Willis Sponsors Antarctic Research to Gauge Climate Change Impact

October 3, 2013

Willis Group Holdings announced that it is sponsoring a scientific program in Antarctica from November 2013 to January 2014 to “better understand our changing climate and build resilience to weather-related risk.”

Willis said its “Resilience Expedition will undertake three scientific research projects focused on how the climate is changing in Antarctica, a region which provides an important signal for the rate and scale of global environmental changes.”

Willis has made a rather unorthodox choice in Parker Liautaud, a 19 year old polar explorer, who is a student of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale, to lead the expedition. He is nonetheless a “respected international climate science campaigner,” Willis said.

The scientific survey and research conducted in Antarctica will include the following:
— The team will test an automatic weather station called the ColdFacts-3000BX, which has never been tested in Antarctica. This light and relatively inexpensive model could pave the way for additional cost-efficient and extensive surface observations in the Antarctic region. The weather station will be deployed near Union Glacier camp and tested over a period of five weeks.

— The Expedition will undertake a ‘coast-to-pole-to-coast’ survey of Antarctic stable isotope trends, covering hundreds of kilometers of never sampled territory. These observations will provide new information on the rate of change in Antarctic temperatures in recent years. Samples will be sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency Isotope Hydrology laboratories for analysis.

— The team will conduct a transcontinental study of the deposition rate of Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, across Antarctica. The relatively short half-life of Tritium means it can be used to date snow and ice up to around 150 years old. The data can then be used to better understand the global water cycle, which is intrinsically linked to changes in climate. This will be the first large-scale study of Tritium in Antarctica since Tritium returned to normal levels following the spike caused by thermonuclear tests in the 1960s. The samples will be sent to GNS Science, a New Zealand Crown Research Institute, for analysis.

The announcement also noted that the “Resilience Expedition builds on many years of significant investment in climate science, earth observation and natural hazard risk assessment by the Willis Research Network in partnership with academic institutions around the world.”

Rowan Douglas, Chairman of the Willis Research Network; Member of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology and Member of the Natural Environment Research Council, commented: “I am delighted that Willis is supporting this core science and fundamental earth observation in the Antarctic. It is the first time that a financial institution has led the support of a major survey in the South Pole.

“These new isotope transects will shed important new light on the dynamics of Antarctic climate change in recent decades while the testing of new resilient, efficient and automatic weather station will provide an economic solution to the challenge of monitoring future climate conditions.

“We need to model the insurance industry’s exposure to climate-related risk to fulfill the stringent requirements of financial regulation. We hope that the Willis Resilience Expedition’s science and survey program will provide scientists with important data to inform their models which, in turn, provide inputs to our own systems to estimate the risk of extreme events. The Antarctic is the canary in the cage for the pace and thresholds for wider global processes and impacts.”

Willis said the expedition would take place over a 40 day period, and is comprised of two phases: scientific research and extreme challenge. Once the scientific survey is complete, Liautaud “will set off on the second phase: an attempt to set a new world record for an unsupported coast-to-pole crossing,” covering 397 miles (640km) in 22 days with his expedition partner Doug Stoup. If he makes it he would become “the youngest male to ski from the coast to the South Pole.” Willis didn’t explain why “male” was specified, but perhaps an even younger “female” has already done this?

Liautaud added: “With our climate changing and so little known about the Antarctic region, The Willis Resilience Expedition provides a fantastic opportunity to support some leading research programs into changing climate patterns in Antarctica. I look forward to working with Willis Group to complete what will hopefully be a record setting expedition that will return with some valuable data to help gain a better understanding of the impact of climate change on the planet.”

Source: Willis Group Holdings

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