A strange and innovative polar apparatus called wind sled it starts up again. A kite platform that began to be designed over 20 years ago researcher Ramon Larramendi, Come back to Arctic after a three year break. And he’s doing it again with several science projects on board in one of the coldest regions on the planet and, at the same time, which heats up at a faster rate. The name of the expedition is as clear as possible: “SOS Arctic 2022”.
Larramendi’s new adventure on his Wind Sled, due to start today, May 5th, has a month and a half and 1,500 kilometers of sailing ahead of him in the great frozen desert deep in Greenland. This will be the only Spanish scientific expedition on this island that the explorer knows so well. This time, his team includes five more people, including the first woman scientist to board the world’s most environmentally friendly polar apparatus, Spanish Lucia Hortal.
At the moment, on April 22, a strong snowstorm upon arrival in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, delayed the departure of the expedition, planned 70 kilometers from Narsarsuaq, for several days. From there, they will move north along a triangular route that will return them to the same place in mid-June. If nothing delays him again, the plan is to start moving today, after he is brought onto the ice by helicopter near the highest nunataks in the Greenland hinterland.
More than 20,000 kilometers covered in a dozen successful expeditions to Antarctica and Greenland guarantee the future of the vehicle, which is already planned for participation in the Spanish Antarctic program. “With this expedition to the south of Greenland, we want to focus on spreading the word about what’s going on in the Arctic. I have seen with my own eyes how it has changed over the past 40 years, influencing the lives of its inhabitants and the rest of the world. At the same time, it is about considering Wind Sled as a world-class project for polar research, efficient, economical and, moreover, environmentally friendly, since it works with giant comets. This time we took one of 250 m2. After the end of the pandemic, we are back in the ranks, ”Larramendi enthusiastically noted shortly before the game.
This time, the chemist Lucia Horthal, who works at the Department of Planetary Sciences at the Free University of Berlin, will be in charge of the scientific part. In particular, from the MicroAir Polar project of the Autonomous University of Madrid, which has already participated in other luge expeditions in the past, after the mathematician Ana Yustel adapted it to the vehicle. Hortal catches all kinds of viruses, bacteria and sometimes tardigrades that it catches in the polar air. The goal of MicroAir Polar is to test how microorganisms spread through the air at both poles, test their ability to survive in extreme environments and how they are affected by climate change.
Another project they will be collecting data for is also related to extreme life, in this case the Center for Astrobiology (INTA-CSIC) run by Victor Parro. In it, the crew will drill into the Arctic ice to collect samples, which will later be analyzed by the Signs of Life Detector (SOLID), designed to search for life on other planets.
“I will bring it all fresh to the research teams who have entrusted me with this incredible task. There will be many more measurements, and they are all part of public research projects. With them, we will come to understand, for example, how we can be affected by previously unseen pathogens hidden in the bowels of the Arctic ice, and that now, with rapid global warming, they can get into our atmosphere, ”explained Hortal. .
Also traveling with Hortal are polarist and environmental science graduate Begoña Hernández, who will be responsible for bringing the expedition in line with the Sustainable Development Goals; Basque journalist Juan Manuel Sotillos; Castellón climber Carlos Pitarch, who will record footage of the adventure; Venezuelan explorer Marcus Tobias as technical manager and expedition leader, Larramendi himself, one of the most famous polar explorers in the world.
Since Larramendi began the first sketches of his wind sled in the Arctic itself, two decades ago, a lot of ice has melted there: 30% of the marine layer that was then there in winter has disappeared, and glaciers have lost 7,500 km2 of extent. . according to the latest research. The idea for this vehicle, he recalls, originated with the Inuit during a legendary polar adventure: in three years, it traveled 14,000 kilometers, crossing the Arctic from Greenland to Alaska on sleds, kayaks and on foot. It was then that he encountered and suffered from strong polar winds, and thought of harnessing this energy by adapting the ancient technology he had been taught.
After a dozen expeditions – to Greenland and Antarctica – and a few grown prototypes, his wind sled today is an articulated and removable wooden platform 14 meters long and almost four meters wide, capable of moving more than two tons of weight. with zero emissions. His last big adventure came to an end in February 2019 when he traveled over 2,500 kilometers in 52 days through the most uncharted Antarctica, all the way to Fuji Dome.
On this occasion, 10 leading scientific projects traveled on the Wind Sleigh; among them are representatives of the European Space Agency, the University of Maine (USA), several representatives of CSIC institutions and other representatives of various Spanish universities. Upon his return, then-Minister of Science Pedro Duque supported the polar ship, facilitating the opening of a formal competition for Antarctic science projects now in their early stages. At the same time, the 1st Scientific Symposium on WindSled was held with the participation of dozens of polar explorers to evaluate the results.
In 2021, Larramendi was already trying to lead an expedition to Greenland, which ended up being thwarted by the pandemic. Now he’s on the attack again. “The Wind Sled is a very lively project. On the far horizon, we have set our sights on another major Antarctic expedition next year to continue collecting data for science. In the next itinerary that we are starting now is SOS Arctic 2022, which also wants to publicize the terrible melting in this area of the world. On expeditions in 2014 and 2016, we already experienced the effects of very high temperatures in the bowels of Greenland, which made it difficult for us to navigate the ice. We hope that we will have few problems this spring,” he tells us.
In this case, the expedition was financed with the support of the Basque government and from the contributions that each of the participants received individually, either through donations or through crowdfunding. Its results can be useful for science studying polar climate change, and therefore for everyone.
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