Of science and stuffed polar bears in Antarctica

January 8, 2009

The U.S. Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel has just set off for Antarctica where it will deploy a tiny unmanned yellow submarine beneath an ice shelf to seek clues to rising world sea levels, and carry out a series of other research projects. See story here.

Palmer was an explorer and seal hunter who was among the first people to spot Antarctica in 1820 — part of the Antarctic peninsula is named after him.

The 94-metre ship, operated for the National Science Foundation, has been in Punta Arenas at the southern tip of Chile preparing for the voyage.

Chief scientist for the mission, Stan Jacobs of Columbia University, took time out to show Reuters TV’s Stuart McDill and me around the spotless red and yellow vessel (bridge shown right) just as the final preparations were being made.

Safety first — we had to wear lifejackets just to climb up the gangway (there was even a net to catch us before we hit the water if we fell off) and hard hats on deck. Noisy cranes were busy loading supplies.

Going on a trip to the Antarctica sounds like a dream to many people — for polar researchers it is a fantastic chance to make discoveries for instance about whether the continent is starting to thaw because of global warming, something that could raise world sea levels.

But there are a lot of hardships too.

Try the following checklist to see if you’d make it:

— 54 days at sea, some of them noisily crashing through ice.

— You will probably have to share a small bedroom with another colleague, rather than get a single room.

— No fresh fruit or vegetables.

— No alcohol.

— Some of the stormiest seas in the world.

— Freezing cold outside.

— Long working days.

— For recreation you have a training room with weights machines, a canteen, a TV room and access to the Internet: your contact with family and friends.

…When we went through the main relaxation room with sofas, a large TV was playing a comedy movie that showed a man struggling to carry a stuffed polar bear up the stairs of a house. As every school child learns, polar bears live only in the Arctic. The movie made us laugh, but even in your few moments of relaxation, you may end up getting reminded about the poles.

So would you like to go on such a cruise?

One comment

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Thank you,
Global warming is an issue along with infrastructure concerns, this is all factual. My question is: Does global warming, which we know exist, have an connection to any infrastructure concerns that exist presently, and will you be in touch with the President’s concerns about infrastructure. I’m sorry but I do not get the connection beween antarictica and infrastructure, unless it is really melting fast, but if it were really melting fast could not we detect this, say from New Jersey?
Max Rogers

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