Sir Ranulph Fiennes is leading a team of explorers to conquer the last great polar challenge: crossing Antarctica in winter. Their remarkable attempt aims to raise $10m for Seeing is Believing with match-funding from Standard Chartered, provide crucial scientific data and form the basis of an invaluable education programme.
The expedition officially began on 6 December 2012 when more than one hundred tonnes of specialist equipment left London for the Antarctic on board the SA Agulhas. A small number of the expedition team, including co-leader and marine organiser Anton Bowring, embarked from London, with the rest of the team joining the ship in Cape Town for final preparations before leaving for Crown Bay in Antarctica on 7 January 2013.
The traverse will take place between the two seasonal equinoxes (20 March (TBC) and 21 September), during which time the expedition’s “Ice Team” will travel 2,000 miles, often in complete darkness and in temperatures potentially approaching -90C.
- To successfully complete the first ever crossing of the Antarctic in winter;
- To raise USD10 million for Seeing is Believing;
- To make a decisive contribution to our understanding the effect of climate change upon the poles, and carry out other internationally important scientific studies;
- To inspire a generation of schoolchildren across the Commonwealth to become the scientists, engineers and leaders of tomorrow via a comprehensive and engaging educational initiative.
1. First winter crossing
The primary objective of The Coldest Journey is to complete the first ever winter crossing of the Antarctic. During Captain Scott’s tragic 1910-1913 Terra Nova expedition, Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers, Dr Edward Wilson and Apsley Cherry-Garrard took part in a famous 150-mile winter journey, later described as ‘the worst journey in the world”. On 21 March 2013, Sir Ranulph Fiennes will set off across the ice with a team of explorers as they attempt to cross the entire continent in six months in the face of some of the world’s most brutal and hostile conditions.
With a winter crossing of the Arctic having recently been completed by a Norwegian expedition, the winter traverse of the Antarctic is widely considered the last great polar challenge remaining.
The fact that it is only now being attempted is testament to the sophistication of the technology required to carry out such an enormously ambitious challenge. To help make it possible, Finning UK, Caterpillar’s dealer in the UK and Ireland, is modifying two D6N track-type tractors to tow two specially converted shipping containers – which will house the crew and the expedition’s scientific equipment – as well as enough fuel, food and other supplies for the six month traverse, enabling the Ice Team to be entirely self-reliant.
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The expedition seeks to raise USD10 million for Seeing is Believing, a global initiative to tackle avoidable blindness in developing countries.
Eighty per cent of the world’s blindness is avoidable with very cost effective interventions (e.g. a sight-restoring cataract operation costs as little as USD30 and a pair of glasses as little as USD16). Seeing is Believing is a collaboration between Standard Chartered and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB). Since its launch in 2003, the programme has reached over 28 million people. Every $ raised is matched by Standard Chartered, doubling the impact on the ground.
As well as conquering this final frontier of polar exploration, the expedition aims to make a decisive contribution to our understanding the effect of climate change upon the poles.
During the traverse the team will map with centimetre precision the surface shape of the Antarctic Ice Sheet along the 4,000 km expedition track, using GPS receivers and range sensors fitted. This high-resolution dataset will be valuable to key international environmental science efforts to monitor climate change-driven changes in the Antarctic Ice Sheet. These include the satellite remote sensing community e.g. Cryostat 2, IceSat (Ice-Bridge), who require a ‘ground-truth’ to ensure their equipment remains correctly calibrated, and the Ice Modelling community, who require profile data to allow them to develop better models required for predicting the future effects of climate change on Ice sheets (e.g. validation of ice mass balance models).
This study is one of five international scientific projects which have been selected by the Expedition Science Committee (chaired by Sir Peter Williams, Vice President, Royal Society). The Ice Team will also be sampling for cryo-bacteria capable of withstanding the extreme cold conditions, as well as being subjects in a study known as White Mars, which will look at the physiological and psychological effects of both acute, intermittent exposure to extreme cold and chronic exposure to loss of the day/night cycle.
In addition, scientists on board expedition ship, SA Agulhas, will make detailed meteorological and other environmental observations on behalf of a number of research bodies around the world.
Read more about the scientific studies here.
The expedition offers a unique opportunity to generate diverse, engaging and real-time educational content for schools covering a wide breadth of subjects and interests. A bespoke, password-protected platform has been developed for this purpose providing an enormous wealth of educational resources that will be continually updated and managed using cloud technology. The resource is accessible for a small fee to more than 43,000 schools in the UK and over a hundred thousand schools throughout the Commonwealth.
Using its on board Iridium Open Port system, the SA Agulhas will play a vital role in providing interactive and real-time educational content on the science and Commonwealth activities undertaken by the vessel and its crew throughout the voyages to and from Antarctica. Students will also be able to follow the Ice Team’s progress, take part in competitions and study fully integrated curriculum modules. These courses have been developed by Durham’s Education Development Service – one of the UK’s leading education resource providers – in partnership with expedition leaders Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Anton Bowring, and Dr Mike Stroud and the expedition scientists, engineers, mechanics.
For more information about our education package, please click here.