Ocean Warrior’s Foundation Expeditions a resounding success | Polarjournal
A happy expedition team after a successful voyage. Photo: Ocean Warrior

The two ten-day Foundation Expeditions of the Ocean Warrior project in September led to the northeast of Svalbard and were successful in every respect. They laid the foundation for a decade of climate research in regions in the Arctic that have hardly or not at all been explored so far.

«I think it worked perfectly, I couldn’t have been more happy by the time we finished. I suppose we achieved our aims in the first ten days», Jim McNeill, expedition leader and founder of the Ocean Warrior project, tells us in an interview shortly after his return. «We got tremendous support. I only launched Ocean Warrior in January. The ground swell of interest is just fantastic. It was launched on the back of Ice Warrior which had been going for 22 years, that might have helped. I knew what I wanted and knew what worked but I was like a fish out of water. It’s a completely new domain for me.»

The objective of both expeditions was to get to know the S/V Linden – Europe’s largest wooden schooner – in detail, to see her in action, to decide together with the scientists how the ship should be configured, which instruments should be installed and which parameters should be measured year after year.

Furthermore, it was important to see whether the participating (citizen) scientists felt comfortable on board and could cope with it all, and whether the alternating watch duties worked. “We went through all of that and I’m very happy. We’re in a position now where we can take things forward,” Jim McNeill says.

On the S/V Linden, all crew members are allowed and expected to join in. Photo: Ocean Warrior

Aboard were twelve respectively ten participants, among them scientists, citizen scientists, journalists, photographers, naturalists and nature film producers, who were not only well taken care of by the ten-member professional crew, but also perfectly trained in sailing on the three-master. Even the oldest participant, 76, clambered into the rigging and set sail.

Scientific advice was provided by Prof. Icarus Allen, CEO of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who was instrumental in preparing the ship for future scientific activities. And Ian McCarthy, naturalist and filmmaker at the BBC, introduced the participants to Arctic wildlife. For example, they observed numerous seals, two polar bears, countless seabirds and about 60 walruses.

Jim McNeill, expedition leader and founder of Ocean Warrior (left), and Prof. Icarus Allen, CEO of Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Photo: Ocean Warrior

Jim McNeill also enthused about the professional, predominantly Danish crew. Besides the two captains who were very experienced in scientific surveys, he was particularly impressed by the young sailors who had just finished sailing school and for whom these expeditions were the first real voyages.

Among the many positive experiences, Jim McNeill unfortunately also told of shocking ones: At one time, the S/V Linden had passed a spot with 200 to 250 dead birds (guillemots and Arctic skuas), very likely victims of bird flu, floating on the surface of the water. Add to this the incredible amount of washed-up plastic trash that lines many of Svalbard’s beaches, unthinkable for this remote region.

That’s how big the new CTD probe is, which is controlled by an app. Photo: Ocean Warrior

Throughout the coming winter, the S/V Linden will be further equipped, including laboratories and scientific instruments. During the expeditions, the team already has been testing a brand-new, handheld CTD sonde from Valeport that allows the collected data on salinity, temperature, depth, and even chlorophyll to be conveniently downloaded via app. Additional highly useful equipment, such as an eDNA sampler and an automated mini-submarine that independently samples at various depths, is already in the pipeline for the coming year.

The actual research work will begin in mid-June next year with the first “Resolute Expedition”, which will take the S/V Linden from Longyearbyen first to the United Kingdom to take scientists and equipment on board. From there, it will travel via Iceland around the southern tip of Greenland, along Baffin Island and into Lancaster Sound to Resolute Bay in the Canadian Arctic. Over ten years, about 10,000 nautical miles will be covered annually and countless samples will be collected.

“It’s all about putting a more immediate finger on the pulse of the planet,” Jim McNeill emphasizes. “And some of the areas we will go to on our route from next year onwards are very undersampled if they are sampled at all. That’s a very important point. Doing a ten year transect will uncover what’s happening in those regions.”

It is particularly important to him that the data collected and insights gained reach “regular” people, for example also school classes, in the most direct way possible, unlike in classic research expeditions. “Ocean Warrior is all about the science putting a more immediate finger on the science instead of waiting for peer review and publication. […] It’s the immediacy I think that’s needed these days.” To that end, he plans to set up a broadband Internet connection on the S/V Lindennext year to provide near-live coverage of the expeditions.

The polar explorer will also spend the coming months recruiting more sponsors, as well as citizen scientists who would like to take part in the upcoming expeditions. Even those who are unable to raise the funds for such a trip have a good chance of still getting a place, as Jim McNeill successfully teaches interested people how to find sponsors and supporters.

When asked what didn’t work out – on expeditions, especially premieres, something usually goes wrong – he replied that, despite fears, he didn’t get seasick. So it was a thoroughly successful start to ten years of climate research with citizen participation in the Arctic.

Since 1 October, Jim McNeill has been publishing his experiences and adventures gathered during the two expeditions on a daily basis in a blog on the Ocean Warrior website.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

Link to Ocean Warrior: https://www.warrior-ocean.com/

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