June 2007 Downloads & Links

Interview with Mike Horn

Mike Horn

South African explorer, extreme adventurer and athlete, Mike Horn has already accomplished many amazing feats. He is now ready to start a new chapter in the world of exploration. At the end of March 2008, Mike will start a new expedition, the circumnavigation of the world. This will be done without any motorized assistance, over the North and South Poles, crossing the seven continents, and sailing several oceans.

Mike Horn was Special Guest at the ceremony at WMO Headquarters for World Meteorological Day 2007, whose theme was “Polar meteorology: understanding global impacts” (see the April edition of MeteoWorld). On the occasion of his visit, Mike answered some questions about coping with weather and climate change impacts in the polar regions.

You have made a number of extreme trips to the polar regions in recent years, what kind of meteorological equipment do you rely on?

I study past weather reports of the area to which I’m heading and through which I travel in order to have an idea of what sort of conditions to expect and, of course weather forecasts, including the state of the ice. Otherwise, I use anemometers, barometers and thermometers for measurement of wind, humidity and temperature.

How important have meteorological forecasts been to your polar travels – have there been any instances where you owed your life to them?

Meteorological forecasts are an essential and very important part of planning polar travels—I adopt my route and take decisions along it based on findings from forecasts and warnings concerning weather changes as provided by my logistics and office team.  Such forecasts and warnings have led me to alter quite drastically at times my departure dates as well as my routes.

Would you explain about your daily routine concerning meteorological reports and how they might affect your itinerary?

Before embarking on my journey I study archived reports received via satellite phone and this gives me an idea of my weekly itinerary.

Polar regions are among the least covered by meteorological ground-based stations, does that mean that some forecasts have been inaccurate in your experience?

Yes, inaccurate forecasts have been a complication during my polar travels, like when storms came in earlier or later than anticipated, yet man has to use his common sense and make calculated decisions and not just rely on weather forecasts as a set guide.

mike horn


What other meteorological services would you like to have access to during such trips?

The possibility to give an exact position and to receive a weather forecast for a particular place and not a general regional forecast; this is an integral part of planning, because correct weather prediction makes travel safer.

In 2006, with Norwegian explorer Borge Ousland, you became the first people to travel (without dogs or motorized transport) during mid-winter to the North Pole. Tell us more about the kinds of extreme weather encountered.

Temperatures at the start of the expedition were much higher than expected, making it very difficult to track the ice. Half way into the expedition, temperatures drooped to -40°C and stayed low for longer periods of time than expected. Broken ice, strong winds and blowing snow were all daily occurrences during the mid-winter trip to the North Pole.

During your travels over the past few years, what first-hand impacts on the polar regions have you witnessed from climate change and how severe are they?

In general, the ice settles later, the permafrost is melting, the land is being eroded and the snow conditions are heavier. Birds are noticeably altering their nesting habits and I have seen polar bears stranded on beaches and grizzly bears entering polar regions.

Have these impacts reached a point of no return in your opinion?

In some cases, a point of no return has arrived but we can slow down the process if we all work together towards the same goal of protect the planet for future generations.

Your next trip is a massive circumnavigation of the globe that will take you to the South Pole for the first time. What kind of meteorological preparations are you making for that stage?

I am studying intensively the weather patterns and other extreme weather occurrences around the world.

Do you use traditional knowledge of weather and climate on your travels?

Yes, most definitely. I use the Sun, snow, wind and stars for navigation and logistics planning as well as observing animal behaviour.

How do you envisage the future of the polar regions: what should be done to improve our knowledge and prediction skills?

The future of the polar regions is important for the future and sustainability of the planet.  It is up to us to start acting and to stop just talking about the negative effects of climate changes. Now, every day that goes without making an attempt to change the situation means a bigger problem tomorrow.

What concrete steps can you suggest we can take to protect our environment?

We need to sensitize the younger generations to respect the beauty of the Earth and not just send a negative message of global warming. It is time to act and to get people at all levels—from government bodies to school groups—involved in environmental projects around the world.  If we all work together towards making a difference, our joint efforts will eventually hamper the ferocity and speed of global warming.  We all have the ability to make a contribution in our daily lives and it is our choice whether we want to live our daily lives and be a part of the solution or a part of the problem.

We must get involved in programmes that are targeted to make a difference, for instance, projects to clean up the oceans and recycling initiatives. We need to encourage a culture of sustainability in all aspects of our daily lives, both at home and in the work place.

We should aim to give youth the gift of inspiration by enabling them to instigate the changes that they would like to see in the world by implementing programmes and inventing sustainable ways of preserving our planet. Kids often come up with amazing ideas and these ideas might well be the solutions that our planet so desperately needs.

Small alterations can be made in our every day lives such as the use of car pools to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, not wasting water and respecting resources by using energy-efficient sources. 

The possibilities are endless, it is now the time to ACT.

Our children are our future and WMO has been targeting youngsters to raise their awareness, increase their scientific knowledge and broaden their experience. You will be involving young people on your next expedition. What is your reasoning behind this and what are you hoping to achieve?

Children are the leaders of tomorrow and have the ability to inspire change.  I will be using my previous experience of exploring to show children the beauty of nature and give them the tools to instigate change.  During the expedition, children will meet specialist scientists and experts in the environmental programmes. They will experience first-hand the scenarios that we are facing due to environmental changes and will be actively involved in measuring and participating in programmes and research initiatives.

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