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The Willis Resilience Expedition Begins Scientific Research in Antarctica

December 04, 2013 --

LONDON, Dec. 4, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Willis Resilience Expedition is a two-part Antarctic expedition, pushing the boundaries of scientific discovery and human endurance. Phase one of the expedition - the science phase - is a coast-to-pole-to-coast survey, covering thousands of kilometers of un-tested Antarctic territory. 19-year-old explorer Parker, a sophomore at Yale University, and his team will undertake three scientific research programs, all of which aim to collect valuable data to contribute to a deeper understanding of global climate patterns.



Parker and his team will be supported by a 2.6 ton custom-built six wheel Toyota Hilux truck, named the "Ice Broker", which will provide logistical support to the team as they take samples from the polar ice cap at intervals during the route whilst streaming live video and data online to the expedition website www.willisresilience.com.



From the South Pole, "Ice Broker" will take Parker and his expedition partner Doug Stoup to the start point of their World Record attempt at the Ross Ice Shelf. From here he will attempt to set a new record for walking unsupported from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. Parker touched down in Antarctica on November 29, and is expected to take approximately 6 days to reach the South Pole during this first phase of the expedition.


A supporter of Parker's scientific research is Rowan Douglas, head of the Willis Research Network, who said that:




"Willis is supporting this type of science research because it's fundamental in allowing us to do our job, which is understanding the frequency and severity of extreme weather events from around the world. The Isotope transects that Parker is undertaking are new to science, and they will help us understand what has been happening in the Antarctic over the past 50 years in great detail. The Antarctic is like a canary in the cage for the wider weather system, and the data that Parker is collecting will then inform the climate and weather models that our science partners are using, which in turn will inform the models that we use to inform the models that we use to manage the capital for insurers and re-insurers around the world."



- Rowan Douglas, Head of the Willis Research Network



"More people summit Mount Everest every year than have ever touched the South Pole in human history, and yet conditions there can advance our ability to build greater resilience for a risky world," said Josh King, chief communications officer for Willis Group Holdings (NYSE:WSH), the global risk advisor and insurance and reinsurance broker that is sponsoring the Expedition.



"We are proud to enable Parker to conduct his important research and share his unfolding journey, day-by-day, with those on every continent whose lives, businesses and organizations are affected by these issues and who are fascinated by the extraordinary human endeavor Parker is undertaking."



- Josh King, Chief Communications Officer, Willis Group Holdings (NYSE:WSH)



Viewers around the world can watch the Willis Resilience Expedition unfold 24/7 on the expedition website www.willisresilience.com. Starting on December 2, the Willis Resilience Expedition will also broadcast a live one hour TV show at 8.30am GMT every day from the Willis building in London. The daily shows will feature a live update from the team in Antarctica as well as interviews with guest panelists on issues of Antarctic exploration and climate change.



An early highlight on Willis TV was a debate entitled "Is Climate Change All Bad?" with Peter Lilley, MP and member of Select Committee on Climate Change, Jonathan Reynolds, MP, Shadow Climate Change and Energy Secretary and Gwynn Dyer, author of Climate Wars. You can view the debate here.



The three scientific programs are as follows:



1) Variability of Tritium Deposition in Surface Snow Across Antarctica. A study of the deposition rate of Tritium, a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen, across Antarctica. The data will be applied in better understanding the global water cycle, which is important to understanding climate change.



2) ColdFacts 3000BX Weather Station Performance Test. The first Antarctic test of the lightweight, easy-to-deploy pole mobile weather station. Performance indicators will help improve the station for possible future permanent deployments on the continent. The data collected will be compared against nearby established stations for indication of accuracy.



3) Isotopic Composition of Surface Snow Across Antarctica. A Coast-to-Coast Survey of the variability of isotope composition in precipitation across Antarctica, covering 640km of never-sampled ice. The data will contribute to an understanding of very recent climate trends on this region of Antarctica.



1) Isotopic Composition of Surface Snow Across Antarctica: A Coast to Pole Survey

Partner: International Atomic Energy Agency



The stable isotope composition of precipitation at high latitudes is affected by a number of geographical (e.g. elevation) and climate (e.g temperature) factors. Scientists can use the stable isotope composition of snow at certain depths to reconstruct climatic conditions at a particular time in the recent past (the relationship between isotopic composition and local temperature has also been applied to deep ice cores going hundreds of thousands of years into the past). Studying the relationship between stable isotope composition of precipitation and local climate is important in understanding the dynamics of the global water cycle, and is therefore fundamental to understanding climate change.



Many surface isotope surveys have been conducted in Antarctica, but there remain large parts of the continent that have not been studied. Our route covers 640km of unstudied territory between the South Pole and the Ross Ice Shelf. This leg of the journey has a large altitude range of around 8,500 vertical feet and passes over a glacier, through the Transantarctic Mountains, and over the Antarctic Plateau.



Up to 10 snow pits will be created and sampled across the continent during the course of the expedition, ranging between one and four meters in depth (depending on the thickness of annual snow layers at each site). Samples will be taken at regular depth intervals. Each site will vary significantly in terms of the number of years studied. Up to 950 samples may be collected during the crossing.



Many of the samples will be sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency isotope hydrology laboratories in Vienna for analysis after the expedition. The resulting data will become a part of the Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation (As was data collected during Parker's 2012 expedition to the North Pole) but will also contribute to other existing and new projects.



2) Variability of Tritium Deposition in Surface Snow Across Antarctica

Partner: GNS Science New Zealand



Tritium is a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen with a relatively short half-life of 12.5 years. It occurs naturally at extremely low levels and is produced when atmospheric particles interact with cosmic rays. Tritium levels can be used to date water samples up to 150 years old with seasonal resolution.



Thermonuclear tests in the early 1960s resulted in a human-caused spike in Tritium levels around the world. In Antarctica, these levels were well-established from snow pits taken in the 1970s. However, it has been more than two decades since the bomb-Tritium has been completely removed from the atmosphere (by wash-out and decay). The deposition of natural (cosmogenic) Tritium is not yet well studied. This cosmogenic Tritium is the most effective tool in studying the dynamics of the global water cycle. Therefore, the deposition of Tritium via snow and rain needs to be understood.



The Willis Resilience Expedition will create new snow pits at up to 15 sites across Antarctica, and take samples at close intervals. Snow will be contained in specially sealed bottles, which will protect the integrity of the sample even as it melts into water in higher temperatures. Up to 200 samples will be collected in total from these snow pits.



This research program is in partnership with GNS Science (a New Zealand Crown Research Institute), which houses the world's most accurate Tritium analysis platform. The next step after the expedition is for the samples to be sent to New Zealand for analysis.



3) ColdFacts-3000BX Weather Station Performance Test

Partner: ColdFacts



Surface observations in Antarctica are becoming increasingly important, both for scientific and logistical reasons, but there are currently only about 160 weather stations in Antarctica (many of which concentrated in one small area in the vicinity of the Ross Ice Shelf). This is a very small number, given that Antarctica's area is around 50% larger than that of the United States.



Weighing just 9kg, the ColdFacts-3000BX has a foldable design capable of retracting to only about a meter in length. It can transmit information on temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed, and wind direction, nearly 60 times per day.



While the capabilities of the station are slightly more limited than many of the sophisticated systems deployed permanently on the continent, the ColdFacts-3000BX is very lightweight and can be deployed with ease by an explorer or scientist in the field, even if they have little or no logistical support.



The ColdFacts-3000BX is the first ColdFacts beacon to be deployed in Antarctica, with previous versions being deployed primarily on the Arctic Ocean. The instrument has been in development for over 10 years, with the first model being deployed on the 2005 Pole Track expedition to the North Pole by Willis Resilience Expedition team leader Doug Stoup and polar explorer Marc Cornelissen (who leads the ColdFacts platform).



The weather station will be deployed near Union Glacier camp (79°46'S 82°52'W) on and tested over a period of approximately five weeks, before being removed from the continent at the beginning of the New Year. The data will be compared with data collected by sophisticated and robust weather stations already in place nearby. The deployment will provide insight into performance of the station in Antarctic conditions and pave the way for future permanent deployments across the continent.



Advisory Board



To ensure that the science behind the Willis Resilience Expedition is carried out with the upmost professionalism, Parker will have access to the advice and council from an advisory board of world-renowned scientists and consultants.




  • Uwe Morgenstern (GNS Science)


  • Nancy Bertler (Victoria University of Wellington) 


  • Valerie Masson-Delmotte (Institut Pierre Simon Laplace) 


  • Rowan Douglas (Willis Research Network)


  • Jonathan Brearley (former Director of Energy Strategy and Futures in the UK Department of Energy and Climate)



About Willis



Willis Group Holdings plc is a leading global risk adviser, insurance and reinsurance broker. With roots dating to 1828, Willis operates today on every continent with more than 17,500 employees in over 400 offices. Willis offers its clients superior expertise, teamwork, innovation and market-leading products and professional services in risk management and transfer. Our experts rank among the world's leading authorities on analytics, modelling and mitigation strategies at the intersection of global commerce and extreme events. Find more information at our website, www.willis.com, our leadership journal, Resilience, or our up-to-the-minute blog on breaking news, WillisWire. Across geographies, industries and specialisms, Willis provides its local and multinational clients with resilience for a risky world.



An unsupported expedition: The Willis Resilience Expedition will have a vehicle tracking the explorers however, the team in the truck will provide no support to Parker along the way. The vehicle is tracking the team to provide round the clock footage and imagery along the way and will not carry any equipment for Parker with them.


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