Science through explOration
Our scientific Results
Discover our expeditions
We are an international team of arctic explorers and researchers with a passion for the Arctic ocean and its preservation. We have united polar experts with scientific projects, carrying out some of the first-ever research in the Arctic.
In 2018, our team ventured to the Arctic ocean, from Iceland to the Svalbard archipelago, above the Polar Arctic Circle, onboard Nanuq, a 60-foot sailboat designed to sail in the polar regions in a self-sufficient mode. We will return to the Arctic in summer of 2021 for a new expedition: Polarquest2021.
Exploration & scientific Firsts
Nautical Miles Explored
Sustainable Exploration for science
Our expeditions are the main activity carried out by our team. These unique expeditions always focus on sustainability and education – highlighting the significant damage caused by climate change to the Arctic.
All Current Expeditions
A recognized objective of the European Horizon 2020 programme
Complex, global challenges such as the loss of polar ice, pervasive pollution of the natural environment and global warming require a global scientific approach, global solutions and global engagement. The immense potential achievements science has to offer cannot thrive without the participation and collective intelligence of society.
The increasing involvement of citizens in climate activism and their participation in ocean and beach clean-up actions have surely contributed to spread public awareness and trigger media interest in ocean and climate science.
Our novel approach to Citizen Science
Our expeditions have in common an innovative approach to scientific research, closely connected to cultural dissemination and public awareness.
Although our 2018 research activities cannot be fully described as “citizen science” – as they saw a direct and prevailing involvement of scientific institutions, laboratories, academics and technical staff, gathered by the Association – the wide use of low-cost and high-sustainability technologies and operational methods enabled us to test and validate new techniques to complement traditional ways of doing and communicating science in the Arctic. Our approach opens up new opportunities to envision a wider contribution of citizens’ science to observing and monitoring delicate environmental contexts in remote areas such as the Arctic.
Our flagship expedition Polarquest2018 was made possible entirely by crowdfunding, grants from private foundations, commercial sponsors’ contributions and volunteers’ work. It was led and organised by the Polarquest association of like-minded citizens with a passion for science, dissemination and adventure.
This follows in the footsteps of early historical polar expeditions, which were privately funded: Lincoln Ellsworth spent US$ 100,000 to fund Roald Amundsen’s 1925 attempt to fly from Svalbard to the North Pole; Nobile’s expedition was funded largely by the press and families from Milan, an early form of crowd-funding.
An ice-free Arctic will become common in the coming years and considering the explosion of interest from the media about marine litter, it’s easy to foresee that the number of boats sampling the ocean for litter will increase. Given the current relatively easy access to high latitudes, many commercial touristic expeditions offer sailing trips to the extreme North. These boats are rented by tourists to sail to northernmost latitudes and people on board are keen to provide some contribution, especially after the recent high interest of media on plastic studies.
Cruises often have educational purposes but, without clear scientific objectives and comprehensive sampling design, the possibility to exploit their collected data for research may be affected. For example, the samples may not have sufficient quality to be used for scientific purposes due to contamination, which is a major issue when sampling microplastic. Even managing metadata and cruise logbooks may become a not so easy task for non-specialists.
Polarquest 2018 was the first of this kind to reach and sample microplastics beyond 82°N and provides baseline data for citizen science data collection. Through a heavy media presence and communication activity, the citizens of non-Arctic European countries have also been made aware of the presence of our litter as far as the boundary between the ocean and the Arctic permanent sea ice. A sea change may finally be taking place with plastic pollution by now recognised among the many priority challenges of the 21st century the Arctic and humanity have to face.
“Interaction between citizens, scientists and policy makers is essential to enrich research and innovation, and reinforce trust of society in science.”
Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture,
Education and Youth, Citizen Science and Citizen Engagement
Our Scientific Results
The Polarquest 2018 expedition program included historical exploration, cosmic rays measurements, drone mapping of uncharted land territories and plastic debris sampling.
Record-latitute study of Cosmic Rays
The intensity of charged cosmic radiation had been measured using simple instruments built in collaboration with CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) by high school students supervised by scientists. The project had a strong education and communication dimension, with the involvement of 18-year-old students from Norway, Switzerland and Italy. The detector onboard Nanuq took data almost continuously, integrating at the end about 861 hours of data with a global efficiency of about 91% and the saturation of the cosmic ray flux at ground level has also been measured in these extreme regions near the North Pole.
Read our scientific research
- New high precision measurements of the cosmic charged particle rate beyond the Arctic Circle with the PolarquEEEst experiment – Eur. Phys. J. C (2020) 80: 665 (also available from Springer)
Northernmost studies of microplastics
The presence of microplastic debris on the ocean surface and macro debris stranded on beaches in the Northern and North-Eastern regions of the Svalbard archipelago, very rarely accessible due to sea ice, have been assessed. Floating microplastics were sampled filtering seawater and the presence of macro-debris on beaches was checked by sightings and by visible, infrared and near-infrared surveying performed with commercial drones.
Polarquest 2018 confirmed that the presence of plastic debris extends up to remote Arctic waters, emphasizing the global scale of marine plastic pollution and suggesting the role of global oceanic circulation patterns in the redistribution of these persistent pollutants. The uniqueness of the Arctic ecosystem makes the potential ecological implications of exposure to plastic debris of special concern.
Read our scientific research
- Polarquest 2018 Expedition: Plastic Debris at 82°07’ North (Mare Plasticum chapter) – Stefano Aliani, Gianluca Casagrande, Paola Catapano & Valeria Catapano
- Featured in Mare Plasticum – The Plastic Sea – book edited by Marilena Streit-Bianchi, Margarita Cimadevila & Wolfgang Trettnak. Published by Springer Nature. Purchase here.
First 3D mapping of the Northern Svalbard coasts
Our dedicated drone team deployed a fleet of three small drones (two mini-drones below 2 kgs of max take-off weight, one micro-drone, below 300 grams) in several scenarios on the coast around the Svalbard archipelago, above 78 degrees N latitude. Using our low-cost drones and citizen science sensors, we were able to carry out expeditive, high-resolution mapping and thermal and near-infrared observations of remote and scarcely visited areas all around the archipelago.
Read the scientific papers
- The Polarquest2018 Arctic expedition summary – Gianluca Casagrande, published by Società Geografica Italiana
- Polarquest2018 Geographical Report – Gianluca Casagrande, published by Società Geografica Italiana
- In the silence of Virgohamna. Traces of the 1897 swedish polar expedition between geohistorical observation and memory – Gianluca Casagrande, Centro Italiano per gli Studi Storico-Geografici
- Il sito storico di Virgohamna, Svalbard, e le spedizioni artiche di Andrée e Wellman. Considerazioni a seguito di una ricognizione speditiva con droni – Gianluca Casagrande, Bollettino della Società Geografica Italiana