Climate Advocates and Polar Explorers Die on Thin Ice

Philip de Roo, left, and Marc Cornelissen went missing while collecting data in the Arctic. Credit: Courtesy Cold Facts

Many have called the day that Dutch polar explorers Marc Cornelissen and Philip de Roo died "unseasonably warm." But as members of an environmental non-profit, on a mission to gathering data on Arctic ice for climate scientists, the two knew that there was nothing unseasonable about it, at least in context of a decade of thinning ice and record high temperatures. They were well aware that global warming made the barren lands they were exploring — home to polar bears, and little else — all the more dangerous. 

The pair had been on the Canadian Arctic ice for twenty-three days as they headed from Resolute Bay northward towards Bathurst Island. In his last message, on April 28, Cornelissen observed that they were seeing thin ice ahead and would have to detour towards the north for Bathurst Island. The next day the Canadian Mounted Police received an emergency distress message approximately 190 km south of Bathurst Island. By the time a plane arrived all they could see on the ice was some gear and a sled dog. The two had fallen through the ice and drowned. Cornelissen's body was recovered May 12th while de Roo's remains missing.


The last report from Marcus Cornelissen, uploaded to SoundCloud. In it, he notes: "It was a strange day...it was getting really warm. It became really un-tasteful. In the end it was me skiing in my underwear and boots only…it was a way to deal with the heat."

Traveling in Polar Regions was nothing new for these two explorers. Cornelissen had successfully journeyed to both the North and South poles (one of a select few individuals to have skied to both) and de Roo had been part of several Arctic expeditions. "Marc was a regular in the world of polar exploration, guiding and equipment design," says fellow polar explorer Eric Phillips. "He first skied to the North Pole in 1997, from the coast of Canada, and this alone sets him apart from most other humans, and most other adventurers. To ski from the coast to the North Pole, widely regarded, as the most difficult wilderness expedition the world, is an undertaking requiring exceptional planning, skill and stamina, a formula that has such fine tolerance that one in five expeditions fail."

These two seasoned explorers were also environmentalists, and on a research mission for Cold Facts, the non-profit organization that Cornelissen founded in 2010. The idea behind it: As the planet warms, more scientists are turning to polar ice caps as harbingers of things to come. But the melt in turn makes these remote regions all the more dangerous to explore, and more difficult to retrieve reliable data. The solution? Get experienced Arctic explorers to strap on skis and measure ice and snow thickness in the field, giving scientists on-the-ground data to add to satellite info.  The two called their latest expedition the Last Ice Survey

"Marc and Philip both were passionate about the Arctic and the effects climate change was having upon it," says Marielle Feenstra, the spokesperson and base camp coordinator for the expedition. "Marc founded Cold Facts to act as a conduit between scientists, explorers, and the public to get the facts of what was happening out there. Their actions helped educate a generation of Dutch to global climate change."

The Arctic Ocean region that both were traversing is known as "The Last Ice Area" one that many scientist believe will be one of the final ones to surrender it's icy covering. It is of particular interest to the World Wildlife Fund due to the fact that it is a vital home for polar bears. "The thought that Marc Cornelissen and Philip de Roo will never return from the Arctic wilderness they so passionately tried to protect fills me with deep sadness," said Johan van de Gronden CEO of the WWF Netherlands. "They have been staunch ambassadors of both the splendor and the fragility of the Polar Regions. In a cruel twist of fate, they were exploring and researching what we assume will soon be known as 'the Last Ice Area' on their final and fatal mission. Our thoughts are now foremost with their bereaved families and friends."


Marc Cornelissen on Vimeo.