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Novel use for chill box is boost for science survey

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How do you keep water samples from freezing on an arctic expedition? Put them in a chill box!

By Rod Macrae

It’s no picnic surviving on an arctic expedition in the depths of winter and early spring. But if you are doing a scientific survey at the same time, it is a lot more challenging. For the explorers in the Catlin Arctic Survey team trekking across the floating sea ice of the Arctic ocean, a picnic cool box is a vital piece of kit.

Their mission required them to collect water samples and somehow keep the water from freezing, despite these samples having to be continually stored on their sledges in temperatures below minus 30 degrees Celsius. It’s critical for the samples to be kept liquid to enable the scientists to do their research effectively. This clever little innovation has helped the expedition keep these vital water samples from freezing for 18 days in the polar ‘freezer’.

When the samples were picked up today from the team 260 miles from the North Pole by an Easter re-supply flight, the ‘cool’ technology had worked flawlessly in the severest weather they will encounter on their 60 day mission.

Ex Royal Marine Charlie Paton, who’s been caring for the kit on the trek, describes the performance of the ‘hot’ technology as “totally brilliant”.

“We have had some pretty severe storms here and persistent northerly winds that add a wind chill factor making it feel like minus 60 degrees C and beyond. Yet there has never been a moment when our box has performed anything other than perfectly.”

The cool box and the batteries it uses to power the heaters inside is housed in a sledge drawn by the explorers as they ski, trek and swim on their route north.

The samples will be returned to marine research laboratories in Plymouth and Exeter to help scientists understand more about the impact of carbon dioxide on the ocean’s waters and marine life.

The Catlin Arctic Survey 2010 is focused on what is widely considered to be the ‘other’ carbon problem beyond climate change – that of ocean change, researching how greenhouse gases could affect the marine life of the Arctic ocean. Laura Edwards, a researcher from Bangor University in Wales, and Rod Macrae, Head of Communications at Geo Mission, are blogging for WWF throughout the Survey from the Catlin Arctic Survey Ice Base in Nunavut, northern Canada – please come back regularly for their updates.

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