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Under the Pole II

Exploration as energy for the future

Supported by the Air Liquide Foundation, led by Ghislain Bardout and Emmanuelle Périé-Bardout, Under the Pole II is an overland and underwater expedition in the Arctic that began in January of 2014 and ended in the fall of 2015. With the sailboat WHY as its base, the expedition’s objective was to study the entire annual cycle of the Arctic ecosystem, both on the surface and under the polar ice cap.

Measuring the environmental stakes

The Under the Pole II expedition had a number of objectives. Above all, its vocation is to be a witness to the climate change underway, the local issues, and the challenges society will have to face in the years to come. From a scientific perspective, the priorities are to identify and catalogue the biodiversity that lies under the polar waters, study the interactions between the atmosphere, the ice sheet, and the ocean during an annual arctic cycle, and to explore the physiology of divers exposed to extreme cold.

21

month expedition

52

divers and scientists

90%

of the dives in unexplored regions

Exploring the Pole, in Greenland

Under the Pole II, supported by the Air Liquide Foundation

Two key aspects for the Air Liquide Foundation

In addition to a financial endowment over two years, the Air Liquide Foundationsupplied Under the Pole II with equipment as well as the gases used for diving and oxygen therapy kits. Some sixty cylinders of oxygen and helium were delivered when the boat set sail from Brittany and others were shipped to Greenland, with the help of Air Liquide Denmark. With 300 dives under their belt, including 40 in the 100-meter zone, the need for these gases were significant.

The Air Liquide Foundation is particularly involved in supporting the two environmental and respiratory research programs.

300 dives under the belt, including 40 in the 100-meter zone
Diving gases were shipped to Greenland, with the help of Air Liquide Denmark.

Interactions between ice floes, the atmosphere and the ocean

Under the Pole II attempted to measure quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) trapped in the ocean depths. When they form, polar ice sheets trap carbon dioxide and oxygen. These gases accumulate in pockets of brine (sea water with a high concentration of salt). Due to their greater density, these pockets sink, taking the trapped gases with them to the ocean depths. Consequently, the polar ice cap seems to play a key role in climate regulation. If it melts rapidly, this could have a profound impact on the future evolution of the earth’s climate.

Testimonial

“The Foundation’s support has enabled the scientists on the expedition to procure very powerful survey and analysis devices.”

Fouad Ammouri , PH.D., International Expert on Thermal Transfers and Sensors - Paris-Saclay Research Center, France

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The Air Liquide Foundation relies on the expertise and enthusiasm of the Group’s employees to oversee the projects that it supports. We spoke with Fouad Ammouri, who oversees the Under the Pole II project and gives his scientific views on the “Interactions between the ice floe, the air and the ocean” Environment programme.

What does the programme for which you are responsible consist of?

The programme for which I am an advisor aims to study the interaction between the air, the ice floe and the ocean. To do this, the field crews measure the thickness of the ice, its temperature, its salinity, and its CO2 content. This is a real example of applied research, in the field, that happens over a long period of time.The readings will help to form a better understanding of what really happens on the ice floe of Greenland. These data are extremely valuable for the research on global warming.

What is your role?

I oversee the project and missions from France. As an international expert in thermal transfers and sensors, I give my views on the data collected by the expedition’s teams. Analysing the data requires considerable knowledge and expertise; a vast number of parameters must be taken into account. My expertise and experience allow me to point the teams towards the best way in which to analyse these readings.

What support does the Foundation provide for this programme in particular?

In working conditions of this kind, the field teams need special, state-of-the-art equipment. The Foundation’s support has enabled the scientists on the expedition to procure very powerful survey and analysis devices. Once the data have been collected, we call in data analysis experts to process all the information.

Lastly, the project helps to raise awareness among the public and the scientific community thanks to the tangible data on the effect of global warming. It’s a fascinating project. We are looking forward to process the gathered data. And if the experience continues, I hope to be a part of it!

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A world first

One of the goals of Under the Pole II was to push back the limits of deep sea diving in arctic latitudes. This was a real challenge for Ghislain Bardout, expedition leader, and Martin Mellet, his dive buddy, who were surrounded by an entire team. And in April 2015, they scored a world first, descending to -111 meters under the polar ice cap, where the water temperature was -1.5°.

Diving into such deep waters is both a technical feat and a physiological one. In terms of equipment, there is simply no room for improvisation. In addition to heated wetsuits, divers wear a waterproof wetsuit that is adapted to very cold temperatures. As for the scuba equipment, divers use electronic rebreathers that work with a mix of three gases (nitrogen, oxygen and helium). In addition to increasing their autonomy considerably, their use offers added safety, optimizes decompression, and eliminates narcosis, which is sometimes called "the rapture of the deep".

Technical and demanding, these dives require extensive training, well-oiled routines, perfect communication between dive teammates, and total concentration. The descent takes about 5 minutes, while the autonomy is 10 minutes at a depth of 100 meters. On the other hand, it takes anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes to resurface, depending on how long it takes to complete the vital safety stops in the decompression process.

Diving into such deep waters is both a technical feat and a physiological one
Allowing deep-diving, oxygen, nitrogen and helium are the main gases provided by the Air Liquide Foundation to the expedition.

Human physiology during dives

Numerous physiological measurements are taken from divers and analyzed to track the human body’s tolerance in an extreme environment (extreme undersea depth and very cold water). 

Among the 500 measures taken, 5 areas of observation emerge:

  • Assessment of hydration
  • Analysis of the impact of cold and nitrogen narcosis on brain performance
  • Iterative research and quantification of nitrogen bubbles generated by decompression
  • Tracking of heat variations triggered by immersion in cold water
  • Research on the possible impact of deep diving in cold water on the cardiovascular risk

To learn more about the work of Under the Pole II, visit the official website of the expedition!

Testimonial

“The Air Liquide Foundation acts as a catalyst that brings numerous scientists together to do research on a complex subject in real-life conditions.”

Marc Lemaire , Doctor, Reasearcher - Paris-Saclay Research Center, France

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Marc Lemaire supervises the Under the Pole II project and gives us his view as a medical expert on the Respiration programme, “Human physiology during autonomous diving in deep, very cold water”.

What does the programme for which you are responsible consist of?

The programme pertains to the study of Human Physiology during autonomous diving in deep, very cold water. It looks at three types of diving: deep dives (100m), with a rebreather (technical diving), and in very cold water.

The project has several aims. Firstly, it will enable the use of rebreathers in extreme conditions. We are also studying the professional diver’s ability to acclimatise in conditions of this nature. Lastly, and this is perhaps the most important aspect to me as a doctor, we shall be able to define the evolution and adaptation of physiological parameters. In other words, how the human body adapts to such extreme conditions.

What is your role?

J’ai agis en tant que caution scientifique médicale sur le projet. En collaboration avec le professeur Jean-Eric Blatteau, chef de service de l'hôpital des armées Sainte Anne à Toulon, qui est le validateur scientifique de l'expédition, nous avons des contacts fréquents avec les équipes sur place. Nous nous assurons de la sécurité et de la bonne santé des plongeurs. J’apporte un soutien, sur le plan scientifique et médical. 

I am the medical scientific supervisor for the project. Together with Prof. Jean-Eric Blatteau, superintendent of the Hôpital d’Instruction des Armées Sainte Anne in Toulon, who is the scientific evaluator for the expedition, we are frequently in touch with the field crews. We look after the divers’ safety and health. I provide general scientific and medical support. Once the data have been collected, I shall help the research teams to analyse them. Lastly, I shall also help write the reports that will be made on physiological adaptation and the feedback of medical information that will be gathered during these dives.

What support does the Foundation provide for this programme in particular?

Besides logistical and financial support, the Air Liquide Foundation acts as a catalyst that brings numerous scientists together to do research in real-life conditions. Analysing the physiological data of a diver at 100m in very cold water is something quite complex, and therefore difficult to carry out without the technical, material and human support of a Foundation such as that of the Air Liquide Group.

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