The Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition covered air, land and marine research during the three-month voyage PHOTO Balz Abplanalp

It was hard to ignore the heat (or the irony) on Monday as a group of scientists told occupants in a sweltering hall on a quayside at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town that they hoped evidence gathered during a three month circumnavigation of Antarctica would “prove convincing to those politicians who have been sitting on the fence” about climate change.

David Walton, ACE chief scientist: ‘Here is some more compelling evidence that we are destroying our planet’

David Walton, the chief scientist, told the first workshop on results from the recently completed Antarctic circumnavigation expedition (ACE) that he was “hopeful that here is some more compelling evidence that we are destroying our planet but that there are some mitigating things we can do to save our future”.

ACE is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute, a newly created entity founded by EPFL, the Swiss Institute of Forest, Snow and Landscape research WSL, ETHZ, the University of Bern and Editions Paulsen.

It set out with a diverse range of scientists from all around the world on board with a holistic mission to study the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean.

Frederik Paulsen, polar explorer and president of the ACE Foundation, reminded everyone in the sweltering room that a better understanding of Antarctica was critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole (over-heating) planet.

The philanthropist, who is widely credited for having made the expedition possible, said the poles are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth yet played a central role in regulating the world’s climate.

PHOTO Balz Abplanalp

A total of 22 projects covering terrestrial, marine and atmospheric disciplines were completed during the expedition that pushed science beyond cultural and geographical borders and advanced the tech frontier.

It is very early days still in terms of understanding and being able to act on findings from the voyage. In fact, when the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov sailed into Cape Town last week, marking the end of the three-month long voyage, it was merely “the end of the beginning”, according to Walton.

“The next stage will last another two to three years, making the best of what we have learnt … the real work has just begun.”

Frederik Paulsen, polar explorer, president of the ACE Foundation and philanthropist is widely credited with making the expedition happen

Paulsen confirmed this and added (with a wry smile) that this could be seen as a dream for any researcher since it meant they could start asking for grants for the next 10 years.

The good news spreads well beyond the researchers from 73 institutes and 22 countries involved because all the data collected, the physical samples even, will be made available widely.

Walton said the plan had always been to spread the network of ACE as widely as possible. Research publications as well as all the data, even the samples where possible, will be available on an open access basis.

“All of this is part of a belief that things like this are going to be important only if they make their findings and data as widely available as possible.”

He said none of the country operators had ever tried something as big or holistic as this expedition, which had been bigger than any of the national programmes. The mission that involved polar institutes from seven countries and covered air, land and marine research, seems to have set out from the start to smash silo thinking and break down barriers.

Now, he said, they must get to work “to make sure the data we get is properly calibrated and controlled and its accessibility is organised in an efficient manner”.

Paulsen agreed, saying that only by joining forces could the different countries succeed in gaining a better understanding of the region, which was “not only desirable but crucial”.

“There is still much to be done.”

Polar expedition ends in steaming hot Cape Town

Cape Town, March 19

After a night of very high winds that reportedly saw Cape Town harbour temporarily closed on Saturday the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov sailed into a still and steaming Cape Town on Sunday, marking the end of the Antarctic circumnavigation expedition (ACE).

The vessel departed from Cape Town three months ago with 50 scientists from around the world aboard on an intensive multi-disciplinary research mission.

Early information about the results suggests a wide variety of findings. The skeptics’ fears will be confirmed, for example, in evidence of micro-plastic pollution in even the most remote places. However, there is hope too, for example, in the discovery of pockets of air that is cleaner than the purest man-made environments, “white rooms” in laboratories.

The first results will be released on Monday when the Swiss Polar Institute runs a mini conference of presentations by scientists at a pavilion set up alongside the vessel at Jetty 2 at the V & A Waterfront. Attendance at the conference is by invitation only but a pavilion showcasing some of the work will be open to the public on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Excitement about the findings from the groundbreaking research trip, which included a total of nearly 150 scientists representing 73 scientific institutions over the three months, goes well beyond the scientific community. The expedition included a wide and diverse group of skills and experience. It was the first time such a wide range of disciplines – from biology to climatology to oceanography – had worked together to enhance understanding of Antarctica.

Also, according to information from the Swiss Polar Institute, a better understanding of the continent is critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole planet. The poles, which play a key role in regulating the world’s climate, are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth.

The scientists filmed and took samples under ice shelves and as deep as 3000m, completed 3D mapping of some of the 12 island groups they visited, and took the first ice cores from others. They took 18,968 individual samples of any sort on their 30,720km journey, which was completed over three stages.

Will the jury still be out once polar results are in?

Cape Town, March 14

There has been a sense for some time now that climate change denialists are living on borrowed time … one suspects the clock will tick with new intensity once the results of the Antarctic circumnavigation expedition (ACE) are released starting on Monday March 20.

The Swiss Polar Institute announced on Friday that scientists would be releasing preliminary results of the three-month expedition on Monday at a pavilion at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

A pavilion showcasing some of the work will be open to the public

A showcase of some of the work will be open to the public on Tuesday March 21 and Wednesday 22 at the ACE pavilion on Jetty 2 in front of the Table Bay Hotel at the V&A Waterfront.

Many a heart will sink at the idea of evidence being found of the dreaded micro-plastic pollution in even the most remote places around Antarctica. News of air that is cleaner than in the purest man-made environments, “white rooms” in laboratories, will give a reason to breath out.

The groundbreaking research trip, which included a total of nearly 150 scientists representing 73 scientific institutions, ends when the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov sails into Cape Town harbour on the morning of Sunday March 19.

The scientists filmed and took samples under ice shelves and as deep as 3,000m, completed 3D mapping of some of the 12 island groups they visited and took the first ice cores from others. They took 18,968 individual samples of any sort on their 30,720km journey, which was completed over three stages.

The expedition included a diverse group of scientists from around the world, the first time such a wide range of disciplines – From biology to climatology to oceanography – had worked together to enhance understanding of Antarctica.

The Swiss Polar Institute said a better understanding of the continent is critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole planet.

The poles, which play a key role in regulating the world’s climate, are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth.

Antarctica is rare on earth in that it has never been affected by war and remains protected from many of the causes thereof.

The Antarctic Treaty, which has signed by countries that represent about 80 percent of the world’s population, has ensured that this has continued and will continue for the foreseeable future.

According to the Antarctic Treaty, the first version of which came into effect in 1961, the continent is dedicated to peaceful scientific investigation.

Exploration for oil and other minerals is banned under the agreement, which also pledges to keep Antarctica demilitarised and nuclear free.

 

Lessons in life as Antarctic expedition departs

David Walton says he was appointed chief of the polar expedition at the one meeting he missed

December 21 2016

Rather than delivering a science class, David Walton, chief scientist on the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), shared a few life lessons with the VIP crowd gathered at the Table Bay harbour for the expedition’s send-off.

First, Walton said, he had learned during his 50-odd years in science that one should be wary of invitations that appeared on the surface to have no significance.

As a case in point he talked about what appeared to be an invitation to lunch that turned into his being chief scientist on a three-month expedition to the South Pole.

A second lesson he shared with the gathered scientists and diplomats – including South African Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor and Krystyna Marty Lang, Switzerland’s Deputy Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs – was that one should attend every meeting.

It was at the one technical meeting that he missed that he was elected head scientist, he said.

The 50 scientists on board the Russian vessel Akademik Treshnikov will be sharing a lot more life lessons and plenty of science during the groundbreaking scientific expedition, which is set to dramatically expand mankind’s knowledge about this key region.

Scientist Julia Schmale hopes to find answers and raise new questions

One of those scientists, Julia Schmale from the Paul Scherrer Institute, told the farewell reception that one of the very exciting aspects of this expedition was that it encompassed such a variety of disciplines

She said scientists would have a lot of time to get to know each other and each others’ work and, crucially, “to explore the linkages between the work”.

The Swiss-funded ACE is composed of 22 projects, bringing together research teams from six continents. They focus on different areas of study, all fundamental for a better understanding of Antarctica’s ecosystems.

Schmale had earlier reminded those gathered to see the boat off how much times had changed by reading out an advertisement said to have been placed by early polar explorer Ernest Shackleton in The Times of London on December 29, 1913: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Shackleton, who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic, was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

The scientists aboard the Akademik Treshnikov might well become known as the ones who started the Second Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Naledi Pandor, South African Minister of Science and Technology, wished the expedition success on behalf of the country and the continent

“Scientists and explorers pick the challenges of their time,” Schmale said.

There are different goals and measures of success, too. In the words of Schmale, success will be measured by coming back with some answers; great success by coming back with many more questions.

ACE is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute, a newly created public-private partnership that aims to enhance international relations and collaboration between countries on Antarctica. It also hopes to spark the interest of a new generation of young scientists and explorers in polar research.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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