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Time for Plan B

Where are we?

RESOLUTE BAY, NUNAVUT, CANADA—Modern technology has made it safer and more convenient to reach the Poles, but it can’t change the behavior of nature. The members of the North Pole Environmental Observatory 2007 (NPEO) team learned that the hard way this week.

To take a science expedition to the North Pole, you need planes, and the University of Washington team that organizes NPEO had several of them lined up. Andreas Heiberg, logistics manager, had worked out schedules to account for how many people could fit in the planes and in the tents at the ice camp, how much cargo each plane could carry (only so much could be lifted on each flight), how much rest time was required between flights by the pilots, how much fuel was needed at each airport along the way, and many other variables. He also faced a hard deadline of early May to end the project, before conditions of ice and weather make it too dangerous to move science teams in and out of the high Arctic.

Bad weather has plagued the North Pole for weeks, making it difficult for planes to fly in. And then last week, the ice cracked near camp Borneo, splitting the runway. The Russian operators of the ice camp waited for the sea ice to float together and close the gap, but it has not. Now the landing strip is too short for the hearty Hawker-Siddeley 748 planes that NPEO was planning to use.

Half of the NPEO science team cannot go to the Pole now because there are not enough days, pilots, or
plane to make it happen. So today Heiberg and project leader Jamie Morison made hard decisions. Who has an alternative for deploying their Arctic instruments? Whose gear weighs too much for smaller planes? Which technicians can deploy the most types of gear? How can we get the most work done in the limited time available? Read on about our adventure in the slideshow below.

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