Arctic Journey: Scientific Expedition To The Northwest Passage

With an arctic journey of 900 miles through the Northwest Passage, the Cornells know how to do a summer vacation.

For eight weeks, they'll be sailing the Northwest Passage, a largely unexplored area of the Arctic Circle between North America and the North Pole. Until recent years, this region was locked with sea ice that made it a dangerous and often impossible journey from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

According to the website devoted to the Blue Planet Odyssey adventure, there are three generations of Cornells on the Aventura, a boat currently traveling the globe with the goal of raising awareness of how climate change affects oceans. Nera Cornell, at 14, may be the youngest person to sail the Northwest Passage.

With Nera on the journey are both her grandfather and her mother. Jimmy Cornell, a bestselling author and yachtsman who worked for the BBC World Service, has made a habit of circumnavigating the world. The Blue Planet Odyssey voyage will be the fourth of such adventures for the Cornells. It's a family tradition to go sailing together for years at a time. Jimmy's daughter, Doina, was only seven the first time she set sail from England on a trip like this one.

With a crew of eight, many of whom are experienced sailors, the yacht Aventura is currently sailing across Baffin Bay and will, before they end their voyage, have traveled through some of the world's most beautiful waters.

Along the way, there is science to be done. Citizen science is research done by nonprofessional scientists and amateurs. Public participation is considered an important part of scientific discovery and it is becoming popular again; it was once the arena of researchers such as Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, and Charles Darwin.

As the Aventura's journey leads them through the Northwest Passage, data will be collected on microplastic pollution, wildlife, weather conditions, and the levels of phytoplankton from east to west through the icy waters of the Arctic Circle.

BBC News reports that the expedition has a partnership with UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and will be collecting data for a number of scientific organizations and universities, including a plastic pollution reduction group. Another set of measurements will be taken on the levels of phytoplankton in the Northwest Passage, giving the University of Plymouth's Marine Institute the first data of its kind, setting up a baseline for further research.

Measuring the transparency of water with a Secchi disk allows for an estimation of how many phytoplankton are swimming in the waters between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Phytoplankon plays a key role in absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide and the spread of a particular species from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic may have an impact on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

The Secchi disk is a white circle measuring 30 centimeters that is lowered on the end of a tape measure off the shady side of a boat and when it is no longer visible, its depth is recorded as an estimation of water transparency.

The Northwest Passage is not the usual place to take a vacation. At this point of the year the Arctic Circle sees more of the sun than at any other time, but it's cold. At the height of summer, the sea's air temperatures seldom go above 50°F. Definitely not bathing suit weather.

In September, The Inquisitr reported that a Danish cargo ship had navigated the Northwest Passage, lauding a new frontier for shipping routes despite the worrisome melting of thick Arctic ice floes. But it is still a dangerous place. As recently as a week ago, mariners have been locked in by the ice-clogged waters.

Since the 15th century, explorers have been attracted to the Northwest Passage. An attempt to find a path through these Arctic waters was first recorded in the east-west explorations of John Cabot in 1497, who sought a direct water route to the Orient. His crew is believed to have been the first Europeans to set foot in North America since the Vikings first explored the region 500 years earlier.

Interested in knowing more about Blue Planet Odyssey? Want to chat with the crew of the Aventura? You can follow their adventures at their Facebook page and on Twitter, or you could visit the Blue Planet Odyssey page for more crew logs and information about their arctic journey.

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