The landing strip video above reveals a forthcoming drama of today. The runway at the Barneo floating Arctic station that cracked some three days ago, has partially sunk this morning making it an unviable airstrip. That means delay of at least 5 days as the runway will need to be relocated once another suitable section of ice is found. Not yet an insurmountable difficulty for my expedition but a fatal for others who had ambitions of making longer crossings.
Today’s drama underscores fragility of the balance in the Arctic climate making it exceptionally difficult to establish such floating stations on thin ice floating above 4,000m of ocean water. With climate change, the ice has become much more fragile on top of naturally occurring constant fracturing and collusion, freezing and refreezing, which create ever changing surface conditions.
The work now begins to construct a new runway. While helicopters will be scoping a new piece of solid ice with a length of 2km+, by no means a mean fit, a military aircraft will be dispatched tomorrow to Murmansk, Russia’s northern most border city carrying a new bulldozer. The machine will be parachuted down to the new location together with some 20 soldiers from the Russian Ministry of Defence to help construct a new runway capable of receiving an aircraft.
This is a tall order of things to fall into place in time to allow many to complete their journeys in time before a melting period starts. For me and my Everest climbing partner the dilemma is different. We have to be able to complete North Pole trekking journey in time for a safe passage to Everest. We remain hopeful but vigilant as one bad decision may lead to grave outcomes in Nepal with shortage of acclimatisation.
Today I could be only exceptionally grateful to the vigilance of Russian authorities who have decided against trying to continue using the piece of ice unsuitable for landing of heavy aircrafts. Tomorrow will be a new day with more information. Nature yet again taught us a lesson of humility and the need to remain flexible.