Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Day 5: Guest Explorer ~ Ben Saunders
Still here at Whitepod, now under a good few more feet of freshly falling snow. Tobogganing at midnight brought some impressive bruises (thanks Ben!), and off-piste skiing this morning will doubtless bring more...
So, this afternoon, I am going to hand over my blog to another guest and fellow podster: my favourite arctic explorer, multi-marathon runner and all round athlete Ben Saunders.
Lazy E: Having trekked the arctic three times now, you'll have witnessed a changing environment at first hand. Please do tell us about what you saw.
Ben: The climate of the high Arctic is changing fast. The warming that’s happening is inescapable, indisputable fact. And when you see it firsthand, as I've been lucky to do over the last six years, the pace and the scale of this change is breathtaking. According to a recent NASA survey, 750,000 sq km of perennial sea ice (an area three times the size of Great Britain) disappeared between 2004 and 2005 alone.
In 2000, expeditions setting out for the North Pole from the north coast of Siberia were able to walk straight from the land on to the frozen surface of the Arctic Ocean. When I flew by helicopter to the same starting point in 2004, we found more than 20km of open water between the coast and the edge of the pack ice.
Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, described the Arctic as the "barometer of global climate change…an environmental early warning system for the world." If he’s right, then this barometer is telling us that there’s major change on the way. We’re not talking about fractions of decimal points, either; the size of the areas of ice that are melting is barely comprehensible.
Lazy E: I know each expedition takes many months of planning and that you are also very concerned about limiting your impact on the environment. Can you tell us about the modern technological advances that you are using?
Ben: The most exciting technology for me right now is solar power. On an expedition to the Greenland ice cap in 2005 we experimented with using flexible photovoltaic panels for the first time. I didn’t have particularly high hopes – I expected to be constantly trickle-charging batteries and then charging our gear (satellite phones, cameras, video gear, ipods) from this giant battery, but the reality blew me away. Our suppliers (Iowa Thin Film Technologies) sent us a 1.8 metre panel that weighed less than a kilo, and being rather doubtful that it could provide us with enough power, I plonked it on my windowsill in Putney on a grey London day and plugged it into my laptop. An hour later it was fully charged, and I was gobsmacked. Why wasn’t every roof in London covered with this stuff?
It continued to impress us throughout the month-long expedition. Despite shooting hundreds of photographs, a few hours of digital video, and updating my website each evening using a power-hungry satellite phone and a palm-top computer, we never once used a battery. Everything was solar powered.
In the future, we’re planning to have photovoltaic fabric incorporated directly into our tent and sledge covers, and perhaps into the shoulders and arms of our jackets.
Lazy E: What great expeditions are on the offing for 2007, and how can we follow your progress?
Ben: I’m off to Antarctica in October with a fellow adventurer, Tony Haile. Our aim is to make the first unsupported return journey to the South Pole on foot. From the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back to the coast again. At 1,800 miles, it will be the longest unsupported polar journey in history, and we expect to be on the ice for four months. You can find out more at www.south.com, or at my blog, www.bensaunders.com
Lazy E: You are a bit of a regular whitepodster now. What is it about this place that draws you back?
Ben: I love it here. The scenery, the fresh air, the company, the food, the skiing and of course the pods themselves, this wonderful mix of eco-inspired high-tech and low-tech, geodesic domes and wood-burning stoves. It’s the perfect antidote to 21st century London living.