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Dark Ice Project: An expedition across the Arctic in the darkness of an icy winter
The three explorers taking part in the Dark Ice Project will trek across the North Pole in the total darkness of the arctic winter, experiencing below -40o Celsius temperatures and hurricane-force winds. Luckily, they’ll be wearing Merino wool!
The Woolmark Company with its Dark Ice Project partners is creating the ultimate polar exploration garments for a trio of explorers who will travel across the arctic to the North Pole in the dark of winter. The project provides a unique opportunity to showcase and ultimately commercialise innovative products made from Australian Merino wool.
- The Dark Ice Project involves three of Britain’s most accomplished polar explorers embarking on a gruelling six-month expedition to collect vital scientific data from the Arctic Ocean and trek to the North Pole, all in the darkness of winter (hence the name ‘Dark Ice Project’). This is the first expedition of its kind and a unique venture.
- The Woolmark Company is an official apparel partner of the Dark Ice Project and will bring together leading sports and technical apparel partners and manufacturers for the project. They are developing an innovative Merino wool apparel system for each of the explorers that will enable them to perform and ultimately, survive.
- The project will help promote the performance and eco benefits of Merino wool and drive product innovation that can be commercialised at the end of the expedition.
Imagine the North Pole in winter. -40o Celsius, icy winds and complete darkness.
There are only a handful of polar expeditions in history that have ventured into the polar winter. However, in September this year, three Britons will venture into the darkness on an unassisted six-month journey, aiming to get all the way to the geographical North Pole before the sun begins to rise six months later in March 2021.
More is known about the surface of the moon than the Arctic Ocean in winter, yet it provides a key barometer to the health of our planet. So this first-ever winter expedition is not only about exploring new territory but also about making fresh discoveries in environmental science, such as finding out the behavior of microplastics in the Arctic Ocean and measuring ice thickness to help understand climate change.
The six-month expedition will commence in September this year, but the team have already tried out the kit on a pre-expedition trip Canada to test and refine the equipment and garments.
The three explorers – Alex Hibbert, George Bullard and James Wheeldon – will set off in September from northern Canada for the first phase of their expedition, a three-week sail northerly on the Arctic Ocean. They will then drift in their boat while they undertake their scientific research, until January next year when they will begin their ski/trek to the North Pole. If they arrive at the North Pole by 19 March 2021, they will be the first explorers to reach the North Pole without resupply in polar winter conditions, before the sun rises.
The ski/trek phase will take up to 70 days with the explorers usually trekking for 8-10 hours each day, in extreme cold reaching -40o Celsius and hurricane-force winds. Remember, the trek will also be in total darkness with no sunlight during the winter months!
The explorers’ kit and equipment will be key to their success. Such extreme conditions mean there are specific and exacting requirements for their garments, such as wind and water resistance, durability, breathability, moisture management and maintaining thermal comfort.
The Dark Ice Project draws on the expertise of technical performance leaders The Woolmark Company, adidas Terrex, BYBORRE and GORE-TEX to design and create a kit to meet the athletes’ physiological and environmental needs.
Merino wool is the original performance fibre and its technical benefits coupled with its eco-credentials – it is 100% natural, renewable and biodegradable – make it the fibre of choice for the explorers’ kit.
“We are delighted to be able to build and create specialised base and mid-layer garments that are not only sustainably sourced but also traceable from Australian farms to the finished products.”
- George Bullard, Dark Ice Project explorer
The Woolmark Company and textile innovation studio BYBORRE have developed a wool-rich base- and mid-layer system from technical Merino yarns from the Südwolle Group, providing next-to-skin comfort, superior breathability and enhanced protection from the elements. By utilising innovative Merino wool yarns and fabrics, the explorers are able to dress lighter, without losing protective benefits such as warmth.
Adidas Terrex has developed the outerwear in collaboration with BYBORRE, supported by The Woolmark Company and GORE-TEX. The outerwear includes weather protection technology from GORE-TEX, along with a wool fleece lining in the trousers and jackets for enhanced thermoregulation, to be worn during the ski phase of the expedition.
“Our clothing forms an essential part of this project; indeed, it allows us to survive in the harsh winter on the Arctic Ocean,” said Dark Ice Project explorer George Bullard.
“We are delighted to be able to build and create specialised base- and mid-layer garments that are not only sustainably sourced but also traceable from Australian farms to the finished products. This ethos aligns seamlessly with ours.”
The explorers at their base during pre-expedition testing in Canada. Their Merino garments include base-, mid- and outer-layers.
The kit has currently undergone lab testing as well as two rounds of extreme wear testing to ensure ultimate performance; the first being a series of high-tech environmental chamber tests and the second during a one-month pre-expedition trip in northern Canada.
The wool single jersey base-layer developed has successfully outperformed the single jersey base-layer previously worn by the explorers, securing a reduction in total weight of 18%, an increase in thermal resistance of 26%, a 3% increase in breathability and the dry time and drying rate improved by 28% and 61% respectively. The base- and mid-layer fabrics have also undergone Woolmark quality assurance testing.
Feedback provided by the explorers based on their experience on the pre-expedition trip will be used to make any necessary changes to the final kit.
“The Dark Ice Project not only reinforces The Woolmark Company’s commitment to championing innovation at the fibre, processing and garment stage, but also highlights our dedication to promoting best-practice to ensure minimal impact on the environment.”
- AWI CEO Stuart McCullough
The Dark Ice Project will not only garner attention for the performance and eco benefits of Merino wool amongst sports and outdoor brands, the wider apparel trade and global media, but it will also present new and innovative wool fabrications to the trade that can be commercialised for wider adoption. The expedition team’s scientific investigations will also highlight and reflect wool’s eco-credentials.
“The Dark Ice Project not only reinforces The Woolmark Company’s commitment to championing innovation at the fibre, processing and garment stage, but also highlights our dedication to promoting best-practice to ensure minimal impact on the environment,” said AWI CEO Stuart McCullough.
“We are proud to have partnered with this group of like-minded global leaders in performance and innovation, challenging and inspiring us in new and unique ways.”
This article appeared in the March 2020 edition of AWI’s Beyond the Bale magazine. Reproduction of the article is encouraged, however prior permission must be obtained from the Editor.