Scientific data is scarce in the vast white wilderness of Antarctica, where it is challenging and expensive to support year-round research teams. Enter Citizen Science, a project that the public can contribute to during a thrilling Antarctica expedition cruise, allowing for a greater understanding of the fragile region.
It may be at the bottom of the Earth, thousands of miles away from most of us, but what happens in this ice-crowned wonder affects us all. The world came together to safeguard Antarctica for all humanity as a place for peace and science, but the waters surrounding it are still under threat from exploitation.
As Antarctica holds about 90% of all the world’s ice, climate change is becoming more and more evident here; ice sheets are cracking and shrinking due to increased air temperatures, sea levels are rising from melted ice and ocean temperatures are climbing.
This, in turn, affects us. Ice is melting at a much higher rate, resulting in raised global sea levels which could cause detrimental flooding around the world. The huge icebergs in the region are also vital as they deflect some of the Sun’s rays away from the Earth, keeping our temperatures liveable, not to mention, they also provide homes for thousands of Antarctic animals.
Around 30,000 intrepid dreamers now visit Antarctica every year, and scientists are using these increased tourist numbers to their advantage, by encouraging participation in the Citizen Science initiative. This involves collating valuable data in the world’s most important ‘natural laboratory’, for a better understanding of climate change, delicate ecosystems and the planet.
So, how can you volunteer and help facilitate real-world scientific research? Many cruise ships now include Citizen Science as an option on their itineraries, where participation is entirely voluntary and never interferes with other activities offered. Polar-passionate guests may engage in a variety of complimentary activities that support ongoing international research projects in five major disciplines: Oceanography, Glaciology, Ornithology, Marine Biology and Meteorology.
And don’t let the word ‘science’ scare you. The cruise companies that we work with make it informative, interactive and fun for everyone. One of the most popular activities amongst budding scientists is assisting with wildlife conservation. Join an ornithologist during a seabird survey, where you will count and identify species to understand habitat usage in the Southern Ocean. You can track whales too, photographing and identifying the different species and collecting numbers to trace worldwide migratory and feeding patterns. Observing penguin colonies is, perhaps, the most entertaining activity. Photograph these fascinating creatures, collect shed feathers and observe time-lapse camera footage from stationary cameras set up on over one hundred penguin sites, to help scientists understand how penguins are responding to climate change, fisheries and human impact.
The best thing about Citizen Science is that no skill or experience is required, and projects are fully hands-on. For instance, when doing oceanographic studies, if you’re brave enough you can opt to be physically lowered over the side of the ship in the middle of the Drake Passage, to collect saline percentages and water temperatures. Monitoring phytoplankton – the foundation of the aquatic food web – is also vital. Their distribution, composition and abundance are altering, too, as the oceans are affected by global warming. All of the real-world data recorded from volunteers during their expedition is then sent to the research projects of participating scientists at the end of the season, for their detailed analysis.
Antarctica has become an example of how responsible tourism can be a powerful tool for conservation. It may seem remote and out of sight, yet it is contributing to huge global processes in the atmosphere and is the fastest warming region in the world. As we become more educated about the region, we have a rare opportunity to help preserve this magnificent area and the animals that reside there – its protection will provide a true legacy for future generations.
Projects vary by departure, and the available research for your voyage will be clearly communicated by the Citizen Science Coordinator on board. For more information on visiting Antarctica on an expedition cruise, please visit our Antarctica page or call our expert Travel Consultants on 01244 897 578