Rowers reach 'impossible' North Pole, thanks to global warming


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The Independent Online

Six British adventurers were "on top of the world" yesterday after they became the first team to row to the magnetic North Pole.

Click HERE to download graphic: The 28-day journey (90.46kB)

They were exhausted by their 28-day journey but were jubilant to have set a record they had been told was impossible. They rowed 450 miles from Resolution Bay in Canada, but found the last three miles so badly congested by ice floes and lumps of broken ice that they had to drag the rowing boat for several hours to complete the last stretch of the journey.

Jock Wishart, who has previously set records rowing across the Atlantic, said the scale of their achievement had "yet to sink in". But he confessed to leaping about on the ice in excitement when it was confirmed that they had reached the pole. As expedition leader, he was tossed from an ice floe into the Arctic water as the team celebrated the end of their journey yesterday.

"I was wearing a dry suit at the time so it wasn't too cold," he said.

Rowing to the pole in an open boat was possible because climate change has meant the Arctic ice sheet has retreated record distances in the last 30 years.

But enough ice remains to make it touch and go whether the team would get the boat far enough to claim the record. Mr Wishart said: "This has been an incredible journey. We've now achieved something people thought was impossible and in my view is one of the hardest open-boat journeys ever made. We're tired but in great, great spirits. We've just created history."

The break-up of the Arctic ice during summer is now so extensive that it has opened up the region to the possibility of oil and gas exploration. Some scientists believe the impact of global warming on the region is so extreme that the Arctic could be largely free of ice by the end of summer as soon as 2030.

There is evidence that in the last 20 years alone average temperatures in the Arctic have risen by at least 1C, making the winters shorter and lengthening summertime.

Mr Wishart said that it was obvious just from looking out of the boat that "a lot of the ice has disappeared" from areas that a few years ago would have been frozen over: "There is more open water. We have demonstrated that there is currently a diminution of the ice sheet," he said.

During the expedition the team, comprising of Mr Wishart, Mark Delstanche, Billy Gammon, Rob Sleep, David Mans and Mark Beaumont, took several scientific measurements to help researchers assess just how quickly the Arctic is breaking up.

Among the records that the team kept were those on salinity levels. These are considered to be important because as ice melts it creates a large pool of fresh water which if it is suddenly released into the Atlantic could alter the Gulf Stream's route.