At the onset of the Modern Age, any established or aspiring Western great power was active in the search of the so-called North-West Passage connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific by means of a seaway across the Arctic Ocean. The control of this seaway was deemed essential in an era of imperialistic expansion and competition. For centuries, its discovery eluded generations of explorers until the Norwegian Roald Amundsen sailed through it in 1903–1906. It was to no practical avail, since the passage proved to be unfit either for trade or geopolitical purposes. No wonder that during that extended period, the Arctic mass and waters were considered a nuisance more than an asset. Those were the times. In our own days of ice melting and climate change, the Arctic is not only becoming a sailable highway and a reservoir of natural resources, but also a repository of scientific clues whose unveiling is deemed essential for studying our planet’s current state and forecasting its future. There is a sense of urgency, though, as the vanishing of ice sheets in places like Greenland, where NASA estimates that 287 billion tons of ice are lost per year, is rapidly accelerating, contributing to the rise of the sea level and carrying away with it an irretrievable mass of potentially useful data.
In this challenging context, an international team led by the Spanish Polar explorer Ramon Larramendi has completed the “ICE RIVER GREENLAND 2017” scientific expedition. After leaving Spain last May, the expedition reached its destination at the end of June. Its members covered 1.200 km (745 miles) from Kangerlussuaq, on the southwest coast of Greenland, to the international scientific base EastGRIP, in the northeast. The purpose of the expedition was to study climate change patterns and their impact in the Arctic by means of collecting biological and geological samples from the largest ice current in Greenland. Once stored and analysed, the results will be used in two international projects: Dark Snow (on ice pollution) and Ice2Ice (on Arctic ice melting).
Important as the scientific goal of the Ice River expedition was, it has also served to test successfully Larramendi’s WindSled as an autonomous, clean and mobile research platform for the advancement of Polar studies. The WindSled is an innovative Polar vehicle powered only by wind energy designed by the Spanish explorer and inspired after the traditional knowledge of the Inuit people.