May 2, 2005

Minnesota Men Plan Trek Across the Arctic

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Lonnie Dupre decided to risk his life after a glacier went missing. The Minnesota explorer was on a kayaking expedition around Greenland four years ago when his two-man team prepared to navigate around a glacier shown on their 1982 map. But when they paddled into a fjord where the glacier was supposed to be, they found only ice remnants on the side of a mountain.

"After that, I thought, if I ever do another project, the whole thing is going to surround global warming," Dupre recalled Thursday.

Dupre and Eric Larsen, both of Grand Marais, are about to embark on a 1,240-mile kayak and ski trek across the Arctic Ocean. They hope to draw attention to a warming Arctic region and plan to collect snow samples for the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine.

The journey is expected to begin May 12 when the men paddle their boats away from Cape Arctichesky in Siberia. They hope to arrive at Ellesmere Island, Canada, 98 days later. The North Pole will mark the expedition\'s halfway point.

While dogsled and ski teams have crossed the frozen Arctic Ocean in the winter, a summer crossing over a treacherous combination of open water and shifting ice floes would be a first.

Dupre talked about the trip from his home while Larsen double-checked their travel list, making sure there was enough vacuum-packaged caribou meat, pasta and granola to last 106 days, in case the journey runs long.

"My biggest concern lately is that I have everything packed," Larsen said. "Did I finish the Web site? Did I pack my sunscreen? But we have two-and-a-half years of planning and preparation put into this, and that builds confidence."

The expedition will combine the men\'s passion for exploration with their belief that industrial greenhouse gases are heating the planet and causing changes in the climate. They hope to make a documentary film of the crossing.

Last fall, a report by the intergovernmental Arctic Council, based on a study by 300 scientists, said the average winter temperatures in the Arctic have increased as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 50 years.

Reporting last week in the journal Science, a team of scientists led by a NASA climatologist said the Earth is giving off more heat than it absorbs, a conclusion they said validates projections of global warming.

Neither adventurer claims to be a scientist, and Dupre admits he has reached his conclusions about global warming mainly through his contact with the Inuit people who live in the Arctic.

"They say the ice is thinning in the spring and the fall and in the winter and that migration patterns are changing for the game they are hunting," he said. "I\'m also finding that Inuit elders can no longer predict the weather like they used to."

Besides collecting snow and water samples - which will be analyzed for mercury, lead and other chemicals - they will measure the circumference, depth and salinity of water pools that collect on top of sea ice.

Paul Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute, said the samples will help the institute establish the distribution of major chemicals in the Arctic. Some of those chemicals contribute to climate change, he said.

The men are experienced explorers.

Dupre, 44, has been on six Arctic expeditions, including a circumnavigation of Greenland by dogsled and kayak. Larsen, 33, has led sled-dog teams in northern Ontario and across Great Slave Lake in Canada\'s Northwest Territories.

Both live in Grand Marais, a tiny town on Lake Superior\'s North Shore, because, as Larsen put it, "It\'s the closest thing in the lower 48 (states) where you can find pure wilderness."

The trip is budgeted for $388,000. Rolex awarded the duo $100,000 because of the watchmaker\'s interest in climate change. The rest was raised at fundraisers across the Midwest, where Dupre and Larsen gave their sales pitch about global warming and exploration.

"They\'re concerned about the environment, and they don\'t need 300 scientists to tell them something is going on with the climate," Dupre said of the audiences that helped fund their trip.

"We\'re not having the winters we used to," he added. "There\'s been a lack of snow in Minnesota for the last 10 years. We had a close to average winter this year, followed by the warmest April on record."

Each day of the trek, Dupre and Larsen, armed with solar-powered computer gear, will send an e-mail to their home base in Grand Marais, where an assistant will update the team\'s Web site. They will also have satellite phones to keep them in contact with the world, and a locator beacon in case they need help.

Helicopters on Russian ships and helicopters based in Canada will be available for emergency transport for all but about a 200-mile stretch of the trip. Each will handle a 50-pound kayak stuffed with 350 pounds of food, clothing and equipment. When they can\'t paddle - which may be a majority of the time - they\'ll put on skis and pull their boats behind them.

Their preparation has included grueling training sessions. They pulled boats along icy lakes while on skis during the winter, breaking through on purpose so they could practice getting out. As late as Monday, they were pulling rock-filled tires up a 1,600-foot incline.

The men will burn 6,000 calories per day - "two Thanksgiving dinners back-to-back," Dupre said.

The biggest threats to their safety will be floating ice chunks that can\'t be paddled through (which will force them to slither along the floating ice, salamander-like, while pulling their boats), fog that will make it difficult to see, and hungry polar bears.

Every seven days they\'ll take half-a-day off.

"We\'ll be sleeping in on those days, no doubt," Dupre said.


On the Net:

One World Expedition: http://oneworldexpedition.com/


Gregg Aamot can be reached at gaamot(at)ap.org