Interview with Mike McDowell

Mike McDowell, who took part in the recent expedition to the North Pole and went 4,000 metres below sea-level there, shared his experience with Russia Today.

Russia Today: What was your personal motivation for joining the expedition, and did the trip live up to your expectations?

Mike McDowell: I’ve actually been to the North Pole twelve times. This is the sixth by nuclear ice-breaker, and the first by submersible. Before I also had taken part in a major dog-sled expedition.

I’ve been in the Antarctic 60 times. This particular expedition was very specialised – no submersible had dived at the North Pole before, and I doubt if one will be in the near future for quite a long time. So the expedition was unique. And also very much Russian, all the logistics were Russian, put together by Artur Chilingarov, Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, and an Arctic and Antarctic explorer himself. And, of course, doctor Anatoly Sagalevich – who met this afternoon with Mr Putin, which was a great honour for him, I’m sure. He and Artur and myself, we’ve been looking forward to this expedition for seven or eight years now, and it was finally decided that Artur would head the expedition. It was exciting and satisfying. There were a number of political comments from around the world that it was a set-up deal. Actually, it was not. These people have been working on this for years and the expedition had very much an exploration bent, a science bent and a human history bent.  I’m not a politician so I’ve got no comments. All I know is that there was a bunch of very technically skilled Russians put together in this expedition.

The heroes are the sub-guys. They were the ones who spent years preparing for this and without them we would not necessarily have come back. 

RT: What do you think the scientific benefits of this trip are? Is there any valuable knowledge to be found 4,000 metres below sea-level at the North Pole?

M.M: There was a great deal of the scientific programme done. As we went north the ship was constantly stopping, it was going under the ice to take samples to understand the oxygen content, currents, etc. Indeed, one of the great challenges now is to model the climate in the ice and in the Arctic. Everyone knows that the Arctic is disappearing in terms of ice. Predictions are 40 to 50 years from now there might be zero ice there. And that will have a huge feedback loop on the northern climate because the ice reflects sunlight. When there’s no ice the ocean will absorb the sunlight and that will drastically change currents and climate. There’ll also be other implications. When we took bottom samples we found some life at the North Pole. A lot of people had said there was nothing living there. Yes there is. Not in abundance, but still life. 

So Anatoly and the other pilots are heroes. I know from experience this is the best submersible team in the world. It is the only team in the world that has too big diving successes. Russia should be extremely proud –  they are the best. 

RT: How does it feel to be 4,000 metres below sea-level at the North Pole?

M.M.: Inside the submersible – whether you are 300 or 4,300 metres, it actually feels the same as you are in one atmospherically controlled sphere, But when you are reading the depth scale across you really understand that at 4,000 metres it’s 450-atmosphere pressure outside which would crush anything. A lady asked me one day, ‘When you go to the bottom do you get out of the sub?" Actually not, you know… The big danger was the navigation back to the hole. We had a very tiny ice hole to go down and then to get back to it. So that was the challenge.