In 2010, while snorkelling near a gentoo penguin colony in Antarctica, I came face-to-mask with a leopard seal who bluff charged — not once, but three times — with its mouth agape. Holding my ground, I counted the freckles on the animal’s upper palate and inspected its impressive array of tri-serrated teeth. The underwater ballet that ensued between me and the 1,200-pound leopard seal, top predator of the Southern Ocean, was a magical moment I’ll never forget.
One of 57 explorers in the 2010 Elysium Visual Epic Expedition which carried the Explorers Club Flag # 108, I followed in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s esteemed footsteps one hundred years later, scouting, documenting and recording the impacts of climate change and ocean change in the Western Antarctic Peninsula and the island of South Georgia.
I return to Antarctica in February-March 2012, participating in the International Antarctic Expedition (IAE) 2012 which focuses on climate change, renewable energy and global sustainability issues. The IAE 2012 incorporates a Leadership on the Edge program designed to promote team work under harsh conditions and to create environmental educators (adults and youth) at the personal, corporate, community and country levels. The IAE 2012 is being led by Robert Swan, Officer of the Order of the British Empire and recipient of the Polar Medal from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Robert Swan was the first man to walk (unassisted) to both the South Pole and North Pole, in 1986 and 1989, respectively. In November 2012, Swan will make history again, by walking to the South Pole, supported solely by solar and wind power.
Amidst the backdrop of the harshest climate on Earth, I’ll study geology, biology, geophysics, climate change, ocean change, renewable energy and global sustainability issues. I’ll also deliver shipboard lectures on geothermal energy and the integration of geology and geophysics into climate change investigations. Upon my return, I’ll deliver lectures on the findings of this expedition.
A century ago, Shackleton’s team was comprised of geologists and geophysicists who explored Antarctica because it was there, and because it was, as yet, unclaimed by any nation. During the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, geoscientists discovered volcanoes, mountain ranges, fossils, coal and minerals in this uncharted continent. And, in 1909, geoscientists planted the British flag at the magnetic South Pole.
One hundred years later, Antarctica is still unclaimed and uncharted — this mysterious continent belongs to citizens of the world and is development-free until 2041. The world’s final frontier, Antarctica represents an outstanding outdoor laboratory to research planetary processes, including the impacts of climate change and ocean change. Today, geoscientists explore Antarctica, not because it’s there, but because it might not be there — in its present, icebound majesty — in the future. During the past fifty years, the Western Antarctic Peninsula has warmed 3 degrees Celsius, triggering a cascading series of geological and biological changes in this fragile ecosystem.
In contrast to the Elysium Visual Epic Expedition, participation in the IAE 2012 will enable me to experience Antarctica from above the water, with my feet firmly planted on the ground. Participation in the IAE 2012 will also enable me to investigate and document renewable energy applications and sustainability issues as they relate to Antarctica and the broader world.
I’ll be posting dispatches from Antarctica on my website (http://www.susanreaton.com/).
I invite you to join me, virtually, as I explore the Bottom of the World.