British adventurer and industrialist David Hempleman-Adams has completed his journey to circle the North Pole, as part of the Polar Ocean Challenge. The challenge entailed navigation by yacht of the Northeast and Northwest arctic passages, which were considered to be impenetrable throughout recorded history, due to sea-ice. As global temperatures have continued to rise, the sea-ice has melted, and Mr. Adams embarked on the project in order to highlight the reality of climate change and the widespread decline of sea-ice. The ice has receded so much that Adams was able to navigate the once impassable Northwest passage in just two weeks.
The yacht, called the Northabout, left Bristol UK this past June, and has been navigating the North Pole in a counter clockwise direction. On Monday, it made its way out of Canada’s Lancaster Sound, which marked the successful navigation of both formerly impassible sea routes.
According to satellites, this week also marked the second lowest recorded extent of Arctic sea-ice.
The completion of the Polar Ocean Challenge coincides with an unusually busy news week for the Canadian arctic, after the long sought-after remains of the HMS Terror were found in the bottom of Terror Bay, this past Monday. The ship was attempting to navigate and chart the Northwest passage in the 1840s, when it was ultimately abandoned in the heavy sea-ice that once blanketed the area. Now, the 15 meter-long, aluminum-hulled yacht was able to navigate the long sought-after route with no such problems.
The Northeast and Northwest passages are expected to see more and more commercial traffic as temperatures rise and ice continues to melt. One study recently predicted that by the middle of this century, the opportunities for normal, non-ice-strengthened sea vessels to cross the Arctic are expected to double – even in a scenario in which strong measures are taken to slow climate change. The Northwest passage was sought after for centuries as the holy grail for explorers in an era during which all commercial traffic relied on maritime transport. Much of the exploration of the new world, including that of Sir Francis Drake, Jacques Cartier, James Cook, and Henry Hudson, was ultimately in search of the then-nonexistent sea route from Europe to Asia. Ironically, climate change as a result of human activity has now made that myth into a reality.
The Northabout will make its way down Greenland’s iceberg-ridden west coast, before crossing the North Atlantic to return home to the UK in October.