Marc Cornelissen and Philip de Roo, two Dutch researchers, have gone missing near Bathurst Island, Nunavut, Canada since last Wednesday, April 29 2015. The researchers had been on an expedition to measure ice thickness in an area called Last Ice area. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which had lead and conducted a Search and Rescue expedition, has presumed them dead and is now trying to recover the missing bodies.
The area around Bathurst Island, north of Resolute in the Canadian High Arctic, is considered one of the last regions in the Arctic with persisting summer sea ice and thus is named “Last Ice Area”. Due to this aspect, the region has become scientifically interesting for ice and snow measurements. Already a number of scientists had been setting up projects there. Marc Cornelissen, head of the Dutch organization “Cold Facts”, also had started an expedition to determine ice and snow thickness in the area around Bathurst Island. Together with Dutch polar explorer, Philip de Roo, Marc had started the “Last Ice Survey Expedition 2015” on March 29 with their arrival in Resolute, Nunavut, Canada. Both Marc and Philip were very experienced polar explorers and had been participating in research projects in both the Arctic and Antarctica before.
The mission of Cold Facts was to survey areas of mixed ice conditions on skis and by foot and measure ice thickness and gather knowledge on past ice conditions from local hunters to interpret the collected data. After a few days of trials and tests on measurements and also getting all necessary gear, Marc and Philip set out from Resolute on April 6 on skis and with a dog, Kimnik, and headed north on their 400 km long journey to the Last Ice Area. The team kept regular contact with scientists and a base camp. Voice messages from both Marc and Philip on the website of Cold Facts informed everyone on their progress during their journey.
During the expedition, the team encountered various ice conditions and sudden weather changes. In his last voice message dating Tuesday, April 28, Marc explained that once again the temperatures had risen quickly after a cold start and that it was unusually warm. “In the end, it was me skiing in my underwear only (…). I’m glad that you guys don’t have a picture of us on the ice. It looks very harsh and not very sexy either. But it was the only way to deal with the heat…”, chuckles Marc in his message. He also noted that they had observed areas of open water in the distance and were thus forced to take a detour away from Bathurst Island. “We think, we see some thin ice in front of us, which is highly interesting (…) And we will research some more of that if we can”, said Marc later in his message.
Various ice models predict that the summer sea ice in this area will persist until 2050, which would be good news especially for seals and polar bears. However, according to experts, the multi-year ice, which is needed by polar bears to survive, is thinning out. A report from the Canadian National Research Council had backed up the necessity of the research in the area to assess the situation. Thus, the goal of Marc Cornelissen and Philip de Roo was the collection of data to feed various research projects and to contribute to the work of scientists who study the accelerated warming of the Arctic and the thinning of the important multi-year ice.
On Wednesday, April 29, the Dutch base camp received an emergency message from the tracer, which Marc and Philip had carried. A plane from Resolute was airborne in no time and flew to the last recorded position. The pilot only found the dog, a sledge and a big hole in the ice. He was unable to land due to thin ice conditions and had to return. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) started a Search and Rescue Operation using another plane and four spotters on board. However, the operation found no trace of Marc and Philip, only the dog and one sledge on the ice, the other one in the water and parts of the equipment floating on the surface. By Friday, RCMP declared the two researchers presumed drowned. On Saturday, May 2, recovery operations started and successfully retrieved the dog who had been sitting faithfully at the site. To this date, however, no more news on Marc and Philip have been issued. It seems that the very same ice conditions, which they had set out to investigate, has claimed their lives.