Wednesday, April 06, 2016

North Pole 2016: Barneo Ice Camp to be Relocated After Runway Failure

Yesterday I posted the news that the runway at the Barneo Ice Camp in the Arctic Ocean had cracked when the first aircraft arrived to start the North Pole season. This had the effect of delaying all other flights to the camp and preventing the start of several expeditions. But efforts were underway to repair the cracks and get the flights back on schedule. But it has been revealed today that the runway is actually beyond repair, and engineers at Barneo have already begun operation to relocate the base to another ice flow.

ExWeb says that just 650 meters of the runway still exists following the damage inflicted by the arrival of the first AN-74 aircraft. That's a big, heavy plane that not only has a long range, but also the ability to carry a lot of gear and equipment too. Those planes are the workhorse at Barneo, delivering explorers, adventurers, scientists, and researchers to the Arctic.

Upon determining that the runway was beyond repair, the team that builds the ice camp immediately began searching for a suitable replacement. They found another ice flow within a few hours, and began the process of moving the base and creating a new landing strip. Unfortunately, that process will take 7-8 days to complete, which means that some Arctic expeditions will be delayed or may have to be cancelled altogether.

One such team that we've been following closely is the Race Against Time expedition, which was to have been underway by now. The plan was for three British explorers – Mark Wood, Paul Vicary, and Mark Langridge – to ski from the North Pole to Ward Hunt Island in Canada. That journey was expected to take a minimum of 35 days through tough conditions. Now, the team will have just 20 days to cover as much ground as they can.

According to reports on their website, the team will still embark on their mission to cross the Arctic, documenting the impact of climate change as they go. But they now know that they'll never reach the Canadian coast before conditions begin to deteriorate in the Arctic Ocean, as warmer temperatures and spring weather begins to take its toll. Instead, they'll ski as far as they can and be picked up by an icebreaker ship. They plan to be on the first flight out to the new Barneo Ice Camp once it is established, and will move on to the North Pole soon there after.

The failure of the runway at Barneo is another indication that the Arctic is warming. The privately built camp has been operating in the Arctic for years, and have only had one other instance when the runway cracked. But as temperatures rise, the ability to travel in the Arctic will become compromised, and possibly even more dangerous. How this will impact future trips to the region remains to be seen, but it seems that the location of future Barneo camps will need to be selected very carefully.

For now, the 2016 North Pole season is at a standstill. Stay tuned for more updates in a few days.

1 comment:

sunriseswansong said...

Nice post, but you might want to rethink your assertion that the cracks are "the damage inflicted by the arrival of the first AN-74 aircraft." Your picture is a still from the video taken by the AN-74, and the damage existed prior to its arrival. You can see the full video on the Barneo Facebook page or here:

The current problem seems to be that the ice is "active". The airstrip is in an area where the ice is converging, which forms a "pressure ridge." You don't want to hit a bump like that when landing a jet.

If the winds shift the ice may start "diverging", which will form a "lead" of open water. You don't want to hit one of those, either, when landing a jet.

Even though the sun is up it is still so close to the horizon temperatures still hover down between minus twenty and minus thirty-five. (Celsius). The leads of open water still swiftly skim over with ice. No real melting will occur until June.

The Russians are not fools, and wouldn't build a blue-ice airstrip on thin ice. What they can't predict is the way the ice is moving.