Monday, April 25, 2016

North Pole 2016: British Trio Close in on 90ºN, Barneo in Transition

The 2016 North Pole season has been a strange one to say the least, and it appears that it is quickly coming to an end. It now looks like operations will begin to wrap up in the next week or so, with the final expeditions heading towards the finish line. But it is clear that the North Pole is a place that remains in transition, with new challenges to the logistics of getting there.

One of the teams that is nearing the completion of its journey is the Race Against Time squad. If all goes according to plan, polar explorers Mark Wood, Paul Vicary, and Mark Langridge should reach the North Pole sometime today. They've been closing in on the top of the world for the past few days, but the final miles haven't been easy ones. Just yesterday they faced their largest lead of open water yet, covering as many as 3 or 4 football pitches across. Those leads slow down their progress greatly, and can be dangerous to cross, but the real news here is that they are finding these areas of open water so close to the Pole. That should be one of the coldest places on Earth, and not a place where the ice is failing so quickly, but it is happening and it is going to make any future expeditions to the North Pole even more difficult, if not impossible. It won't be too long before these journeys could come to an end altogether.

Meanwhile, ExWeb is reporting that there will be no more flights to the Barneo Ice Camp from Svalbard, Norway. Instead, future flights will likely be conducted through Franz Josef Land, which is a remote Russian island. Barneo has had its share of issues being built this year thanks to the health of the ice and its movement atop the Arctic Ocean. But, it turns out there have been some political issues that also challenge the future of the temporary base, which has been in operation for 15 years.

A few weeks back, a team of Ukrainian commandos traveled to the Arctic to conduct a training exercise. Officials from Barneo say that those soldiers flew to the camp aboard a special flight that did not depart from Svalbard in Norway, which is where the majority of the commercial flights to Barneo originate. But the Norwegian government aren't convinced that that wast he case, so they revoked the flight permits citing national security. They then imposed a new set of rules that require the flights heading to Barneo to share the exact contents of its cargo, and all passengers, 48 hours before the flight. Due to the fluid nature of those flights however, Barneo officials say those requirements are impossible to meet, so future flights will no longer depart from Svalbard. That starts now, and seems likely to continue through all future operations in the Arctic as well.

This means that in addition to changing conditions in the Arctic, this shift in regulations it making it logistically more challenging to get there as well. These new flights could cost more as well, which could potentially sink some future expeditions. Traveling to the North Pole is already expensive enough, and sponsors seem more reluctant to back such a journey. This is all speculation at this point of course, and we'll have to see how this all shakes out.

Either way, its clear that operations in the Arctic for 2016 are starting to wind down now. It won't be long before Bareno is closed once again for the year.

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