A question for the Catlin Arctic Survey: what happens to the fuel drums?


Abandoned fuel drums on Ellesmere Island Source: CIEL.org

An interesting question has arisen. Is it OK to pollute the Arctic Sea so long as the quest is “noble”? The Catlin Arctic Ice Survey likes to promote their trek as having a low carbon footprint because they are walking on the ice, rather than doing the more efficient flying ice survey (such has already been done), or driving to the north pole with vehicles.

What we don’t see much of from Catlin is how much fuel it takes to support their walking endeavor. They have to get resupplied by aircraft. And, because they have to get “rescued” at some point, refueling is needed for that too since the planes can’t make the flight on one tank. They have to leave a fuel cache on the sea ice.

So what happens to the empty fuel barrels? Or even worse, what happens to full barrels?

WUWT reader Richard Henry Lee writes:

On 26 April at http://www.catlinarcticsurvey.com/from_the_ice.aspx, the report was:

Yesterday, the plane took off from Resolute Bay, flew north for 3 hours to the weather station at Eureka. The CAS support team hopped off, the pilots re-fuelled and then flew out onto the Arctic Ocean, in order to cache fuel in advance of tomorrow’s flight out to the Ice Team. Once sufficient fuel had been cached, the pilots then flew back to Eureka where they spent the night.

On 3 May, they report:

From a logistical point of view, the main area of consistently bad weather at the moment is over the mid-way refuelling point, rather than at the team’s location or at Resolute. That being the case, the pilots at KBA and the London-based Ops team are currently looking at the possibility of putting in a new fuel cache, so that the aircraft can take a slightly more circuitous route to the team if necessary, in effect bypassing the original refuelling point. The possibility of an airdrop is also now being considered.

So it appears that the original fuel cache is out there on the ice and they are planning to store a new fuel cache because of the weather.

So, what will happen to the old fuel cache that they cannot get to due to bad weather?

If just left there, it would eventually get into the ocean, I presume.

Yes just what does happen to those fuel drums? That is the inconvenient question.

It seems that if they leave them on the ice, empty or full, Catlin may join the ranks of Arctic polluters.


newest oldest most voted
Notify of
John Galt

Why yes, your actual behavior doesn’t matter as much as your motivation or your feelings.
Besides, I’m sure they can purchase some offsets to make everything even out.


Does the release of volatile hydro-carbons count in your carbon footprint? I bet not, but they certainly should. Most of them are more efficient GHGs than CO2 and/or work in atmo chem processes to create GHGs.
Oh, I know. The fuel in the water would act to lower the freezing point and, thus, cause slower freezing of sea water and faster melt next year. They couldn’t be that nefarious, could they?

Pearland Aggie

I think the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do” applies here.


It seems to be they are very much up against a ticking clock that is not in their favor. Each extra day they stay on the ice beyond the “safe” extraction date raises the chance of a very bad outcome for them or the extraction team.
All for very little scientific data, and risking some bad publicity if the balloon goes up.

Richard deSousa

May be they found a new species of polar bears who consume fuel drums… 😉

Well, of course you can’t mention all of the fuel that the use to resupply, cook and keep warm! It’s obviously offset by the incredible science that they are doing /sarc off/.
It reminds me of all the holier-than-thou Boulderites complaining about SUV’s while they drive around in their Subaru Outbacks that get a whopping 20 mpg-city. Meanwhile, Right Wing Christian Fanatics like myself drive our wife’s Honda Civic around at 30 mpg. That doesn’t count for me though, because I do it to save money, and not to save the planet. Besides, I don’t have a “Save Tibet” bumper sticker on any of my cars, so apparently I’m a hater too.


There has to be some trial lawyer somewhere who will sue on behalf of the arctic wildlife. I would depend on whose territory they are leaving the oil unless this goes straight to the World Court.

Eco-maniacs (like Al Gore) CANNOT (by definition) ever pollute. No matter what they do – like creating tens of thousands of tons of trash in Central Park because of their earth day/may day socialist celebrations.
The rest of us, DO pollute – no matter what we do nor how much we save people and the environment by using energy and resources wisely – and have been (will be) sent to Siberia for our capitalist sins against the culture (er, nature.)


Don’tcha just love the internet? Everything ever written is stored somewhere. It’s just a matter of digging it up. So convenient for some. So damned inconvenient for others, especially when they get their faces smeared with a proverbial hypocritical cream pie.
Ed Begley and his fellow die-hard eco-friendlies at least live the dogma. If we ask nicely, do you think Ed could whip us up an airplane that flies on used cooking oil? There’s gotta be a McD’s somewhere in Alaska that they could refuel at. And when the drums of used oil fall through the ice and eventually rust out, the worst that will happen is that the fish will feel kinda nauseous. Or they’ll get the munchies.

jack mosevich

OT but worthy of ridicule: The CBC has the following story, whose headline implies increased freshwater flowing into the Labrador Sea:
When you read the article it appears the trend has reversed and the researcher admits its too early to say anything about long term. So why report it at all I ask?
Then we have the usual crap about locals being affected by global warming: apparently “places that don’t freeze over in the winter because of the movement of currents — are getting smaller” So warming causes more freezing!

Frank K.

Maybe an empty fuel barrel will save one of those cute baby polar bears from drowning (see propaganda link below).

Tim Groves

Apologies for being off topic, but on the AMSR-E sea ice extent chart (on the right of the page), there is quite a lot of daylight now between this year’s red line and last year’s next highest orange line. It looks like we’re going to have an exciting run from here to September seeing whether this year stays above the pack of 2002 to 2008 lines all the way down, despite the increasing CO2 concentration being against it.
Maybe now is a good time to start asking how long and high a rise in Arctic sea ice extent would it take to falsify AGW—assuming it is falsifiable.


Can we organise a petition to that effect to be sent to all the sponsors and the media institutions

Mike McMillan

Drums? Polar drift current takes them to Greenland, then to the Atlantic, then loop around to Trinidad, mon, where they become bass and timpani in a steel band.

James P

So what are they doing now, apart from staggering polewards and drilling the odd hole? Is Ann still spending half the day steaming batteries, or is that no longer necessary now that so much of the equipment has packed up? Perhaps the Catlin Group would like to preserve its green credentials by collecting all the rubbish and cleaning up after them…

Arn Riewe

Tim Groves (08:43:11) :
“Maybe now is a good time to start asking how long and high a rise in Arctic sea ice extent would it take to falsify AGW—assuming it is falsifiable.”
Take the advice from Bunker Hill. “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes”

jack mosevich

Tim Groves: The way the AGW researchers have set thing up AGW is not falsifiable. Any evidence which comes to light, either way, is said to be consistent with the theory/models. Also, their doomsday predictions are usually 50 to 100 years in the future. Maybe someone here can answer the question as to what exactly must happen to make even the believers question their faith?

Dan Lee

I’m starting to wonder if the ‘plot’ for this story calls for a grand finale that includes a dramatic rescue due to a rapidly melting arctic. Maybe they’re looking for a suitable patch of ice to get stranded on for the photo-op of them waving their arms at the chopper while surrounded by open water. They might have to wait a while.


There are thousands, maybe millions, of 45-gallon drums scattered across the Arctic – all with a deposit on them. They are used as road markers (where there are roads) in winter. The problem is, nobody has figured out a way to get them back South economically. Find a cheap way, and you become an instant millionaire. Air is too expensive, tug-boats and rafts of drums have been considered but the ultimate cost vs benefits always cancels out the ideas. I have looked at the area near Apex (by Iqaluit on Baffin Island) and there were acres of empty drums, many dating from the building of the DEW Line. Maybe the Catlin Expedition should have been collecting drums instead of digging holes – they would have done more for the environment.

Hope those barrels don’t break the thin ice!

Barry Foster

It reminds me (you probably get the same in the US) of the ‘eco-nuts’ who are ‘right-on for the planet man) and drive around in an old camper that belches black smoke.


Any pollution from avgas would be very short lived as it would evaporate. Assuming the barrels would rust and develop a slow leak, the fuel would probably evaporate at the surface at a faster rate than it would be leaking.
Even if the barrel broke completely open and spilled its entire contents at once, the fuel would dissipate within a few hours. Might poison a few krill unlucky enough to swim through the plume, but that would probably be about all I would expect in the way of any environmental damage.

James P

The possibility of an airdrop is also now being considered
I’m surprised they’re considering that if the ice is as thin as they keep insisting. I have a lovely mental image of the drop canisters crashing through the ice and continuing downwards…

UK Sceptic

It might be interesting to calculate how big the Catlin carbon footprint is and then present them with the bill when they return to base. I trust that carbon credits are subject to Value Added Tax. Why stop at one bite of the cherry when you can gorge on two?

Are you sure those barrels are fuel barrels or whiskey barrels…I just was guessing if the sinuous wandering of the catlin’s expeditionaries was due to “Scotland made bio-ethanol” drinking.

John F. Hultquist

1. What is the specific gravity of the combo of fuel and drum. Or, will it float?
2. How long does it take for an iron drum to rust through once it is dumped into the salt water of the ocean?
3. Assuming it could stay on the ice for several years might it not burst when crushed in an ice ridge?
4. Could they be set on fire and the fuel burned off?
5. Would #4 be better or worse than any of the other alternatives?
6. Now that we have seen 2 or 3 of these stupid attempts to influence the policies of stupid governments (Ex. Waxman, Peloise and so on), is there anything that can be done to stop these stunts?

Ron de Haan

Where I come from, a few metal drums that slowly rust away won’t damage the the environment, not up on the ice and not at the bottom of the sea.
But where they come from, the nest of finger pointing environmentalists that keep us behind fences in order to keep us out of the parks, who tell us to this and that to save nature, travel less, have a holiday at home and reduce your carbon foot print.
From these people I accept nothing.
They will have to return to the spot to clean up their mess even if they have to tow the fuel drums out by a canoe.
I can imagine it could be quite satisfying for some people to shout around the phrase: “He Greenies, clean up the mess you left behind in the Arctic”
Think about the polar bears.
Today’s modern Arctic and Antarctic stations take care of their litter and surplus material which is transported back to the mainland.
In the past this certainly has not been the case and all the stuff left from the time of the whale hunting, the processing plants, military basis and scientific stations, was left to rust or to be covered by the ice.
Today the older scrap yards offer a gold mine scientists.

J. Peden

Maybe they’re looking for a suitable patch of ice to get stranded on for the photo-op of them waving their arms at the chopper while surrounded by open water. They might have to wait a while.
Indeed, “Rescue Polar Bears first! Now!”


I agree with jack m. The Smart AGW Disciples will tell you that a particular weather event or even a particular year cannot prove or disprove AGW. You need more data and time to discern the trend. So it can never be falsified in real time. They’ve taken any particular moment and made it irrelevant. It can never be falsified “today”. It can only be falsified “in the future”. Ask them what date in the future we’ll have enough temperature history to falsify AGW, and see what they say.

I am a very environmentally friendly person so this is sad for me – but it’s up to their conscience and up to the courts and other official bodies that should enforce some basic eco-rules in this virgin region.
Needless to say, leaders of dictatorships never feel the urge to apply the “general” rules to themselves. It’s the whole point of the green movement that low-quality individuals who haven’t achieved anything good and haven’t done anything good for others (or the Earth) are promoted to special people with special rights, just for being loyal to the ideology.
Much like the hierarchy of the communist party was allowed to enjoy the advantages of capitalism and wealth, the hierarchy of green bigots is “allowed” (by their rules) to contaminate the Arctic Ocean or anything else. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure that the rules of these immoral people won’t control any country or any ocean.


Most likely the empty drums will float only if they recapped the openings, else they willeventually sink to the bottom. They could leak up to maybe 1 Litre of fuel each since the pumps usually don’t pump to the very bottom.
As for the full drums, since they are capped, they will float since the fuel is less dense than the water. They will somewhat be submerged due to the weight of the drum itself but will still float., thus becoming a hazard to boats.

Bruce Cobb

Just think of the “carbon footprint” of the expenditure of energy required just to get them through their daily activity, via an intake of some 6,000 calories of food. I have a figure of 157 kg/min. of C02 expelled during “vigorous exercise”, which, due to the extreme cold I’m sure most of their activity qualifies as. During rest, under normal conditions we expel about 15 kg/min., but just keeping warm there would, I’m sure easily triple that. I’m guessing that during the day they each expel about 100 kg/min. more than they might at home, and possibly 30kg/min. more at night. That’s 6,000 kg/hr. x 10 = 60,000kg. during the day, and 1,800 kg/hr x 14 = 25,000, for a grand total of about 85,000 kg., or some 94 tons extra C02 expelled per person per day via respiration. Obviously it would be less during days they are waiting for resupply, maybe only half, and it seems they have probably had at least 10 days of waiting during their 64 days on the ice, making about 59 full days, making a grand total of 16,638 tons of extra C02 they have expelled so far, just from respiration. So, while they are busy “measuring” the ice they are, by their own reasoning helping to destroy it. That makes them hypocrites as well as fools.


That extra ice represents only a ‘measly’ 100,000 square kilometers above the highest recorded in the last 7 years, but it should be enough to keep the arctic tundra from flying off… And I would expect it to provide a whole host of new icebergs for the polar bears to strand themselves on.
What I am really worried about is the extra ice mass throwing off the gyroscopic balance of the spinning Earth causing vibrational stress on the crust and result in higher levels of tsunami activity. Which will further increase the vibrational instability until the resulting harmonics start playing havoc on the magnetic vortexes of the poles and cause the glaciers to advance even faster than ever before and the compass readings to be thrown permanently out of whack.
This will lead to the swallows not being able to find Capistrano anymore, due to the wobbling gravitational field lines, and ending up in the path of windmill farms which, of course, leads to more catastrophic windmill destruction events and more calls for civil disobedience than we have seen to date. Then there is the problem of the rolling fuel barrels bowling over the Artic Expedition teams from the Gaia-ic heaving all this is bound to precipitate…I mean, cause.
Oh the environmental-ness of it all!

Skeptic Tank

The road to the North Pole is paved with good intentions.

In California if you drown because of a mechanical failure putting your boat or plane at the bottom of the S.F. Bay; your heirs will get a bill for $10,000 for polluting the bay with fuel. This is to discourage you from polluting like that in the future… never mind that your dead.
Guess the rules are different if your motives are more pure…

Bob Wood

Well, its the thought that counts, isn’t that right?


Isn’t it always the same story with these scientists? They travel all over the globe, and return full of enthusiasm and tales of how impressive and magnificent the earth is. And it’s quite understandable, who wouldn’t like to travel wide and far? But then their conclusion is to “conserve” all this beauty of nature for future generations, and to ensure that goal, it is – through the circular argument of carbon emissions – necessary that nobody else but them can travel as much. In fact, “common” people shouldn’t even be allowed to have a minicar.


Imagine the outcry if one of those horrible, hated oil companies left a spilled teaspoon of oil behind after vacating an exploration site.


Jack mosevich (09:06:22) :
.“Maybe someone here can answer the question as to what exactly must happen to make even the believers question their faith?”
Glaciers 10,000 feet high in Miami (FL) for 100 years. That ought to do it.

P Folkens

jack mosevich (09:06:22) : “Maybe someone here can answer the question as to what exactly must happen to make even the believers question their faith?”
When they keep moving the goalposts, their faith will only be reinforced, never questioned. For example, Jim Hansen offered testimony before Congress in 1988 predicting terrible temperature rises due to CO2. He included a graph that indicated in 20 years the average global temperature would rise 1.2°C. Twenty years later the world temp anomaly was around 0.2°C. Reason for doubt? No. Hansen authored a peer-reviewed paper that focused on how accurate his models are. He now promotes himself as the senior climate scientist whose models are the most accurate, or so says Scott Peley on 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the amount of fuel expended setting up multiple fuel caches to support the planes that support the walkers . . . Isn’t part of their image the notion of a small carbon footprint by walking? I wonder if that German team using the modified DC-3 to measure ice thickness used less fuel and acquired more data with greater quality and efficiency?


Another inconvenient question .. where is the EPA on this one? The EPA is ready to jump on board to control CO2, where are they on controlling pollution? Should not there be significant fines and/or criminal charges be brought against these polluters? This is just another fine example of how the environmental movement and “going green” isn’t so environmentally friendly or green. Appalling IMHO…

Bruce Cobb (09:47:12) : “I have a figure of 157 kg/min. of C02 expelled during “vigorous exercise”
No way, Bruce. Maybe milligrams or micrograms.


Very Naughty leaving all that AVgas just to fall into the ocean at some satge and rust through. I care about the enviroment, but dont by AGW.
If Shell or BP did it what would happen……….

John Galt (07:49:35) : “Why yes, your actual behavior doesn’t matter as much as your motivation or your feelings.”
Econazis and liberals judge themselves by their intentions, not by their actions or the results. They’re awfully like alcoholics in that respect.

They may have a little extra leeway this year: click
Also, as Prof. Freeman Dyson points out, the warming effect of carbon dioxide should be strongest where air is cold and dry, mainly at the poles rather than in the tropics, mainly in mountainous regions rather than in lowlands, mainly in winter rather than in summer, and mainly at night rather than in daytime.
With the arctic getting colder, it’s getting harder to convince people that CO2 is having anything more than an insignificant effect, which can safely be disregarded.

Cassandra King

The BBC website detailing the ‘expeditions’ progress(or lack therof) reveals some interesting information, they are rationing their calorie intake to around a thousand per day, this is a starvation diet in normal conditions but in severe cold its suicidal I believe the body needs around two thousand calories per day in normal conditions and a minimum of five thousand plus with below freezing temps.
Their position relative to their goal is also interesting, they seem to be departing at an increasing tangent to their planned route which of course takes them further away not closer to their objective and they give the impression that they are not moving at present but waiting for the re supply aircraft.
The question is, if they are stationary and the ‘boys are out drilling’ where are these drill holes and are we to believe that they travel great distances to drill holes and then make the trek back to the makeshift basecamp every day over shifting ice on around a thousand calories per day?


Reminds me of an Earth Day event I went to about 15 years ago. It was an all day event on the campus of USC and ended with several local rock bands entertaining the masses…
After a couple of hours playing music and preaching about the evils of capitalism and consumerism on the environment, the crowd, feeling better about themselves for caring, disperses…
Leaving behind a sea of empty pizza boxes, empty beer bottles, and trash as far as the eye can see…
Once again, symbolism over substance. Welcome to the 21st century!

Tim Groves

Doubtless those oil drums will eventually be carried by the ice to Greenland or the Canadian north where some enterprising locals will make good use of the contents and claim the deposit on the empties. And if instead they make it to open sea, they may well save the lives of some poor drowning polar bears as a bonus. Even so, real eco-friendly arctic explorers would limit themselves to windpower and Huskies.
I’ve lived almost 30 years in Japan and been through several major typhoon- and summer rain-induced floods, and the really big ones that come once every five or ten years carry literally thousands of 100-litre oil barrels out to sea, let alone countless smaller floating objects. It’s the same in China and Korea. A far bigger ocean pollution problem than people throwing junk into rivers comes from all kinds of non-junk items that get stolen away by floodwaters.


The temperatures at the pole have warmed significantly over the past few days. It is warmer than -10C now. But it doesn’t look like the weather is very good at the moment.