Back to Antarctica

Back in 2009 this blog was kicked off by a trip to Antarctica for the NGO 2041. Over the last two weeks I have had the privilege to return, again with 2041. This is an NGO that is dedicated to the preservation of the continent as a last untouched place on earth – the name derives from the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty which imposes a moratorium on mining and resource extraction form Antarctica, but with the possibility of review of that provision in the 2040s.

2041 run annual expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula in a bid to help younger people understand the importance of the continent with the potential that some of them may be in a position to make a difference on the outcome of any review in 30 years time. This overarching story about Antarctica serves as a backdrop for a deeper dive into sustainability and environmental issues, including climate change.

I gave a series of presentations on climate change over the two weeks, drawing extensively from the material in this blog and from my recent book. When I spoke in the theatre on the ship, the world’s largest cache of fresh water was visible through the window beside me; as ice stored in the mighty glaciers of the Antarctic continent.  A chain of events is now unfolding leading to a gradual reduction in ice mass in Antarctica, thereby raising sea levels and slowly impacting coastlines the world over. The young people in the audience will have to deal with this legacy.

On the trip we saw a different legacy of sorts, with a stop at Whalers Bay in Deception Island; I use the word “in” here because you literally sail into the island to reveal its splendour. Whalers Bay is a sombre place where for a period of some thirty years early in the 20th Century killed whales were brought ashore for rendering and extraction of their valuable oil. Although US whale oil use had almost vanished by 1900, it continued on globally for some time after this, being used for lamp oil, soap and margarine. But by the 1930s when Whalers Bay was eventually abandoned, whale oil prices globally had collapsed as substitutes for almost all its uses had been found. Electricity, crude oil and vegetable oils brought this industry to an end. Whalers Bay is an interesting place to contemplate the market shifts we may see this century!

To close out, here are a few of my photographs from the expedition. The final photograph is of a rare sighting of a sperm whale near Cape Horn.