Swiss Polar Institute Website Expedition GLACE
Photo by Christian Rixen @ SLF
Photo by Christian Rixen @ SLF

Questions and answers

What is the main purpose of the GLACE Expedition?

The Arctic region and Greenland in particular have been considerably affected by global warming. Because of polar amplification, temperatures have increased by 2-3°C over the past few decades, which is well above the globally averaged temperature increase of 1°C. GLACE, as the first complete scientific circumnavigation of Greenland, offers unique opportunities to improve our understanding of the complex interactions between the terrestrial biosphere, the cryosphere, the ocean and the atmosphere to help us better preserve those unique ecosystems in the future, and to understand what implications the drastic changes in Arctic regions have for the rest of the planet.

How is GLACE different from other scientific expeditions?

GLACE is a truly multi-national expedition, aiming to complete the first-ever circumnavigation of Greenland. This offers unique opportunities to access remote areas in the North, but also to gain a full picture of the conditions around the whole of Greenland.

Who is organising this expedition?

GLACE is organised by the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI) and supported by the Swiss Polar Foundation (SPF).

What is the Swiss Polar Institute?

The Swiss Polar Institute (SPI) offers specific funding instruments and new opportunities, such as access to large international initiatives or own expeditions, to researchers based in Switzerland who work in the polar regions. SPI also supports the Swiss scientific community through health and safety courses, scientific workshops and international networking activities. Outreach activities are of particular importance to SPI, which collaborates with representatives from culture and from schools to increase awareness and understanding of polar regions and how they link with our own environment. The Swiss Polar Institute was launched in 2016 by the EPFL, WSL, ETHZ, University of Bern, and the Editions Paulsen. For more: or twitter: @swisspolar

How is the expedition funded?

GLACE is funded by the Swiss Polar Foundation, whose mission is to promote the advancement of education, science, research, understanding and knowledge of extreme environments such as those located in the polar regions, including Swiss activities in this area, in particular the activities of the Swiss Polar Institute.

How long will the expedition last for and where will it go?

The schedule for the expedition is tentative, and largely depends on the weather and the condition of the sea ice, as well on other environmental conditions.

GLACE takes approximately two months, the interactive map on the homepage shows the route. Detailed schedule:

  • Mobilization and loading in Kiel, Germany: 25 – 30 July 2019
  • Transit to Reykjavik, Iceland: 30 July – 3 August 2019
  • Official start of the expedition, Reykjavik: 4 August 2019
  • End of leg 1 with a stop-over in Ilulissat, Greenland: 19 – 20 August 2019
  • Leaving Ilulissat: 20 August 2019
  • Stopover in Reykjavik, end of leg 2: 23 – 24 September 2019
  • Transit to Kiel: 24 – 29 September 2019
  • Unloading in Kiel: 29 September – 1 October 2019, end of the expedition

How were the research projects selected and who was involved in the selection process?

With an open call for project submissions in summer 2018, the scientific community was invited to send project descriptions to be considered for GLACE. 37 excellent projects from a wide range of topics from Swiss and international research institutions were submitted. A scientific review committee, composed of internationally reputed experts, evaluated and ranked the projects and chose the 15 best ones, aiming to build an integrated, varied research programme, with the possibility to build strong synergies among the different projects.

What type of findings do you expect out of these projects?

GLACE covers a wide range of research topics, all characteristic for the Arctic region, but with global consequences. Research questions target the physics, chemistry and biology of sea-ice, glaciers, lake sediments, terrestrial ecosystems, the ocean, ocean currents and the sea-floor, to name only a few. All projects on board benefit from being part of large research projects and networks, often contributing the missing piece from Arctic regions, so far not sufficiently studied.

What kind of vessel will be used for this expedition?

The Russian research vessel Akademik Tryoshnikov will be leased for this expedition. This is a diesel-electric vessel with an overall length of 133.6m, and breadth of 23.25m. It was built in 2012.

Why was this vessel chosen?

The research vessel Akademik Tryoshnikov has the characteristics and size needed for such an undertaking. It had been used for the first large expedition from the Swiss Polar Institute, the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition ACE, and had proven a useful ship with the necessary equipment and features. Russian science has a traditionally strong standing in Arctic research, and has the infrastructures needed to support this.

Why do you need an atomic ice-breaker?

The ice of the North coast of Greenland is particularly compact, as the Transpolar Drift Stream pushes ice from Siberia across the Arctic to Greenland, where it gets compacted along the Northern coastline. The atomic ice-breaker 50 Let Pobedy will be used to clear the ice for the research vessel. This ship is the World’s strongest Arktika-class ice-breaker. It is designed to break through ice up to 5 metres thick.

How many people will be aboard the ship?

On board the Akademik Tryoshnikov will be 44 selected scientists, plus a large team composed of science technicians, science, logistics and safety coordinators, media, mountain guides, helicopter and zodiac pilots.

Which tasks do those people have

The people on board have the following tasks: scientist, scientific technician, IT and data manager, mountain guide, helicopter pilot and engineer, zodiac pilot, polar bear guard, media, expedition management, logistics manager, safety officer and the full crew of a large research vessel.

How many scientists are from Switzerland?

Six of the 15 selected research projects on board are led by Principal Investigators from Swiss research institutions. Furthermore, a number of Swiss universities and scientists are involved in several of the projects through collaborations with Principal Investigators from international research institutions.

What will happen to all the data that will be collected?

As a general principle, SPI intends to follow best practices in terms of data management, data sharing between projects and open access. A dedicated data management system will be set up prior to the expedition and all projects are expected to make full use of it. A data manager will support all PIs before, during and after the expedition in order to help them comply and maximise the use of their data. All data generated during the expedition will be deposited in a research data depository, and will be made accessible according to open access regulations after an embargo period of 24 months. Publications, resulting from thus generated expedition data has to be made available to the public through open access publications.