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First Hole in North Pole Ice Drilled by Explorers

Catlin Survey expedition members Charlie Paton and Ann Daniels drill the first hole ever at the North Pole on May 12, 2010 as part of an effort to better understand the impact of ocean acidification on the Arctic Ocean. (Image credit: Martin Hartley)

A group of Arctic explorers has made the grueling journey to the North Pole and drilled a hole in the ice to take the first ever sample of ocean water at the pole in an effort to better understand the impacts of climate change.

The explorers, part of a group called the Catlin Arctic Survey, completed the sampling expedition after failing to last year, reported the Guardian.

The team reached the geographic North Pole on May 12 after a 60-day trek across the frigid Arctic ice.

The explorers have been collecting water and marine life samples from beneath the floating sea ice during their expedition in an effort to understand how the acidification of the ocean — caused by the same accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is behind the planet's warming — is impacting the polar environment.

Ocean acidification occurs as the ocean absorbs excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which makes the ocean more acidic and threatens organisms that have shells and skeletons made from certain minerals that dissolve in more acidic conditions, such as corals.

The team drilled their final hole of the mission (and the first hole at the North Pole) manually through the ice at the North Pole, capping off the 483-mile (777-kilometer) trek they have been on since March 14.

"We called it our Hole at the Pole," said former bank manager turned Arctic explorer Ann Daniels. "Getting the science work done has always been our top priority, but it is absolutely fantastic to reach the Pole as well. We're ecstatic."

At the Earth's other end, researchers recently reported that the South Pole had seen its warmest year on record.

The Arctic explorers made it to their final destination with only hours to spare before the Twin Otter plane scheduled to pick them up landed on the ice, the Survey reported on their Web site,

"It has been an unbelievably hard journey over the ice," Daniels said. "Conditions have been unusually tough and at times very frustrating with a frequent southerly drift pushing us backwards every time we camped for the night. On top of that we've had to battle into head-winds and swim across large areas of dangerously thin ice and open water."

The samples collected from the team will now be analyzed to get a better picture of the state of the Arctic environment.

The expedition is sponsored by the Catlin Group, an international insurer and reinsurer.

Andrea Thompson
Andrea Thompson

Andrea Thompson is an associate editor at Scientific American, where she covers sustainability, energy and the environment. Prior to that, she was a senior writer covering climate science at Climate Central and a reporter and editor at Live Science, where she primarily covered Earth science and the environment. She holds a graduate degree in science health and environmental reporting from New York University, as well as a bachelor of science and and masters of science in atmospheric chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.