In spring 2010, Ghislain Bardout and his six teammates carried out an incredible underwater polar expedition beneath the Arctic ice floe. They photographed and filmed this hidden side of the pole and its ecosystems, in -1.8°C water, to save a memory of a vanishing world before it’s too late. In parallel, they conducted two scientific programmes: on the thickness of the ice’s snow cover; and on human physiology. Though delicate and highly demanding, the mission was a complete success!
26 march 2010
10 may 2010
“I hatched this project when I was 15 years old. I was starting to dive, and began wondering about the underwater world of this great white desert.”
Twenty years on, Ghislain Bardout had grown up – and his teenage dream had grown too!
An energy engineer with a degree from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, Ghislain is also a pro diver. He first worked closely with Jean-Louis Etienne, logistics and technical manager of the Total Pole Airship expedition across the Arctic Ocean. In April 2007, Ghislain also set up a North Pole diving campaign involving a submarine robot and six divers. Then he decided to run Under the Pole. In 2009, this was a timely decision: 100 years after the conquest of the North Pole, and at the end of the fourth International Polar Year!
“The ice floe is a fragile and fascinating world about which we know very little, and it is now disappearing as the melting process accelerates. I wanted to bear witness to its underwater side with photos, before it’s gone.”
Access to it was so difficult, and conditions were so severe and hostile, that a complete survey had never been conducted!
”I wanted to tell the story in pictures of a world that’s drifting away”
A UNIQUE ADVENTURE
Where there’s a will, there’s a way… Ghislain began to plan this fabulous adventure alongside Emmanuelle Périé. He recruited and trained six teammates… He attracted sponsors to assemble a budget of about 500,000 euros, gained the backing of Jean-Louis Etienne and Millet Expedition Project…
To prepare for such a sporting and human exploit, the whole team went to Finland in February-March 2009. During this intensive training camp in comparable conditions, they were able to test the Everest boots and jackets provided by Millet, and the kayaks on which they would each carry more than 30kg of gear.
A year later, it was time for The Adventure… The seven-strong team travelled to Resolute Bay, Canada. They were escorted by Kayak, a Siberian husky that would warn them of polar bears!
They flew to the geographic North Pole, then headed for Cape Columbia on Ellesmere Island. At a rate of three days’ skiing for each day of diving, they covered 800km of ice floe and performed 51 dives in extreme conditions, with water at -1.8°C. A unique adventure that placed a great strain on the team and their equipment! But the result was worth it: a trove of 20,000 photos and 40 hours of breathtakingly beautiful film!
“We only opened a little door”
This pictorial account was supplemented by two scientific programmes. The first involved measuring the thickness of snow on the ice, all along their route; the second focused on human physiology, studying the team members’ sleep patterns and internal body temperature.
“Satellite observation shows that the area of ice shrinks by about 10% every 10 years. But we only know about area, not thickness. Ghislain Bardout and his team have helped contribute precise data on this subject thanks to their core-drilling and diving methods,” said a delighted Dr Christian Haas, sea-ice specialist.
AN EXCEPTIONAL FILM AND BOOK
The expedition yielded a superb film, Deepsea Under the Pole. Released worldwide, it has won 12 awards: best adventure film, best polar film, National Geographic award, etc.
There is also a book – On a marché sous le pôle in French (published by Éditions du Chêne) – with 256 pages retracing the preparatory and performance phases of this singular expedition in words and splendid photos.
BACK TO THE POLE
In January 2014, the team are heading off to continue their underwater explorations. This time, they are on board Why, a sailing ship designed for frozen adventure. The team will comprise up to 11 people: scientists, sailors, doctors, mechanics... who will take turns on board. Kayak the dog will also be on the trip, as will a mini-explorer: Robin, Emmanuelle and Ghislain’s two-year-old son!
“We’ll spend 22 months exploring the coastal ice floe – the open-sea ice, the giant icebergs and the glacier front… between the Arctic Circle and northern Greenland,” explains Ghislain. “From the surface, we’ll dive as deep as possible by recycling. We’ll spend winter in Nares Strait. Then in spring, we’ll leave with the Inuit and their dog sleds to travel round Greenland’s northern coast and explore the unknown depths of this land at the end of the earth.” Thus continuing their eye-witness account of this vanishing dream world…