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Largest Dutch polar expedition in history

The Netherlands returns to Spitsbergen
19 May 2015
Photo: © Ronald J.W. Visser

I n late August, seventy Dutchmen and women will embark on an expedition to the North Pole. Among them are fifty scientists and a number of famous Dutch names, such as Stientje van Veldhoven, Ramsey Nasr and Peter Kuipers Munneke. Between 19 and 28 August, the group will travel by boat to the island of Edgeøya, on the east side of Spitsbergen. The expedition, which has received funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), was initiated by the University of Groningen’s own Arctic Centre.

A Dutch station on Edgeøya gathered large amounts of ecological data from 1968 to 1988. The fifty scientists now returning to the spot include biologists, archaeologists, geologists and social scientists. Their journey will take them to one the remotest wildernesses on Earth , which boasts a very large polar bear population. It is an area that is currently experiencing the full weight of global warming. The changes this has brought about have made the old data even more valuable and generated huge interest in a new expedition, which will allow scientists to compare current research data with the information gathered 25 to 45 years ago. This should give us a clear picture of the effects of climate change.

Video: Maarten Loonen on the expedition

Famous Dutch names give their own accounts

A number of Dutch household names are joining the expedition to give their own accounts of their findings. They include polar meteorologist and NOS weather presenter, Peter Kuipers Munneke, Member of Parliament for the liberal democratic party D66, Stientje van Veldhoven, and poet/writer and actor/director, Ramsey Nasr, who has already been to Spitsbergen on four occasions. ‘This landscape was never intended for humans,’ he has said previously in a video. Amazingly, three of the first Dutch people to spend the winter on Edgeøya in 1968-69 are now returning.

Food web

Initiator Maarten Loonen from the University of Groningen has spent six years getting this expedition off the ground. ‘It is the largest Dutch polar expedition ever undertaken. The set-up, with such a diverse group, is an entirely new point of departure. Comparing our data with old information should give us unique insight into the ecological changes.’ According to Loonen, predictions about the effects of global warming are still far too simple. ‘A food web is often simplified into a food chain. This group will enable us to study the ecosystem from every angle.’ Loonen attempts to illustrate the complexity of the ecosystem. ‘Global warming has probably encouraged plant growth. But this doesn’t seem to have benefited the reindeer, as they are finding it more difficult to survive the winter. The higher temperatures are causing more precipitation and snow, and even rain in the winter, which then freezes. Unable to reach the plants, the reindeer starve to death.’

24/7 research

The group will sail from Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen to Edgeøya on the eastern side, on the Oceanwide Expeditions ship De Ortelius. As it will be daylight 24 hours a day, groups will be able to land on the island throughout the day to gather information and explore. Teams on the boat will continually process the information into databases and charts.

The Netherlands, Spitsbergen and the University of Groningen – a trinity

The Netherlands has historical ties with Spitsbergen, which was discovered by Willem Barentsz. The history of the Dutch on Spitsbergen can be seen in the remnants of the mining and whaling industries . The graves of Dutch whalers also abound. The University of Groningen has built up a good international reputation in polar research and has a polar station on Ny-Ålesund in the north of Spitsbergen. This year will mark the 45th anniversary of the University’s Arctic Centre.

More information

- Maarten Loonen , expedition leader, +31 (0)50 363 6056, +31 ( 0)655 911 818 ; Annette Scheepstra , organizer, +31 (0)50 363 5826.
- More information on:

Last modified:09 July 2020 3.35 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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