Explorer Jean-Louis Etienne already has two solo expeditions of the North Pole under his belt. First was his 63 day hike by foot back in 1986. Then in 2002, Etienne drifted alone on the Artic Sea for four months in a specially-designed research pod. Now the determined explorer is planning the third part of his solo Artic exploration “trilogy,” with plans to pilot a helium-air balloon back over the Artic for a 15-20 day adventure.
Using a ship based on the Breitling Orbiter, the first balloon successfully piloted around the world in 1999, Etienne plans to spend his trip raising awareness of the shrinking of the world’s polar ice caps. Along the way the voyager will also be taking a number of scientific measurements, including CO2 levels and readings of the earth’s magnetic field. This is not Etienne’s first attempt to balloon his way across the Arctic. His first try in 2008 ended disastrously when his ship was smashed by high winds.
[UPDATE] Etienne’s journey kicked off earlier this morning, launching from a remote island called Spitzbergen off the Northern Coast of Norway. Let’s wish him luck in his journey.
According to National Geographic, a new research study shows that the magnetic North Pole is changing positions at a surprisingly quick pace, sliding towards Russia at a speed of about 40 miles per year. Traditionally, the Pole has been located in Northern Canada, but these rapid shifts are causing it to jump dramatically.
Scientists believe that changes deep within the Earth’s molten core are to blame for the shift, although it is difficult to measure and track those changes. Researchers have detected a disturbance on the surface of the core that is creating a “magnetic plume” which is responsible for the change in the Pole’s location, but how that plume was created remains a mystery.
The shifting of the magnetic pole is not quite as problematic as it once would have been. For centuries the North Pole has been used for navigational purposes, but for the most part, standard compasses have been replaced with sophisticated GPS tracking systems. Still, many explorers, mountaineers, backpackers, and the like still prefer using a compass over an electronic device. As the pole shifts position, they’ll need to learn to take into account its new location when plotting their course.
At this point, scientists are unsure exactly how far the pole will move or if it will become a permanent shift in location. The mysterious plume could dissipate and cause the pole to return to its original position, not far from Canada’s Ellesmere Island, or it could continue to move for years to come.