Climate Sentinels & Svalbarði - Supporting groundbreaking arctic research

Climate sentinels and svalbardi research expedition

Imagine. An all-female team of researchers embarking on a carbon neutral arctic expedition combining extreme conditions and state-of-the-art science. This has never been attempted before, but it's about to happen in Svalbard.

What is Climate Sentinels?

Climate Sentinels is the first all-female, climate-neutral, research expedition in the Arctic. The team of five scientists will leave for a month-long expedition on skis, to prove it is possible to do polar global warming research without negative impacts on this sensitive and unique environment. They will be studying the climate impact of black carbon (BC) pollution.

Throughout 2021 the team will also connect with hundreds of classrooms across the world to engage and inspire climate action. The goal is to make vital science accessible and exciting to the rising generation by showing field work and its results in action.

When, where & how?

This trek will happen on our home territory of the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between the top of Europe and the North Pole. With Svalbard warming three times faster than the rest of the world, it is the epicentre of climate change and an ideal laboratory to seek further data in.

The trip is planned from end-March to early-May 2021, traveling on skis to keep a carbon neutral footprint. The team will cover between 450 and 500 km, traveling from the international scientific research station of Ny-Ålesund at 79° north, to the Polish Research Station at Hornsund at 77° north.

Who are the scientists?

French expedition leader Heïdi Sevestre describes the group saying "Climate Sentinels is first and foremost a team of leading female scientists". The team consists of five experts in the field of glaciology or crysophere biochemistry:

  • Dr. Heïdi Sevestre: The leader of Climate Sentinels. She is also a glaciologist and director of Outreach at the international cryosphere climate initiative (ICCI) and earned her PhD at the University Center in Svalbard (UNIS). She is currently in the heart of the French Alps, focusing her efforts on science communication. Featured on One Strange Rock on National Geographic and Les Forces de la Terre on France 5.

  • Dr. Anne Elina Flink: Spent five years studying the holocene history of Svalbard’s surging tidewater glaciers and the deglaciation of the Barents Sea Ice Sheet when she did her MSc and PhD in marine glacial geology at UNIS. Since her PhD she has worked as a guest lecturer and polar guide. 

  • Dr. Silje Smith-Johnsen: She models subglacial hydrology and the interaction between the basal regime and ice dynamics. Silje is now in her last year of PhD training and has done exchange programs with both NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in California and the Center for Ice and Climate in Copenhagen.

  • Dr. Dorothée Vallot: Obtained her PhD in glaciology from the University of Uppsala (Sweden) in 2018. A French civil engineer, her interest in the Arctic and polar research started with a two year position as a science officer at the French embassy in Sweden during the Swedish presidency of the Arctic Council.

  • Dr. Alia Khan: Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Alia applies environmental chemistry in the cryosphere – the frozen water domain – to document changes in glacier and snow melt in mountainous and polar regions.

  • Dr. Khan's hope is that "we will inspire the next generation of female scientists through collection of scientific data in a very understudied region of the Arctic".

    All the women participating have previously lived and done research in Svalbard. As they wait out the Covid-19 pandemic, they continue to train for the month-long expedition. Heïdi says one of the key goals is "to show that science can be done differently, even in the most extreme environments and that science can be cleaner and more accessible to civil society".

    Studying Black Carbon

    Their research goal is to improve our understanding of the climate effects of the deposit of black carbon in the Arctic.

    Heïdi explains that "BC is basically ultra fine particles floating in the air. These particles can travel unbelievably far, all the way from France to the Arctic, 4000 km. These particles land on snow and ice and accelerate the melting of its environments. They make it darker, dirtier, and the BC particles absorb solar radiation very efficiently."

    During the trek, they will collect and haul back snow samples as well as study snow properties of the regions they cross. While BC is known to catalyse the melting of snow and ice, the samples collected will provide valuable new data to understand the processes by which this works.

    iceberg water

    Important for polar bears

    Polar bears are one of the species most affected by climate change as their environment in the Arctic disappears. The sea ice they depend on to hunt and travel to breeding and feeding grounds is melting rapidly, threatening their long term survival.

    "So by conducting an expedition so far north for an entire month, we are hoping to make the world understand how precious these animals are and make sure we preserve the Arctic for decades, centuries and millennia to come" Heïdi says.

    Clean, revolutionary and accessible

    Climate Sentinels have three main goals for their expedition.

    1) Conduct a clean expedition in the Arctic. While it would be much easier to use traditional methods such as helicopters, icebreakers or snowmobiles, Heïdi states "We don't want to do that. We want to show that research can be done in a much more respectful way. We want to show that we can collect samples and do science, using only skis and pulks."

    2) Collect important information on climate change. Studying the deposition of black carbon and how it impacts snow and ice melt will help develop better tools to combat the processes and prevent sea level rise.

    3) Make science exciting, accessible and digestible. They are partnering with schools across the world to share and exchange their research with the rising generation. Today's youth are worried about the deteriorating state of nature and the environment and eager to learn more about how they can help.

    New energy is coming

    "We've been thinking about this project for a very long time. We wanted to have the freedom to create a project in our image. Prove that an all-female team of scientists can do one of the hardest parts of being a glaciologist, which is doing expeditions in the polar regions" Heïdi explains.

    "For me, it was a no-brainer to be a part of this project. We started to brainstorm some ideas about what we can do that will push polar research and make us lead by example".

    "When we look at Arctic research today, this is a field that has not changed for a very long time. We want to show that we are here, that new energy is coming and that science really needs to be revolutionized. We need to catch up with the urgency that's happening to the Arctic, to make sure it is understood and accessible to everyone else on earth."

    What happens in the Arctic, does not stay in the Arctic

    The natural yearly balance of ice in Svalbard is being thrown off by global warming. The roughly 5 billion cubic metres of icebergs that naturally calve off the glaciers that cover 55% of Svalbard every year are normally replenished through winter snow. Instead, because of climate change they are losing more ice than can be replaced.

    Climate Sentinels started this project for the population and the species of the Arctic, but also for the rest of the world. Because what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. The fact that the Arctic is deglaciating so rapidly is already affecting the rest of the world with increased temperatures and rising sea levels.

    Heïdi says she is most excited about meeting with her team again, as they haven't been able to physically meet in a very long time because of Covid travel restrictions. "I can't wait to be surrounded by these incredible leading scientists, who really inspire me to be a better scientist and a better communicator".

    Svalbarði donates €5 per 'Blue Ice' bottle sold

    Having worked with Heïdi since before Svalbarði was founded, and watching the warming occurring here month by month, we knew we wanted to support Climate Sentinels. To help fund their work, we created the Svalbarði Blue Ice Edition and will donate €5 for every bottle sold on our website.

    This limited edition celebrates the colours of Wahlenbergbreen which Heïdi has spent years studying, along with the work of all the glaciologists and scientists in Svalbard. Their efforts are is vital to helping us understand how climate change is impacting the Arctic and how we can fight it.

    Invitation to exclusive Climate Sentinels webinar

    As a supporter of the expedition, you will also have access to face-to-face Zoom discussions where expedition members will show and tell more about their mission and take questions. A pre-expedition Zoom discussion will take place in March 2021. Everyone who has purchased a Blue Ice bottle on our website will receive an invitation link a few weeks in advance.

    A post-expedition webinar is also tentatively expected to be in late-May. The team will walk you through the highlights of the expedition and share their experience.

    Premium water helping fight climate change

    In addition to supporting Climate Sentinels with this limited edition, every bottle of Svalbarði sold helps fund environmental projects sufficient to save 100 kg of the North Pole ice cap.

    To date that has included a project to provide access to improved water infrastructure for small rural communities in Uganda, Malawi, Rwanda, and Eritrea. The project eliminates the need to boil water with fossil fuels and limited wood by providing boreholes to more easily access clean water. This prevents both CO2 emissions and deforestation while tangibly benefiting the local communities involved.

    water supporting research


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