National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is setting off to explore Franz Josef Land, one of the most remote archipelagos in the world, only 900 km from the North Pole. Home to polar bears, whales, seals and more, the team will investigate how global warming may be affecting this crucial ecosystem in ways we still do not fully comprehend. Follow his adventures throughout the month.
By Lucie McNeil and Paul Rose, Expedition Team Members
We’ve now sailed almost the entire Franz Josef Land archipelago – including stunning Rudolf Island which – excepting a tiny island off Greenland – is the most northerly land in the world. I asked Paul Rose, who’s been co-ordinating much of our on-ground and marine team activities, for a summary of the trip with one week to go. Without taking a breath, he says:
“We’ve made 160 dives, countless landings for land and glacier journeys, hundreds of zodiac miles and a few thousand ship miles to discover new walrus colonies, new plant species and revealed the mysteries of arctic geomorphology, completed 19 remote camera deployments to over 390 m; we’d worked through the night on plankton net trawls and bottom grabs and bird colony counts, revisited and repeated historical science data sets, visited and documented Soviet era science stations in transition from abandonment to heritage, recorded climate change and history with detailed photography, fallen in love with the beautiful huts of the early explorers and our microbiology team have sampled a thousand litres of sea water to discover 1013 (ten thousand billion) new viruses!
“We’ve been being scared witless by walruses attacking our zodiac, feeling the sense of being hunted as two polar bears followed our scent on the glacier, an iceberg rolling over during a dive, a camera that didn’t survive a polar bear bite…and the constant fear of living with all those new viruses Forest is always on about.
“With only a week to go there is now a frenzy of data analysis, research paper writing and packing in our last top priority science targets by sailing back and forth across the archipelago. Thank heavens for the 24 hr daylight! And thanks too for the pod of bowhead whales swimming alongside us right now helping to keep me sane and awake.”
The Pristine Seas: Franz Josef Land expedition is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.