GREAL returns to the Arctic with Polarquest2021

Two years after its first operational participation to a research activity in the Svalbard islands, and with the data from a second expedition in Greenland still under analysis, GREAL will be back to the Arctic in a few weeks. In the new programme, GREAL will be involved in expedition Polarquest2021, onboard S/Y Best Explorer under Arctic skipper Giovanni Acquarone.

Like in 2018, the project will be led by scientific communicator Paola Catapano (CERN, Geneva) head of a 9-people international workgroup including researchers, technicians and communication experts. Best Explorer is an Italian-built 51-foot sail-yacht that completely circumnavigated the Arctic Ocean between 2012 and 2019 and conducted scientific work on behalf of ENEA. She will depart her homebase in Tromsø, northern continental Norway, on July 15th, and will reach Longyearbyen, Svalbard Islands, on the 24th. After a brief stop-over, the quite dense research activity programmes will begin, along the western and northern coasts of the archipelago.

The main goals of the expedition include a sonar mapping of the seafloor (conducted by the University of Gdansk, the European University of Rome and NORBIT Subsea), off the coasts of Nordaustlandet, the second largest of the Svalbard islands, whose eastern shores are entirely covered with ice from the Austfonna glacier.

Other research programmes onboard will call for microbiological analysis led by the Swiss Polar Institute, detection of gas bubbles in the “water column” (University of Geneva and ISMAR-CNR), observation of the general environmental status and mapping of macroplastic litter in remote areas by the use of flying drones (European University of Rome, Italian Geographical Society, University of Gdansk).

The international crew who will take part in the expedition includes:

Giovanni “Nanni” Acquarone (skipper, expedition leader, Italy), Nicoletta Martini (co-skipper, Italy), Paola Catapano (project leader, scientific communicator, Italy), Michael Struik (technical coordinator, drone pilot, video/photographer, The Netherlands), Gianluca Casagrande (scientific coordinator, onboard scientist, Italy), Christel Hassler (onboard scientist, Switzerland), Kevin Monneron (diver, onboard scientist, France), Dominik Pałgan (onboard scientist, Poland), Elias Christoph Meier (student, Austria). The go-crew will be assisted by a shore-team coordinated by Best Explorer veteran, Italian sailor Salvatore Magri.

Best Explorer is expected to return to Longyearbyen by August 22nd. At that time, the laboratories in the expedition’s network will commence analysis of the expedition data, a process which will take several months. Meanwhile, as in 2018, images and footage from the expedition will be used to prepare documentary materials for public dissemination of the expedition and its scientific results.

Polarquest2021 will develop in some of the areas which saw, in 1928, the ordeal of airship ITALIA, disappeared with six crew-members during its return from the North Pole. During this summer activity, while scanning the sea-floor with a multibeam sonar provided by Norwegian manufacturer NORBIT Subsea, the crew will pay attention to the possible presence, in the area, of any trace that could be linked to the lost expedition.

Polarquest2021 continues the conceptual line developed by Polarquest2018 and NANUQ2020, developing research and communication about the Arctic with the use of “lightweight” and “low-environmental impact” solutions. The formula proved scientifically valuable in the past experiences and can effectively complement other more traditional research techniques.


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Best-Explorer during a previous Arctic journey. The boat is registered in Genoa and features an all-steel hull. She is also equipped with a 80 Hp diesel engine. Picture by Stefano De Luigi.


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