Dr Ceri Lewis. Photo by John Ffoulkes.

Exeter scientist advances north on Arctic expedition

A scientist from the University of Exeter is one of three South West women taking a leading role in a major Arctic expedition this spring.

Dr Ceri Lewis of the University of Exeter will join Polar explorer Pen Hadow’s Catlin Arctic Survey to investigate climate change and the effects of carbon dioxide on the Arctic Ocean.

The team will assemble in the Arctic on 11 March to work on an ice base only 750 miles from the North Geographic Pole. They will study the impact of rising levels of acidity in some of the coldest water on the planet.

Dr Ceri Lewis from the University of Exeter and Dr Helen Findlay of Plymouth Marine Laboratory have been selected as members of the international team of scientists that will carry out research projects on an ice base. Record-breaking Polar explorer Anne Daniels, from Whimple, East Devon, is leading a long range expedition, along with Martin Hartley and Charlie Paton.

Dr Helen Findlay’s research will focus on how the chemistry and biology beneath the sea-ice is being affected by ocean acidification. Marine biologist Dr Ceri Lewis, of the Biosciences, will be investigating the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on the wide range of marine life in the Arctic Ocean.

Ceri and Helen are undergoing a gruelling training regime to prepare themselves physically and mentally for the challenges of spending six weeks in temperatures of minus 40OC. This includes having training on what to do if they encounter a polar bear, or find themselves in the ice waters, and simply learning how to survive living in a tent in the harsh arctic conditions.

Dr Ceri Lewis, NERC Research Fellow at the University of Exeter said: “I’m incredibly excited about the opportunity to join the Catlin Arctic Survey. The science that we are hoping to do is incredibly important to our understanding of climate change effects in the ocean and I feel really privileged to be a part of such an exciting project. It will of course be a very challenging and harsh environment to work in and the possibilities of seeing polar bears in the wild is both thrilling and a little unnerving, but I think it will be truly amazing experience to be part of.”

Dr Helen Findlay of Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said: “I’ve been to the Arctic before, although not in winter, and it’s a challenging place to carry out science. But, it is worth the effort to get first hand, unique and important data that will help us understand changes in Arctic seas and how they may link to global systems. I am really looking forward to returning on this expedition, with an international team to find answers to the challenges faced by our oceans.”
Anne Daniels, who has already begun final preparations in northern Canada, says her team’s Arctic skills will be extending the sampling and research far beyond the locations where it is safe for scientists to work. “It is unimaginably tough surviving on the floating sea ice. But as experienced explorers we know what to do. The drilling work will produce more measurements of the sea ice thickness and is continuing the work we began last year and the water samples we take will be stored and returned for analysis for the acidification programme.”

“What motivates us at Catlin Arctic Survey is the vulnerability of the Arctic Ocean. We know that disappearing ice cover and potential impacts of acidity are parts of some big ocean changes. Since it is widely viewed as a bellwether for wider global change, it is important we understand better what is happening.” 

Scientists believe that on current projections, the pH of the world’s oceans could reach levels not seen on Earth for 20 million years with serious consequences for all marine life.

Speaking at the launch in London, Polar explorer Pen Hadow, who is Director of the project, described it as an example of modern exploration: “Our aim at Catlin Arctic Survey is to make it possible for science work to be undertaken that would otherwise be exceptionally difficult to do. The scientists will be able to work safely thanks to the skills of our polar support team who will be guiding them out onto the floating sea ice. Our Ice Base will have all the facilities they need to do analysis and to survive in the extreme conditions of an Arctic winter and spring.”

The academic insititutes participating in the project include the Laboratoire Oceanographie, Villefranche, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Institute of Ocean Science, (Fisheries and Oceans Canada), University of Exeter and Bangor University.

You can follow the progress of the expedition at www.catlinarcticsurvey.com, where blogs, video and photos will give regular updates of the team's progress in the Arctic winter and spring, and also by checking the Catlin Arctic Survey widget.

Date: 25 February 2010

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