Arctic adventure: bundle up for a chilling trek across the North Pole

Arctic adventure: bundle up for a chilling trek across the North Pole – team crossing the Arctic Ocean in one season: includes related articles

Channa Freiman

This month, four men and two women will set off on a breath-taking journey – the first trek across the Arctic Ocean in a single season. Unlike the Atlantic, Pacific, or Indian Oceans, the Arctic – which encircles the North Pole – is covered by shifting plates of ice that can suddenly smash together or break apart to expose the frigid sea below. Temperatures can drop to -51[degrees]C (-60[degrees] F). Biting winds sting your face.

Why travel to such a forbidding place? It’s not just for “the spirit of the adventure and the unknown,” says Will Steger, leader of the team. The Arctic is a vibrant, but often ignored, ecosystem, he says. He hopes this expedition will call attention to the role the Arctic plays in our lives, as well as the unseen impacts we’ve had on the Arctic environment.

For a behind-the-scenes look at this Arctic adventure, read on.



The Arctic is much more closely tied to our lives than we might initially think,” says Will Steger. Even if you live in Florida, you may sometimes feel the teeth-chattering chill of the Arctic firsthand. Here’s why: In the Arctic, big blobs of dense, cold air pile up and form high-pressure systems, says Frank Kniskern, a meteorologist at the National Ice Center in Suitland, Maryland. The cold air sinks and moves south toward the equator – to an area of warmer air and lower pressure. That movement of Arctic air creates freezing temperatures at more southerly latitudes – sometimes as far south as Florida, says Kniskern.

In addition, when warm air rises and moves toward the poles it can collide with the cold Arctic air, he says. The two air masses form a front, a boundary where snow or rainstorms can form. To help meteorologists predict such weather events, the Arctic team will deploy an ice buoy, a device that measures the Arctic’s surface air temperature and pressure minute-by-minute. The data will travel via satellite to weather stations around the world.


Why set out for the Arctic in winter? Well, why not? The Arctic is always cold. That’s because it receives relatively little of the Sun’s heat energy. For one thing, the Sun’s rays never strike Earth’s polar regions directly (see “What makes winter?” below). The rays spread out the farther north (or south) you go on the globe. So the heat reaching Earth at the poles is less concentrated than it is near the equator.

In addition, the white, snow-covered sea reflects a great deal of heat energy back to space, a phenomenon known as albedo.

Think: What might happen to Arctic ice if Earth’s temperature rose, as predicted by theories of global warming? How might the Arctic’s albedo change?


You might think figuring out what to wear is a life-or-death situation. For the Arctic team it really is. “Their clothes have to protect them 24 hours a day,” says Bret Slane at Lands’ End, the company that designed the clothing for the trip. The extreme cold the travelers will experience can easily lead to hypothermia, a deadly condition in which normal body temperature (about 37[degrees]C or 98.6[degrees]F) drops to 35[degrees]C (95[degrees]F) or below.

In addition, the explorers must protect themselves from frostbite – a painful condition in which water within the body’s skin cells freezes.

The cells can rupture when ice crystals form.

Out on the ice, the explorers’ only source of warmth is the heat energy generated by their own bodies. That’s why Lands’ End designed insulated clothing to trap their body heat. The clothes also draw moisture (sweat) away from their bodies (see “Layered look,” left).

The clothing is lightweight, but takes up a lot of space, so each team member is taking just two full sets. “We do try to change our underwear once a month or so,” says team member Julie Hanson. No joke!


Because of the cold, the Arctic travelers need a lot of energy to generate body heat – and to do the 9 to 10 hours of exercise they’ll do every day: running or skiing alongside dogsleds, or pulling canoe-sleds themselves. Where do they get all that energy? Like you, they get it from the food they eat. (Remember, the energy stored in food is measured in units of energy called calories.)

The average person consumes about 2,000 calories of food each day. But the Arctic travelers must take in up to 6,000 calories daily, says nutritionist Chris Jensen of Shaklee, the company that designed foods for the trip.

“Eating in the Arctic is no picnic,” Jensen says. The team has to plan, pack, and carry a huge supply of food, including:

* 122 kg (270 lbs) of pasta * 011 kg (25 lbs) of beans * 190 loaves of bread * 68 kg (150 lbs) of oatmeal * 59 kg (130 lbs) of dried fruit

These foods contain lots of high-energy carbohydrates. Though fatty foods like butter and meat have more calories per gram, carbohydrates release their energy more quickly. They provide fuel for hardworking muscles.

The team will also consume some meat, powdered milk, and cheese. Plus, they’ll munch on some 2,880 carbohydrate-rich Carbo-Crunch[R] snack bars.

What about energy for the 33 sled dogs? After all, they’ll be working hard too, pulling the heavy sleds. And because their bodies are smaller than the humans’, the dogs burn up energy faster. To keep up their energy stores, they’ll eat a diet high in fat, which releases energy slowly, says Philip Toll, a senior scientist at Hill’s[R] Pet Nutrition, Inc., the company that designed the dogs’ Arctic diet.


One nutrient you might not think cold-weather explorers need is water. Dehydration – the depletion of body fluids – can be a real problem on the ice. The team’s sweat evaporates quickly in the dry winter air, says Chris Jensen at Shaklee. And, he adds, “there’s a real gap between the time dehydration begins and [when] the body actually says `I’m thirsty.'” So the team must drink even if they’re not feeling thirst.

It’s a good thing there’s plenty of clean, fresh (not salty) water – or rather snow – covering the Arctic. The explorers will spend up to four hours each day melting snow for drinking water, and to add to sports drinks, soup, and tea.

And the dogs? “They just take a mouthful of snow” when they need it, says Hill’s[R] Philip Toll.


The explorers hope their trip win draw attention to the Arctic, ‘a barometer of our planet’s health,” says team member Julie Hanson. “[Pollutants that] we dump into the ocean and atmosphere at more southerly latitudes, where more people live, eventually end up in the Arctic, where the ecosystem is very fragile,” she says. These transboundary pollutants (contaminants like mercury and lead that move from one region to another), get passed along the Arctic food chain, says Will Steger. For example, fish contaminated by polluted water may be eaten by a polar bear. If local hunters consume this bear, the contaminants may eventually cause illnesses like cancer. Studies are now under way to determine the precise levels of certain contaminants in the Arctic and how destructive they can be to humans and other animals.

The Arctic explorers will also enlist the scientific expertise of students at Perham High School in Minnesota, among other schools. The team will send the students samples of Arctic snow to test for contaminants. Students will also measure the melted snow’s pH, a measure of how acidic or basic it is. An acidic reading (a pH below 7) may indicate that pollutants churned into the atmosphere by factories and cars have been transported to the Arctic by ocean or air currents. They’re deposited in the Arctic ice pack by acid rain and snow.

To take the research one step further, the students will compare these pH readings with those of water samples from their hometown and other regions around the United States. They’ll share their data via computer, determine which areas are most polluted, and find ways to cut down on pollution (e.g., by riding bikes instead of driving).

To find out how you can follow the Arctic expedition, see “Stay in touch….”


What clothing would you wear on an Arctic adventure? The Arctic team will wear five layers (see below). Time how long it takes to feel a chill when you “try on” different materials.


various materials of equal thickness(*) * glass of ice water * watch with second hand

(*) Double up on thinner materials if necessary


1. Grip a glass of ice water with bare hand. Time how long it takes to feel a chill. Record. This is your control.

2. Warm up hand and wrap it in one material.

3. Grip glass of ice water with covered hand. Time how long it takes to feel chill. Record results.

4. Repeat Steps 2-3 for other materials.

5. Graph your results.


Which types of materials would be best for Arctic travel? Are they natural or synthetic (human-made)?


Find a more “scientific” way to measure insulating (heat-trapping) ability, using a thermometer, say.



You don’t have to go to the Arctic to keep tabs on the explorers. Thousands of students around the world, including SW readers whose schools subscribe to SCHOLASTIC NETWORK (an online service), will be communicating with the Arctic team via computer. They will send questions to the team. The explorers will respond with daily reports and interviews, which they’ll send via satellite to students all over the world.

Scholastic Network will also feature stories about the dog teams,an extensive library of articles, maps, photos, and background.

If you are online but your school doesn’t subscribe to Scholastic Network, you can still stay in touch with the explorers by adding your Internet address to a Listsery (a system that automatically sends you daily expendition reports).

COPYRIGHT 1995 Scholastic, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group