Melting glaciers, polar expeditions and NASA: A conversation with deep-dive explorer Milko Vuille.

(Read this conversation in French / Lire cette conversation en français)

For a first-person perspective on ocean exploration and melting glaciers, Here’s Why contacted deepwater polar explorer Milko Vuille, founder of ACARSA Scientific Explorations. Milko, whom we have previously described here as the James Bond of scientific exploration (seriously – race car driver, deep sea diver, underwater archaeologist, explorer, pilot, wilderness photographer and so much more), has kindly agreed to a casual conversation by email about his underwater explorations and his plans to search for the lost vessel Eira from Benjamin Leigh Smith’s 1881 expedition to Franz-Joseph Land.

Milko and Here’s Why are Facebook friends as well as being connected through Linkedin’s Maritime Archaeology group. By mutual agreement, these conversations have been edited for accuracy in spelling and grammar, with some minor content adjustments.

Explorer and Underwater Archaeologist Milko Vuille

Here’s Why: Milko, thank you so much for taking the time to provide some insight into the world of a nature explorer and the growing concerns about global warming. You have actually explored the issue of melting glacial ice in Switzerland. What have you discovered?

Milko Vuille: First of all I would like to tell you that it’s very funny to me that you compare me to a James Bond of scientific exploration. I think I’m more a modern “Marco Polo” who loves pasta – my mom is Italian – and I am always ready to discover new places of our wonderful blue planet and meet in a friendly way new people, which is not always the case of James Bond! 🙂

Coming back to your question, my interest about the Swiss glaciers melting was born with the start of my project to explore the Franz Josef Land Archipelago in the Russian Arctic, which is located really closed to the North Pole.

HW: Have you recorded any data that shows why this is happening?

Milko Vuille: Not personally but like many people around the world, I’m really concerned by the fact that something unusual is occurring. Scientists try to explain why this is happening. It’s really complex; the parameters influencing the climate are so numerous.

HW: Could melting glacial ice lower global temperatures to the point where the balance could shift back to a cooling trend?

Milko Vuille: This is one possible scenario, especially if one day the Gulf Stream, one of the strongest ocean currents, decides to slow sharply. The sun, the jet streams, clouds, ocean temperatures, the movement of the earth, volcanoes, CO2, methane, etc. and perhaps even some unknown cosmic phenomena could create a new ice age or perhaps the opposite, a sharp increase in temperatures.

HW: In your view, could the glaciers ever melt completely? How long might that take?

Milko Vuille: I hope it will never happen and I prefer not to think about such an eventuality. We must not forget that the world’s glaciers and polar ice caps provide a balance that is essential to life on Earth. In some areas they bring water and food to billions of people, animals, vegetation, etc. In addition, if they melt completely, they will submerge vast territories where there is an abundant life, man included.

HW: Being a part of an deepwater dive team must have a profound effect on a person. What is it like there, far below the surface?

Milko Vuille: It is for me a magnificent world, full of different types of life, incredible colours, especially in shallow waters where there is the sun playing with the inhabitants of the sea. This paradise brings me serenity. You do not need to go deep to discover this marvellous world. When you decide to go deeper it’s because there is something special you want to see and in this case, there are safety rules to learn and to respect. Many of my best dives were between 20 cm and 5 meters deep.

HW: Have you had any unusual wildlife encounters?

Milko Vuille: I had a lot in different seas, oceans and also in the Swiss lakes. Dolphins, sharks, turtles, seals, penguins, iguanas, clown fishes, pikes, etc. are always fascinating encounters for me. For many years I’ve had a dream: I would like to approach with a respectful attitude a whale and her calf.

HW: What outstanding experience has stayed with you?

Milko Vuille: I remember one particular day when I was at Darwin Island in the Galapagos. I was diving with mask, snorkel and fins, surrounded by hundreds of dolphins when suddenly two huge specimens, probably sentries, came to inspect me very carefully, from the top of my head to the end of my fins. When they had finished, I could feel that they allowed me to swim alongside the babies’ dolphins and their mothers. It was a great privilege that nature may decide to offer when she understands that you are in perfect harmony with her.

HW: You are seeking sponsors for your next Arctic expedition to the Franz Josef Land Archipelago. What will you be doing there, and how can people support your work?

Milko Vuille: This project was born in 2003-2004, during the period when I lived in St. Petersburg in Russia. Over time, I developed a real interest in this Arctic archipelago of 131 islands.

One of my goals is to go in the footsteps of Benjamin Leigh Smith, a British explorer who sailed twice in 1880 and 1881 aboard the yacht Eira, from England to Franz Josef Land. I hope to find the wreck or at least some elements from the Eira that sank, crushed by ice in a few hours at Cape Flora in August 1881. I would also hold with scientists’ research on the climate of the past and present and then compare them with those of alpine glaciers in Switzerland. Of course, polar bears, belugas, narwhals, birds and other species are creatures that I would like to observe and photograph.

It lacks something important for this project to be realized: the support of a main sponsor. The logistics of such an expedition, in one of the most remote parts of the world, is particularly costly.

HW: NASA has an eye on climate change from space. Their latest project, Aquarius, will be measuring changes in ocean salinity as part of a joint mission with Argentina. Are you seeing increased global participation in monitoring climate change?

Milko Vuille: Yes, and I hope that nations will rise to have more collaboration on land, sea and space, as is for example already the case today with the ISS the International Space Station. The climate knows no boundaries!

HW: You recently attended NASA’s final launch of Endeavor. Congratulations – and how did you manage to do that? And for all of us die-hard space geeks, what was it like? (View Endeavor launch videos courtesy of Milko Vuille)

Milko Vuille: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a diver on the Calypso with Captain Cousteau, a fighter pilot and an astronaut. After seeing on television Apollo 11 landing on the moon, I was really convinced that one day I would travel to Mars. A few years later, with current technology, I am well aware that it will be almost impossible for me to have that chance. But hey, you never know! 🙂

But one thing is certain, thanks to the Internet and Twitter, I had the great privilege in my life to be invited by NASA to attend the TweetUp STS-134 for the final launch of Endeavour. For me it was like a dream and I spent fantastic days in the company of enthusiast people at Kennedy Space Center.

HW: The concept of global warming seems so big and makes many of us feel rather helpless. What should we know, and what can we do in our everyday lives to make a difference?

Milko Vuille: Our little actions can make a difference but of course we will need the help of new technologies and energies respecting the environment. We will also have to share fairly vital resources that every man needs. Every day we should not forget that life is precious and it is our duty to respect it, and to preserve nature and all types of life who share this beautiful planet.

HW: Milko, thank you so much!

Milko Vuille: My pleasure Anne, all the best to you and your readers!


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