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Three explorers embark on a journey to one of the world's most hostile environments, gathering the effect of microplastics in the earth’s ice pack.
Their lives depend on the clothes they wear.
More is known about the surface of the moon than the Arctic Ocean in winter, yet it provides a key barometer to the health of our planet. However, there is almost no knowledge of its behaviour, particularly the impact of plastic.
Alex Hibbert, George Bullard and James Wheeldon will embark on an unassisted 6-month journey in a race against the sun, to uncover how microplastics behave in the water, snow and ice of the dark Arctic depths. They will be the first humans to ski to the North Pole without resupply.
The Dark Ice Project draws on the expertise of technical performance leaders The Woolmark Company, adidas Terrex, BYBORRE and GORE-TEX to design and create a kit to meet the explorers’ physiological and environmental needs. Specific requirements for the garments, such as wind and water resistance, durability, breathability, moisture management and maintaining thermal comfort will be key to the explorers’ success.
Merino wool is the original performance fibre and its technical benefits coupled with its eco-credentials - it is 100% natural, renewable and biodegradable - make it the fibre of choice for the explorers’ kit.
“The kit needs to be hyper-breathable so that we don’t get a build-up of moisture/ice inside the garments,” says Dark Ice Explorer George Bullard. “Whilst we collect data on microplastics, it is vital that our clothes don’t contribute to the problem. Therefore, a natural option such as wool is infinitely better and goes some way to combat the athleisure industry and contributions to microplastics.”
“Only by really understanding the scope of this momentous expedition we are able to engineer the perfect kit for the explorers from the yarn to the final gear.”
BYBORRE Founder/Designer Borre Akkersdijk
The Woolmark Company and textile innovation studio BYBORRE developed a wool-rich base and mid-layer system from technical Merino yarns from the Südwolle Group, providing next-to-skin comfort, superior breathability and enhanced protection from the elements. By utilising innovative Merino wool yarns and fabrics, the explorers are able to dress lighter, without losing protective benefits such as warmth.
The Dark Ice team will be collecting microplastic samples from snow and ice cores. These samples will be capsules and analysed for even the smallest particulate matter.
While collecting microplastic data, it’s vital that their clothes don’t contribute to the problem. Merino wool, a natural and renewable fibre, is also 100% biodegradable in both land and marine environments.
Want to know what's it’s like to be an explorer? We asked George Bullard - one third of the Dark Ice Project team what it’s like.
“My focus is on the smallest things. Footprints in the snow. The smells, the sights, the next meal - living in the moment and being appreciative for the smaller things that may seem totally irrelevant at home.”
What’s for lunch? “We eat freeze-dried food (oat-based meals for breakfast such as porridge, then freeze-dried pasta-based meals for supper. During the day we snack on high fat, high calorie products like nuts. We need to make sure there is low water content otherwise they become rock solid at -40°C.”
Do you shower? “No. Never whilst living in the tent. Getting wet like that would be fatal. We occasionally have a wet wipe, but we have to warm them up first as they are frozen solid like a brick.”
How do you prepare? “Aside from the operational and logistical preparation, I get physically prepared. But most importantly I focus on being mentally prepared. This is by far the most important thing as you need to be properly equipped to manage your brain when you are having one of those low moments.”
Have you ever faced an emergency? “I have faced a few challenging situations in the past. The most relevant to this project happened in 2011 when I was a guide on an expedition in Svalbard and we got attacked by a polar bear.”
The Woolmark-certified single jersey base-layer successfully outperforms the single jersey base-layer previously worn by the explorers:
“The conditions that will be experienced will test both the men and their equipment to the full,” explains adidas Outdoor General Manger Tim Janaway. “The Dark Ice Project exemplifies our belief that performance need not be sacrificed for sustainability. The learnings we will take from this work will help us to develop even better performing, more sustainable products for the outdoor consumer.”
The explorers will set off by boat for the first phase, followed by a ski phase of up to 70 days, usually trekking for eight-to-ten hours each day, in extreme cold reaching -40o Celsius and hurricane-force winds.
Boat leaves from Tuktoyaktuk, Canada, to Barrow, Alaska. In the final weeks before the winter freeze, the team sails for 3 weeks until they are surrounded by sea ice.
Using special equipment, the team will set up a floating, drifting headquarters on the dynamic sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, bound for the North Pole. This phase will allow for many weeks of ambitious scientific work, collecting never-before-seen data on the effect of microplastics in the sea ice. All will occur in the darkness of polar winter.
400km to 600km out from the geographical North Pole, the team will take to skis with lightweight science instruments, completing the final phase across pressure ridges and open water to the North Pole. Having reached the final destination, the team will then be airlifted to Svalbard, Norway.
The expedition will be the first in history to reach the North Pole in true winter conditions and without resupply.