Introduction

D

In going to Spitzberg, HSH Prince Albert II wanted to pay a tribute to His great-great-grandfather, Prince Albert 1st, who had explored these ice areas at the beginning of the last century. The Prince also went there to observe the changes that occurred since that time, due to pollution and climate warming.

He thereby wanted to show His concern and raise awareness of the public opinion to the risks pertaining to these phenomena that today threaten our Planet. To collaborate on the scientific chapter of His Expedition, Prince Albert II invited two experts: Dr. Samantha Smith, Director of WWF polar programmes and Dr. Roberto Cassi, from the Marine Environment Laboratory of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He entrusted Professor Jean Jaubert, Director of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, and his two team-mates, Patrick Marchand and Bruno Philipponnat, with the collecting of representative samplings of the underwater fauna.

D

The submarine world they discovered was rich and colourful. In some places, the floor was strewn with pink concretions made from calcareous algae. Sea anemones bloomed with their red and white corollas. Yellow sponges, green urchins and multicoloured shells clang onto rocks.

Prawns, hermit crabs and crabs ran on the sand or sludge. Sometimes, huge sea cabbages unwound their banded fronds like in Brittany. Finally, at 79° North latitude, during the last five minutes of their fifth and last dive, they discovered the shell they did not hope to find anymore. It was a big soft-shell clam, very scarce at this latitude, which Prince Albert 1st found along the coasts of Norway, but not in the Spitzberg.

This mollusc, which life duration exceeds well over a century, is a genuine recording machine of temperature variations and water chemistry. Day after day, it absorbs and keeps heavy metals, pesticides and temperature markers in the nacreous layers of its shell. The analysis of the collected shells shall enable to reconstruct, with a very detailed precision, the history of the pollution brought by the winds and currents, as well as the evolution of sea temperature.

The astonishing retreat of glaciers enables to presume that the temperature rose since the passage of Prince Albert 1st. And this leads us to mention events that shall celebrate next year the centennial anniversary of His first polar expeditions.

D
Panorama of Lilljehook - july 1906
D
Panorama of Lilljehook - July 2005

These events shall take place on May 11th and 12th 2006. They shall include conferences and an exhibition at the Oceanographic Museum. They shall be rounded out with a gala in the Salle des Etoiles for the benefit of environment protection programmes specially prepared and proposed by one or two non-profit associations.

The Conferences shall gather international specialists, historians and climatologists, who shall paint a broad picture of issues that His expedition underlined.

They shall first recall the survey and exploration of the Arctic regions at the time of Prince Albert 1st. The presentation of the scientific works of this great visionary shall be used as a transition to talk about Man in the Arctic, from the origin of populations to economic and strategic issues of sea routes.

Then we shall deal with the topic of climate changes. Changes from the past shall be dealt in a factual way and put into perspective from two complementary time scales: geological time and historical time.

During geological time, the milestones are the huge changes that affected continents, oceans and the composition of the atmosphere since the appearance of life on Earth. We shall also deal with the alternation of cooling and warming cycles that punctuated the quaternary era.

Throughout history, climatic variations are documented by incontrovertible proof. Paintings of the grotto decorated by our ancestors in the Palaeolithic show that the Mediterranean coasts were inhabited by animals that we find today in the tundra. Between 1550 and 1850 elapsed three centuries of cooling surrounded by two warm episodes. Thus, in year 1200, Vikings colonized Greenland and then were cast out by the return of the cold temperature. Historians found out similar events in South America and China.

Finally, we shall describe Arctic region ecosystems, and then we shall deal with the impact of global pollution in these particularly sensitive regions. A few noteworthy examples of adaptation to the cold shall complete this wide fresco.

The exposition shall illustrate these topics and introduce to modern techniques that enable to study the incredibly complex processes that govern climate evolution.

Specific attention shall be given to the main reasons for this evolution, among which we can mention:

  • Greenhouse gas variations in the atmosphere
  • Variations in the celestial fix of the Earth (Milankovitch cycles)
  • Solar activity variations.
  • Disturbances of hydrologic and carbon cycles as well as massive gas and dust releases from volcanic eruptions and impact of gigantic meteorites.

Changes from the past all had natural causes that still have an impact today, but we suspect the ever-growing influence of mankind via:

  • Massive greenhouse gas release since the beginning of the industrial revolution;
  • Large-scale ecosystem disturbances.

Risks are very important, but they are very difficult to assess as the climate modelling remains very complex. Interests of scientific and economic stakeholders are generally contradictory and one should not forget that the cost of the measures liable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions shall be considerable. Man wishes to control the climate. It is the disputed and fledgling sector of climatic engineering.

Monaco Monday 14 April () - Copyright © 2008 Prince's Palace of Monaco - http://monaco.arctic-expedition.mc