Sometime next winter, explorer Alex Bellini will travel to Greenland, get on a melting iceberg headed south, and attempt to live there for as long as a year.
For Bellini, the trip is an exercise in giving up control: As the iceberg melts, it could flip at any time. He was inspired by the story of another Italian explorer, Umberto Nobile, who crashed while flying a zeppelin over the North Pole, and spent 40 days living on an iceberg before he was rescued.
“Since the first time I heard this story, I tried to figure out what living on a chunk of ice would be like, where the environment is out of your control,” Bellini says. “How can a human being cope with the fear and danger? On an adventure, you start to understand that the only thing you can control is what’s in your mind. I’m not only an adventurer, I like to explore–and by explore, I mean the inner part of myself. That’s what draws me to think of living on an iceberg.”
While on another mind-boggling trip–rowing across the Pacific Ocean for 300 days, which also tested his ability to deal with lack of control–Bellini decided that when he got home he would start figuring out how he could live on an iceberg.
The key to survival will be a nearly indestructible capsule, originally designed as an escape pod for people living in tsunami zones. “We chose a spherical shape because it’s very difficult to compress it,” says Julian Sharpe, president of Survival Capsules, LLC, an offshoot of an aerospace engineering company. “It’s a well tried and tested shape, ideally suited for life on an iceberg with a continuous threat of iceberg flipping.”
In places like Japan, where there’s a 90% chance of another major tsunami in the next five decades, Sharpe’s company is beginning to sell the capsules as a way for people to ride out a major storm. Inside, food and water are stored under a ring of seats.
Bellini will modify the interior of a capsule originally designed for 10 people, adding enough food to last (in theory) for a year, Wi-Fi, a beacon for rescuers to find him if the pod ends up in the ocean, and lights that simulate the rise and fall of the sun, since it will be too dangerous for him to go outside. A fold-out bed will give him enough room to exercise a little.
“Apart from the constant danger, the second biggest challenge will be the lack of movement,” he says. “If you prevent your body from moving, it’s a kind of sleep–when danger occurs, you’re likely to not be ready to face it. Even if this capsule will be very small, just three meters in diameter, I need to come up with ideas to stay fit and allow me to face what I know I will face sooner or later, which is the decision to go home or give up.”
Depending on how quickly the iceberg melts, becomes unstable, and flips, Bellini may stay on the ice for weeks, months, or the full year. While he’s there, he’ll stay connected to the outside world online, talking with students at schools globally. “If it was me, I would love to stay isolated,” he says. “But being isolated prevents me from taking the best part from this project. This project shouldn’t be perceived as a one-man show. It’s a community adventure, where the adventurer is alone on the iceberg, but in the meantime, he is connected with many people around the world.”
Ultimately, though he wants to share a message about human resilience in uncertain situations, the project will inevitably also say something about climate change. “On my way to make this adventure a reality, I found myself involved in something bigger than me,” he says. “I was aimed at living on an iceberg, and then I suddenly found myself in climate issues. I’m not a climatologist, I’m not an environmentalist, I’m just an adventurer. But by my adventure, I want to bring some values back to people.”