which was the first expedition to navigate through the Northeast Passage, the sea route between Europe and Asia through the Arctic Ocean, and the first voyage to circumnavigate Eurasia.
The Swedish Polar Expedition of 1872-1873 was an expedition to be the first to reach the North Pole. But it was an expedition that was plagued by ill fortune from the start. The plan had been to establish a winter camp at the Seven Islands (Sjuøyane), the northernmost part of the Svalbard archipelago. During the winter, the team would conduct scientific research and prepare for the expedition to reach the North Pole using sledges pulled by 40 reindeers in the spring of 1873.
In the first event of ill fortune, the expedition was unable to reach the Seven Islands due to thick sea ice and a decision was made to establish the winter camp in Mossel Bay, a bay situated in the North-Western Spitsbergen, the largest and only permanently populated island of the Svalbard archipelago. On arrival, the second event of ill fortune struck the team, 39 of the 40 reindeers escaped and thus the team had no animals to pull the sledges. Soon thereafter, in the third event of ill fortune, 57 frozen Norwegian fishermen appeared at the camp eager to save their lives and overwinter. The fourth ill fortune struck as the two ships that had brought the expedition team to Svalbard were frozen-in and unable to return to Gothenburg, Sweden. This meant that the planned camp of 21 people turned into a small village of 124 with insufficient food rations to last the winter. The winter was harsh, and several people died from malnutrition and other illnesses.
In spring 1873, the team was eager to embark on their journey to salvage what they could of the expedition and their honour as polar explorers. Nordenskiöld embarked on an expedition with the sledges that had been designed to be pulled by reindeers, now pulled by men. The team crossed the sea ice to North East Land only to be struck by yet another event of ill-fortune - the sledges broke and had to be sent back to base camp for repairs. Whilst waiting for the repaired sledges to return to the forward camp one team member Seaman Snabb was lost in heavy fog and was never seen again. With the repaired sledges having been returned to the forward camp professor Nordenskiöld set of towards Sjuøyane. As he reached the islands, he realise that it would not be possible for the team to attempt to reach the North Pole due to yet another event of ill fortune (the eighth) - hummocky ice and pressure ridges were blocking the ice route to the north (these are ice formations that develop when the sea ice sheet breaks as it is pushed upon itself and forms an almost impenetrable maze of ice hills and broken ice debris).
Having already been faced with enough ill fortune to turn any ordinary person home, Prof. Nordenskiöld, instead, turned South to explore the yet unknown and unchartered North East Land (Nordaustlandet). The journey over Nordaustlandet was hard and dangerous and the team risked death from polar bears, exposure to cold polar temperatures and crossing the many crevasses on the glacier.
The team completed the crossing of North East Land Ice Cap and returned to Mossel Bay in June 1873. The team had pulled the sledges by human effort for approx. 550km. The team returned to Gothenburg, Sweden on 29 August 1873 and the expedition was officially concluded. The expedition had then generated a wealth of research in geography, meteorology, geomagnetism and marine biology as well as increased the knowledge of North East Land.
The story of Prof. Nordenkiöld and his team is one of sacrifice, perseverance and courage. Attributes present in modern-day climate scientists. The Jubilee Expedition is in celebration of the achievements of Prof. Nordenkiöld and his team but also of today's climate scientists.
A decision about which route that is feasible can only be made in late winter 2022.
Due to the warming of the polar regions, it is impossible to recreate the original route taken by Nordenskiöld.
The route has been possible only for short gaps, compared with almost the entire winter just 20 years ago.
Receding ice in the polar regions has a major environmental impact as the sea ice and ice caps help regulate the earth’s temperature by reflecting much of the sun’s energy back into space. Without this ice, global warming will speed up.
The receding sea ice is an important topic and it is crucial to this expedition. Due to the uncertainty of its availability, we have planned several alternative routes that cater to different ice conditions (below).
Original Route - 550km
The original route of 550km taken by Prof. Nordenskiöld in 1873 is close to impossible to safely recreate today due to climate change. To pass on skis from Spitsbergen to North East Land on skis involves passing Hinlopen Strait, which just a few decades ago often was frozen in winter but now has drift ice coming and going throughout the winter.
Alternative 1 - 440km
A route of 440km tracing the coastline of North East Land following Nordenskiöld’s route as closely as possible. This route is possible if the sea ice north of the island is strong, something that has an approx. 50% chance of occurrence and if the sea is open North of Spitsbergen, which has an 80% chance of occurrence. This route is estimated to be achievable in approx. 30-40 days (including time for scientific research). Due to global warming and the melting Arctic, it is not possible to start from Nordenskiöld's starting point.
Alternative 2 - 330km
A route of 330km across Spitsbergen starting from Mosselbukta where Nordenskiöld and his team started in 1873 and finishing in Longyearbyen. This route starts from Nordenskiöld's exact starting point but cannot include North East Land due to global warming and the melting Arctic. This route will be used if unfavourable conditions are predicted for reaching North East Land by boat or if unsafe sea ice is expected north of North East Land or due to other safety concerns. This route is estimated to be achievable in approx. 25-30 days (including time for scientific research).
A unsupported and self-powered journey
Once we have been dropped at our start point we are on our own. There is no infrastructure along the route, no help and no resupplies. Each team member will start with around 70kg of food, fuel and equipment.
We will camp on sea ice and glaciers for an estimated 35 days on the expedition. There will be no break from the polar temperatures.
The only thing to keep us moving forward is our own energy. We will travel on skis pulling heavy pulks containing what we need to survive.
Leave no Trace
Everything that we bring in we will bring out. The expedition will aim to have as little impact as possible on the wild areas that we will travel through.