Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


The last stage of an arctic odyssey


The Arktika expedition, led by French explorer Gilles Elkaïm, was supported by ESA

Gilles Elkaïm, during the Arktika expedition

The French explorer, Gilles Elkaïm, who left North Cape (Norway) in May 2000, has almost completed the seventh and final stage of his 12,000 km solo trek along the rim of the Arctic Ocean, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, on foot, kayak, skis, by sled pulled by himself or by dogs... with help from ESA.

The “Arktika” expedition is nearing its conclusion. Gilles Elkaïm and his twelve sled dogs, who, last May, set up summer camp in a disused military base, close to Cape Shelagskiy (the most northerly point in Chukotskiy, in the far east of Russia) restarted their trek on 14 January during the polar night. Ahead were 1,500 chaotic kilometres of pack ice to be tackled in permanently stormy conditions before reaching the Bering Strait and completing the first crossing of the Eurasian Arctic without mechanical means or any assistance.

Using space technology

This adventurer is being supported by ESA, one of the expedition’s partners. Analysis tests of satellite maps created by the Envisat and ERS-2 satellites were carried out in collaboration with experts from Saint Petersburg’s Nansen Institute. This data enables Gilles Elkaïm to redefine his itinerary on the extremely unpredictable pack ice of the East Siberian Sea, the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea. A choice of routes helps him avoid areas of moving pack ice and polynya (areas of very thin, young ice) that make progress extremely dangerous with a sled laden with half a ton of food and equipment.
Engineers from ESA, specialising in structures, also advised the adventurer on how to repair the sled’s runners that had cracked after a fall into a canyon the previous winter and have now been strengthened using high density plastic blades.

As well as being a human adventure, the “Arktika” expedition is also a technological project. The environment crossed - the Siberian tundra - is one of the most hostile in the northern hemisphere. Winter temperatures can fall to -70°C and the difference between summer and winter temperatures can be as much as 100°C. Wind and humidity are continuous along the shores of the Arctic Ice Ocean and exposure to ultraviolet radiation is intense in spring and summer.

This environment means that electronic equipment can be tested in the most hostile of conditions and, for this reason, ESA, under its technology transfer programme, has equipped the explorer with a computer, two beacons (for positioning and for distress signals) and means of satellite communication that enables him to remain in contact with his support team, as well as regularly updating the expedition’s website, even when the temperature outside his tent is close to –30°C!

This has also enabled him to receive data from observations collected by the Envisat and ERS-2 satellites, capable of differentiating between different types of pack ice. The correlation between observations carried out by the explorer at ground level is invaluable when interpreting this data.

Originally developed for the space sector, which is also characterised by very hostile environments, these technologies have demonstrated their capacity to make life and work easier for explorers in extreme conditions. It is these technologies that have made Gilles Elkaïm’s expedition possible and have enabled him to visit these inaccessible regions of the Siberian Arctic.

An extreme adventurer, this is not Gilles Elkaïm’s first exploit. For 20 years, this 43 year old nuclear physicist has been gripped a real passion for expeditions into the last remaining natural sanctuaries on the planet, from the Sahara to Greenland and from Papua –New Guinea to the depths of Siberia. Having already crossed 10,000 km of Siberian tundra, he has almost completed his latest challenge.

During the eight “summer” months, Gilles Elkaïm lived the rough life of a hunter in the Great North Waste and continued his research into physical and mental adaptation to the polar environment. His cabin was built on the autumn migration route of polar bears, so that he would have several chances to observe the largest plantigrades on the planet.

The final stage is far from being a pleasure trip. The meteorological conditions in Chukotskiy are exceptionally harsh during the polar night. Winds are continuous and blizzards are frequent. The adventurer spent long months meticulously preparing his equipment and hunting products enabled him to make new fur garments that withstood temperatures of –50°C. His tent is now experiencing its fourth winter and has had to be resewn and the pitch of its roof rebuilt with anything to hand.

During the last four years, as well as completing an exceptional adventure in both human and technological terms, the French explorer has also met some of the most isolated people on the planet: the Sámi of the Kol’skiy Peninsula, Nenets from Yamal, Dolgans and Nganassanes of Taïmir, Evenks, Evenes and Youkhaguirs from Yakutsk, Chukots and Yuits from Chukotskiy. Married to a Siberian and being a fluent Russian speaker, Gilles has been able to adapt to their traditional way of life and report on it in authentic documents aimed at raising public awareness about the preservation of the environment and ethnic minorities.

Gilles Elkaïm is expected at the Bering Strait sometime during the spring.

Pierre Brisson | ESA
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic
24.10.2016 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>