Two researchers in human sciences on their way to the geographic North Pole for a unique fieldwork

Élise Lépy, geographer based at the History, Culture and Communication Studies Research Unit and Alix Varnajot from the Geography Research Unit are preparing a unique fieldwork onboard the expedition cruise ship Le Commandant Charcot to study the contribution of tourists to citizen science in the Arctic.
Researchers Èlise Lèpy and Alix Varnajot standing in front of the sign in Longyearbyen, Svalbard.
Researchers Élise Lépy and Alix Varnajot in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, before their cruise.

The study will take place from August 11th to 26th onboard the expedition cruise vessel Le Commandant Charcot, owned and operated by the French cruise company Ponant. Due to a reinforced hull, the ship is able to navigate through summer sea ice on its own, without the need of a proper icebreaker. As such, Le Commandant Charcot is the only dedicated cruise ship able to bring tourists to the geographic North Pole. Alongside two additional research teams from Germany and the USA, the pair will embark from Longyearbyen in Svalbard on a two-week cruise to the North Pole and return. The research focuses on citizen science in polar expedition cruise tourism, a niche segment of the cruise tourism industry. In recent years, companies operating expedition cruise ships (up to 300 passengers) have promoted their connection with science, by for example, offering citizen science activities to their passengers. These cruise companies would develop partnerships with NGOs or research institutes in order to facilitate the collection of data in remote regions of the Arctic or Antarctica, involving passengers in these data collections. As such, science becomes an opportunity for the development of tourism products.

The research will consist of ethnographic-oriented fieldwork, including participant observation, surveys, and semi-structured interviews with passengers. The objective of this onboard fieldwork is to understand the reasons and motivations of tourists to engage or not in citizen science initiatives. Additionally, Lépy and Varnajot will explore potential changes in tourists’ intentions to participate in citizen science activities after experiencing and learning about the fragile Arctic environment while onboard. Finally, the fieldwork addresses the question of last chance tourism as the shrinking of Arctic sea ice is accelerating in connection with global warming.

This project is implemented and funded in the frame of the EU project ARICE (EU grant agreement No. 730965) Ships and Platforms of Opportunity Programme in cooperation with the company PONANT. It is also supported by the Arctic Interactions and the Biodiverse Anthropocenes programmes of the University of Oulu.

For more information, please contact:

Élise Lépy, PhD, docent
HIKUVIE research unit

Alix Varnajot, PhD
Geography Research Unit
+33- 633357210

Last updated: 14.8.2023