Deep Climate, second part completed ! On 4 and 5 April, Christian Clot and the climatonauts returned to France after a journey of several weeks in Lapland, beyond the Arctic Circle. This new expedition saw the team encounter freezing temperatures and harsh conditions that tested both bodies and minds.
Why an expedition to Lapland ?
After the tropical forest of Guyana, the study continued in another extreme environment – the extreme cold of Lapland. But the question often arises : why choose a cold environment when we are going to experience global warming ? There are plenty of reasons, in fact.
As Christian Clot explains : “First of all, it should be pointed out that the term ‘global warming’ is not entirely accurate. We should talk more about climate “disruption”. Because although we are talking about a global warming of 1.5 to 4°C, which has been announced, this will in fact cause more heat in some places, but also, by way of compensation, icy waves in other places. This disruption will actually create much more meteorological versatility, with more frequent extreme events, which will also happen in Europe, especially in the north“.
This is why it is necessary to study all types of climate, because all of them may occur in the future. In the same way, it is also necessary to study the profound changes in daily life, “with temperatures that can ‘jump’ by more than 30°C from one day to the next, or even in the same day, which is precisely what Lapland offers us at the end of winter,” explains Christian Clot.
He adds, “Let’s not forget that we are not the only ones in the West to experience climate problems. And that beyond the changing local climates, there is also the reality of migration, climatic or otherwise. A person leaving Central Africa and arriving in France in winter will experience a temperature differential that is much more significant than for us, living in a temperate environment and suddenly finding ourselves at -30°C”.
Three weeks in the frozen lands of Lapland
On their departure, Christian Clot and the climatonauts were dropped off at the hamlet of Sikovuono, on the shore of Lake Mutusjärvi. They proceeded to the northern border of Finland, to the village of Utsjoki, via the east and the Kaldoaivi wilderness area (Kaldoaivin erämaa), the largest wilderness area in Finland. They did this on skis, pulling pulkas containing all their belongings, the equivalent of 40-80 kg per person depending on their physical abilities.
During this mission, the team moved forward almost every day. Each morning, they had to dismantle the camp that they had spent three to four hours setting up the day before, hampered by the mittens and the extreme cold. They then progressed between eight and 16 kilometres a day, depending on the terrain, the amount of snow, the weather and other conditions. While pulling a sled may seem easy on flat, bare ground, the task becomes much more complex when you are on snowy ground. And when the sled weighs several dozen kilos.
Once the day’s progress was complete, Christian and the climatonauts had to set up their camp again for three to four hours before being able to rest in the warmth, eat and carry out any scientific protocols that might be required. “Each environment has its own problems when it comes to setting up our camps, for 20 people. In the Amazon, we had to find enough trees to put up all our hammocks and about two hours to set up, clearing the ground for safety. In Lapland, it took even longer,” admits the expedition leader.
Each day the team also had to make water to meet everyone’s needs, a total of 80 litres of water per day. Although snow and ice are abundant in the Lappish landscape, producing water was a time-consuming and energy-intensive task that could not be skipped in order to drink, feed and, above all, keep warm.
Skiing, pulling a pulka, putting up/dismantling a tent, melting snow, moving at a group pace, all these things the volunteers had to learn little by little, immersed in the frosty scenery of the extreme north. Before their departure, several of them had expressed their fears about the cold they would have to face. Three weeks later, they confirm : the freezing temperatures were one of the main difficulties of the mission.
Not only because the thermometer fell well below zero, but also because it varied greatly. The same goes for the weather, which offered both clear, sunny days and windy snowfalls. “The most difficult thing about Lapland was the variability of the climate, which changed very often. The weather was very changeable with storms, very cold and not so cold. We never knew what to expect each day“, says Christian Clot.
When they returned, the volunteers’ skin still bore the scars of the cold. For some, it is simply a reddening of the face, while others suffer from more extensive frostbite or painful irritation on some parts of the body. Similarly, while all fingers and toes have returned with their owners, many are still numb and struggling to regain their sensitivity. The lack of sleep is also cruelly felt, especially by those who were unable to sleep soundly due to the cold.
Science in Lapland
Between the few frostbite marks, the still numb fingers, the few kilos lost (or gained), the bodies of the climatonauts give a glimpse of the difficulties they encountered in this extreme and versatile cold environment. But what impact did these conditions really have on the volunteers’ bodies ? To find out, we will have to let ‘science’ speak for itself.
As in the French Guiana rainforest, the group carried out various scientific protocols during the journey to evaluate the organic changes experienced by each person. Sensory and heart tests, body temperature measurements, questionnaires, sleep monitoring… A large dome tent was set up in the camp to carry out some of the tests, but the tasks were not always straightforward given the conditions.
With the freezing temperatures, some of the devices had difficulty functioning and had to be warmed up manually, for example by slipping them into a suit, in order to deign to take measurements. This did not prevent the climatonauts from bringing back a lot of data to be analysed by the scientists involved in the project.
Back in France, with their heads still in the Lapland landscape, the climatonauts were already busy creaming the traces left by the cold on their bodies. Before taking a well-deserved but brief rest. In May, they will leave for the third and final stage of the Deep Climate project, which will take them to the hot and arid environment of a Saudi Arabian desert.