This month in the Environment Journal podcast series, we take a slightly different line and chat with Felicity Aston MBE. Felicity is leading an expedition to the North Pole to collect sea ice samples that will be invaluable in furthering our understanding of climate change. Spacehouse, the company that brings you both the Environment Journal and Air Quality News, sponsored this expedition.
There are some important differences in this trip, mainly because it is an all-female team of six adventurers who are not professional scientists and therefore provides a great example of civic engagement in the process. of climate change.
The group will fly to the North Pole with a transfer to an ice base station from Svalbard in Norway, then ski 110 km through the ice to the North Pole.
Throughout the trip, they will take samples of snow, ice and water that will be analyzed later.
The Expedition has three main objectives: first to prove the presence of microplastics in the sea ice; second, to prove that carbon black is also present; and third, to see what impact extreme cold has on the female body.
Microplastics are of course regularly presented in Air quality news and there is growing concern about how they are now appearing everywhere, from the arctic to mountains and oceans. Their links to health problems are well documented and reported. But there has been little detailed analysis of the Arctic sea ice in this regard. This trip will add value to this research, with the samples being analyzed by Felicity herself.
Carbon black is another topic that comes up regularly. This is formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, wood and other fuels. Complete combustion would turn all the carbon in the fuel into carbon dioxide (CO2), but combustion in the real world is never complete and CO2, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and particles of organic carbon and black carbon are all formed in the process.
Black carbon is a short-lived climate pollutant with a lifespan of only a few days to a few weeks after its release into the atmosphere. During this short period, black carbon can have significant direct and indirect impacts on the climate, the cryosphere (snow and ice), agriculture and particularly human health. This expedition will confirm that black carbon has reached the Arctic and ice samples should provide a timeline for this. The professor originally slated to undertake the carbon black analysis also works for NASA in the United States and will no longer be able to undertake it due to the pressure of work elsewhere. As a result, the team is in the process of hiring another female analyst to undertake this work and this should be announced shortly.
Finally, there is the physical element of the journey. Extreme cold has a number of detrimental effects on bodily and mental function, and data on these impacts is patchy. As much of the data previously collected was for men, this trip will provide invaluable data on impacts on the female body, which will inform future expeditions of this nature.
It’s a very interesting trip (which Air Quality News is delighted to be associated with) and Felicity demonstrates her expertise in this area, having previously led expeditions to the North and South Poles, as well as her passion for investigating the impact of microplastics, where she will analyze the samples at the Southampton Oceanographic Center as part of her doctorate.
Perhaps we take for granted the availability of climate change data in the modern world, when the reality is that there are considerable efforts, dangers and personal risks involved in collecting it. This is clear from this conversation demonstrating the lengths that sometimes it takes to go to get what we need.