Under The Pole II: An extreme expedition to reveal Greenland’s resources

On 26 September 2015, the Under The Pole II expedition ship a schooner named “Why” reached the port of Concarneau after 21 months spent at sea. 300 dives were carried out in order to explore Greenland throughout its annual cycle and to improve our scientific understanding of this environment. The Arctic is one of the least understood regions in the world, yet it is one of the areas that boasts the most natural resources.

A region that testifies to the planet’s evolution

The Arctic is a region that is particularly sensitive to climate change and seems to play a crucial role in climate regulation by capturing carbon. In this context, the Under The Pole team set itself three scientific objectives: to explore sea beds to record their biodiversity, to study this region’s role in climate regulation, and to learn more about the physiology of divers subjected to extreme cold. “In order to do this, it was essential to take the necessary time. Only time would allow us to understand the wealth of biodiversity and the climatic perception experienced by Greenlanders. We now need to bear witness to the climate disruption that is underway, the stakes for the locals, and the challenges that society will have to face tomorrow,” underlines the expedition’s director, energeticist Ghislain Bardout, who was Jean-Louis Etienne’s former logistician.

Daily life on board

Over the 21 months of the expedition, a total of 55 team members took turns spending time on board the Why. The boat sailed along the continental plate of western Greenland, monitoring the melting of the ice bank. It then spent 5 months trapped by the ice during the winter, near Uummannaq, north of Greenland. On board, one day only resembled the next in terms of its intensity. Punctuated by dives under the icebergs and the ice bank, sometimes lasting several hours due to the decompression stops, daily life was exhausting. “There was so much work that days off were mostly an opportunity to check that the boat was safe and to write emails, but we really worked as a team. With the mechanics, the cooks, the scientists, and the photographers, there was always 12 people on board in Spartan conditions.” It was a human challenge as much as a scientific one.

The double support of the Foundation

Thanks to the support of Air Liquide’s subsidiaries in France and Denmark *, the Air Liquide Foundation provided the team with diving gas (around 60 bottles of oxygen and helium) both when the boat left Concarneau and along the coast of Greenland. The Foundation also provided financial support to two research programs. The environmental program studied interactions between the ice bank, the atmosphere, and the ocean by quantifying the amount of CO2 captured in the depths of the ocean.  Indeed, polar ice traps CO2 and oxygen when it is formed. This gas accumulates in extremely salty pockets of water called “brine”. Due to their higher density, these pockets sink to the depths of the ocean, taking the captured gas with them.

The program on human physiology, meanwhile, analyzed the human body’s reaction during deep-sea dives in extremely cold water. As well as being heated and water-tight, the divers’ suits were fitted with closed circuits that operate with mixes of gas (nitrogen, oxygen, and helium) that allowed them to dive to the greatest depths ever reached by man in the Arctic. A new world record of -111 m in water at -1.5°C was achieved during the expedition.

A taste for adventure

The most powerful memory remains the purity of these regions, the beauty of unspoiled landscapes, and the Aurora Borealis, as well as the feeling that you have reached the ends of the earth. I’m coming home with the satisfaction of having successfully completed my project, without incident,” Ghislain Bardout exclaims.  That’s just enough to give him the desire to pursue his scientific explorations. “We are lucky enough to be part of a generation that masters more and more technologies, it’s up to us to push back the limits of diving to discover our planet,” he concludes.


A word from the sponsor

The environmental program “Interactions between ice banks, the atmosphere, and the ocean” is helping to raise awareness among the public and the scientific world thanks to tangible data on the effects of climate disruption. It’s a fascinating project.

Fouad Ammouri
PHD., international Expert in thermal transfers and sensors
Paris-Saclay Research


To find out more

Under The Pole’s Website: www.discoverygreenland.com



I am the guarantor of the scientific, medical aspects of the program on human physiology in extreme conditions. Analyzing physiological data will help us to improve our knowledge in an area that is very difficult to study in real conditions.

Marc Lemaire
International Senior Expert
R&D Air Liquide Healthcare International
Paris-Saclay Research