Largest-ever polar expedition a success, despite polar bears

Polar bears (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Ansgar Walk). (Polar bears (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Ansgar Walk))

A team of 55 Dutch scientists has returned to the inhabited world after a 10 day long expedition on Edgeøya, an island east of Sptisbergen. According to the organizers, the expedition was a great success, despite polar bears sometimes making their work difficult to impossible.

The aim for this expedition was to investigate the influence of climate change on the Arctic, broadcaster NOS reports. The team was made up of all kinds of scientists - archaeologists, biologists, climate researchers, geologists and glaciologists all went along in the hope that collaboration between all those disciplines will lead to new insights.

And that succeeded, according to Maarten Loonen, organizer of the expedition. "We're going home with chests full of information that still needs to be interpreted. That's the beauty of having all these disciplines on board." he said to the broadcaster. "I hope it gives a good overall picture."

Forty years ago there was another Dutch expedition to the same area, and according to Loonen, they have noticed some big differences. "In certain areas we know exactly what grew there in 1977, what the vegetation looked like. We've now looked again and we are surprised. There are pieces that were completely empty and are now overgrown and vice versa. We had not expected that the change would happen so fast." He added that it is still too early to say whether these changes are due to global warming or other factors. The information collected first has to be interpreted.

The team did have some problem with polar bears interrupting their research. One day the scientists were unable to land. "There were three polar bears sitting exactly in the area where we wanted to land. Then that's about it", Loonen said. If a guide spotted a polar bear in a certain area, no research would be done there. Safety first.

According to Loonen, the hardest work is still ahead. "It does not end here, now it actually really starts. Everyone could see what you can do here and how important it is to understand this magnificent area and to protect it." he said. "The aim of this expedition was not to answer all the questions once and for all. The goal was to bring about better cooperation and to approach problems from different angles. In that respect we have completely achieved our goals."