You may be familiar with the much ballyhooed “Polar Defense Project” which aimed to get two kayakers into the arctic sea as far north as possible. While it’s difficult to find a succinct mission statement on their web page, this is about as close as one can get:
Lewis Gordon Pugh will kayak from the Island of Spitsbergen (in northern Europe) across the Arctic Ocean, into the Arctic ice pack, and as close to the North Pole as possible. The journey, across some of the most dangerous seas in the world, is scheduled to depart on the 30th of August. The expedition will highlight how thin the sea ice has become in recent years.
We are calling for world leaders to take a stand against the destruction of the Arctic.
Let me say that being the leader of my own volunteer project on climate (www.sufacestations.org) I understand the drive to want to do something you believe in. I don’t fault anyone for that, and have respect for anyone who puts out the effort. At the same time, this project doesn’t seem to have clearly defined goals other than “The expedition will highlight how thin the sea ice has become in recent years.”.
OK fair enough, but the expedition lasted just a few short days, and the kayakers had to give up the trek because they became “stuck” in sea ice. See my report from last week “Adventures in Arctic Kayaking: we’re stuck“. Basically they gave up, planted their 192 world flags, and went home. It seemed anticlimactic in view of what the leader, Lewis Gordon Pugh said to the London Times in a July 16th, 2008 interview:
“I’m going to try and get all the way to the North Pole to show the world what is happening,” the 38-year-old said after launching his Polar Defense Project expedition on the River Thames in London. (Link to story is still available in the India Times here )
So I was surprised then to read about this “success” in their follow up post:
“On this trip I am delighted with many things – the fact that we got as far north as we did, further north than anyone has ever kayaked before…”
It reminded me of a previous post I made about reported conditions in the arctic back in 1922. So last Friday, September 5th I posted this comment on their expedition blog:
“…the fact that we got as far north as we did, further north than anyone has ever kayaked before…”
Just wondering if that claim can be validated anywhere or if you are just making it up?
It stands to reason that Eskimos and other native people of the north may have made it further north in the past. For example in August 1922. See this report from the Norwegian Consul in the Monthly Weather Review:
Do you know for certain that natives of the area did not kayak further north then or in the past few hundred years?….in August 1922 the expedition made it to 81° 29′ north.
Your last position where you reported that you got “stuck” was 80.52397, 12.21224 which is 80° 31′ 26″, 12° 12′ 44″
Not that far from 1922…so given that it was possible to get about the same distance north then, it would stand to reason that:
1) Ice melt was similar back then in 1922
2) kayaking by native people may have matched or exceeded your feat in the past when conditions were similar
3) Since previous records show similar reports to what you’ve experienced today, melts today are not unique nor catastrophic events.
Here is a screencap image of that posting:
Yet as of today, 4 days later, still no answer. The comment has been skipped over and many other comments have been posted since then. I’ll have to assume it has been ignored and/or deleted.
Thus, it would seem that the Polar Defense Project won’t answer the tough questions, or even allow comments about them. The lack of basic planning and the inflated claims on this project are stunning, the lack of tolerance for anything that questions the project is also telling.
Sadly it appears that the expedition was nothing more than a poorly executed publicity stunt.
The goal set by Mr. Pugh in July’s Times interview was of course impossible, but apparently this fact was unknown to him, or he wouldn’t have allowed such a statement to be published worldwide. Surely with links to NSIDC and Cryosphere Today on his website, he must have been aware at some point, or maybe he was just going on the buzz of an “Ice Free North Pole” from earlier this year? With their splash screen for their website saying “The North Pole is Melting”, it seems plausible. Rumor has it that some folks “in the know” told him not to try this trip, but he went anyway.
But it seems that even the premise of this expedition was not well researched, as Bill Illis points out in comments on this blog:
Nansen and Johansen in two kayaks turned into a catamaran.
Source: The Polarship FRAM
So much for Mr. Pugh’s claim of “…the fact that we got as far north as we did, further north than anyone has ever kayaked before…”.
Yes it seems that the Polar Defense Project didn’t do much research at all, and I suspect they operated mostly on emotion and adrenaline. Because if anyone had bothered to read some of the history, Pugh certainly wouldn’t have made the grand claim of “I’m going to try and get all the way to the North Pole to show the world what is happening,”
I suppose though this may be partly due to whom he rubs shoulders with, from his own web page: http://www.lewispugh.com/
AL GORE – 29 November 2007
Tomorrow I am the warm up act for Al Gore. He will be addressing a group of property financiers in London. I will give a personal account of the climate change I have witnessed in the Arctic.
Gore has a penchant for exaggeration when it comes to arctic sea ice and polar bears, so perhaps this has rubbed off on Mr. Pugh.
So next year, if this project goes asking for donations again, perhaps a few people or companies whom otherwise might throw their money away sponsoring such silly stunts will think twice before opening their pocketbooks.