We have been asked many varying questions about The Coldest Journey and we welcome the interest into the expedition. Please see our responses to the most frequently asked queries below.
Q: Why are you doing The Coldest Journey?
A: There are four main reasons:
1. Charity: We are hoping to raise a huge amount of money for Seeing is Believing which is a global charity tackling avoidable blindness, where every dollar raised will be matched by Standard Chartered.
2. Science: Five important science projects will be carried out on the ice, plus several more from the expedition ship, which will aid our understanding of some key questions not about just our planet, but also the human race and our capacity to endure extreme conditions, both physical and psychological. The expedition will also provide an unprecedented opportunity to see how materials and machinery work in the coldest environments on earth.
3. Education: To create an extremely resourceful education package which will have far reaching benefits to children throughout the Commonwealth.
4. Adventure: We are doing this because it has never been done before! At the end of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year we want to show that her Commonwealth can still do things that no-one else has achieved.
Q: Are you walking the whole way?
A: Ran will traverse on skis, accompanied by alternate members of the expedition team. As well as completing the epic achievement of crossing more than 2,000 miles of Antarctica during the polar winter, there is a practical reason for this: to prevent the following expedition vehicles from falling into crevasses.
Q: Why are you taking vehicles, doesn’t that make it easier?
A: There is a reason why crossing the Antarctic during the polar winter hasn’t been done before; it’s dark, temperatures can drop to nearly -90°C and it’s an extremely hostile environment. We need the vehicles to shelter in at night. The expedition will test the very extremes of human endurance, but in order to survive the Antarctic winter it is necessary for the team to take their rest inside the living caboose. Camping in tents every night is not an option, no matter how much some of the Ice Team might wish it was! The sheer scale of the expedition also means that vehicles are necessary to transport the equipment required to carry out scientific experiments on the ice.
Q: Could the expedition cause environmental damage?
A: Safeguarding the pristine Antarctic environment is a high concern of every member of the expedition team and is a requirement of the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty which governs Antarctica. A robust environmental impact assessment was carried out by highly experienced Antarctic environmental scientist, Dr Liz Pasteur, which formed a key part of the framework for our mitigation procedures on the ice. This was prepared during the planning stages of the expedition so that mitigation measures could be incorporated as equipment was being developed. For example, special fuel scoots have been designed to reduce the chance of fuel spills. Solid waste will be removed from Antarctica and everything that we take to the continent is planned to come back with us. A summary of the assessment is available on The Coldest Journey website, click here.
Q: Will the expedition contribute to climate change?
A: One of the primary aims of the expedition is to collect never before accessible data about climate change, which will provide valuable insights to scientists worldwide to improve the long term future of the Antarctic and beyond. The Coldest Journey will, of course, be using a considerable amount of fuel to power the ship, and once on the Antarctic continent, the Ice Team will be using motorised vehicles to support them in their attempt to make the winter traverse. We expect to show in the fullness of time, however, that the overall impact of the expedition will be outweighed by the validity of its scientific aims and achievements.
Q: What steps have you taken to mitigate your contribution to climate change?
A: A detailed environmental impact assessment identified a number of areas for reducing fuel consumption during the crossing, which have been adopted by the expedition team. These include, among other things, the use of energy efficient heating systems and machinery, excellent insulation for living areas, selecting the least energy intensive route and reducing the number of depots on the route to limit avoidable transportation emissions. The SA Agulhas will also be combining a number of roles besides transporting the team and equipment, including acting as a cadet training ship for scores of African sea cadets, and being the base for important scientific research.
Q: How much is the expedition costing? Is it a good use of public money?
A: It is funded by donations or sponsorship primarily from the private sector. Literally hundreds of people and companies are giving their time, products or money to enable the expedition to happen, as they too share the passion of and vision for what we are attempting. We are encouraging schools throughout the UK and Commonwealth to subscribe to our separate education package in exchange for a small donation. All of the responses we have received from educators who have seen this material indicated that they believe it is a high quality package. If everything was tallied up including the goods and services kindly provided free of charge by our sponsors, the expedition would probably cost in excess of £6m.
Q: How do your families feel about you being away for so long and putting yourselves in danger?
A: Mostly, they wish long separations could be avoided. However, the Ice Team’s families understand that, as explorers, they will often be away from home for long periods of time, and are naturally very proud of them for being part of a record-breaking attempt. They understand that adventure and challenge motivate people like us. The expedition is well planned and equipped, and a doctor will be with the team throughout. We look forward to telling our children and loved ones all about our experiences and achievements when we get home.
Q: Why was Seeing is Believing chosen as the expedition charity?
A: In his long and distinguished career, Sir Ranulph has raised over $22 million (nearly £14 million) for charity, and views adventure and challenge as a great way to both inspire others and raise money for deserving causes. After experiencing snow blindness himself in the past, Sir Ranulph was moved by Seeing is Believing’s goal of tackling avoidable blindness and wanted to be a part of it. The expedition Ice Team members have seen some of the most stunning places on earth and these treasured memories will remain with them always. The fact that 80% of the world’s blindness is treatable and that Seeing is Believing is working to prevent this, is perhaps even more pertinent to them and why they are each so pleased to be supporting this wonderful cause. Seeing is Believing can transform the lives of millions of people based on the extreme efforts of a small team such as ours.
Q: The team is unreachable and may be unable to be rescued on the ice, and it is incredibly dangerous. Is it an irresponsible challenge?
A: We believe the benefits of doing the expedition far outweigh the risks and our chances of success are very good. We have a detailed risk mitigation plan but, obviously, this is not a risk-free venture. The team has researched the expedition for over five years and are well-prepared for the dangers, thanks to the advice and assistance of some of the world’s leading authorities in polar travel and specialist cold weather equipment. They will be carrying out ground-breaking research on the ice, the findings from which will be used by scientists from all around the world. No-one has ever collected data beyond the reaches of the research centres during the Antarctic winter before, so The Coldest Journey will be doing something valuable and unique. The charitable objectives of the expedition – to raise US$10 million for Seeing is Believing – give further weight and worthiness to attempting the challenge.
Q: Why is the ship departing now if the expedition isn’t starting until 21 March 2013?
A: The SA Agulhas has travelled to London to pick up more than 100 tonnes of equipment necessary for the expedition as well as a select number of the expedition team, including co-leader and marine advisor Anton Bowring. She also stopped en route in Ghana to pick up dozens of sea cadets who will be living and training on board over the coming year. She will now head back to Cape Town where the Ice Team will join her later in December, before heading to the Antarctic with an estimated arrival date of 14 January 2013. It will take about a week to offload the cargo before the Ice Team are left on the ice with around two months to get ready for the start of the expedition on 21 March.
Q: Why aren’t Sir Ranulph and the Ice Team leaving London on the ship today?
A: Sir Ranulph and the team have final preparations to make in the UK before joining the SA Agulhas and the Ship Team in Cape Town at the end of December, which will include undergoing final preparations and training. The next few weeks will also be the last chance for most of the team to spend some time with their loved ones for a very long time
Q: Why has it never been attempted before?
A: Such an attempt to cross the Antarctic during winter has never been made before because of the technical complexity required in order to complete it successfully. Only now is technology sufficiently advanced that equipment can be modified to withstand the extreme temperatures and hostile conditions
Q: What scientific tests will the Ice Team be carrying out?
A: Five international science projects will be carried out during The Coldest Journey, with data and samples being collected by trained members of the team using the expedition’s dedicated science workshop housed in the second caboose. These will then be sent on to a number of respected research institutes for analysis.
The studies include mapping with centimetre precision the surface shape of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, providing a high-resolution dataset that will be valuable to key international environmental science efforts to monitor climate change-driven changes in the ice sheet.
Another study will seek to determine the potential diversity of extreme psychrophilic (‘cold-loving’) bacteria in Antarctic snow, whilst the White Mars project – which is made up of 20 separate components and has been organised by Dr Mike Stroud and Dr Alexander Kumar – will be using the similarities that exist between the conditions humans encounter on a winter Antarctic expedition and those found in space. It is hoped their findings will help shape mankind’s approach towards future long-distance space travel.
Q: Who selected the scientific tests?
A: The projects were chosen following call-out and receipt of proposals by international scientists organised by Dr Tim Cullingford, and a selection process by the Expedition Science Committee chaired by Sir Peter Williams (Former Vice President, Royal Society) and Dr Dougal Goodman (Foundation for Science and Technology and former Deputy Director of British Antarctic Survey).