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8 July 2009
Rachel Milford a fourth year Manufacturing Engineering undergraduate won the trip of lifetime when she was chosen to join a 12-day expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula.
From 25 March to 5 April 2009, BP hosted the 12-day expedition which was led by the polar explorer, Robert Swan. A diverse team of 50 young students were selected to join Robert on the expedition. Participants were chosen following a two-stage selection process (with the exception of a small number of guest speakers and subject experts who were invited to join the expedition). Following the judging of the entries, over 200 finalists were selected to submit a video presentation of themselves presenting a topic they felt passionate about. Following this, 50 participants were invited to join the expedition. The central theme of the expedition programme was energy security and climate change. The participating students were invited to engage in discussion and debate and to channel their intellect into developing actionable, practical and sustainable solutions that address the paradox of the world's increasing demand for energy, the security of its supply and the issue of climate change. Antarctica is a destination that plays a crucial role in the world's understanding of climate change and provided a truly inspiring backdrop for the expedition.
The target audience for the trip was undergraduate and postgraduate students from the world's premier universities who will drive intellectual and technological change. Below Rachel recounts the expedition:
"From the 25th March to the 5th April, I was one of 60 students and recent graduates from over 20 countries taking part in the trip of a lifetime - Expedition Antarctic 2009. Sponsored by BP and led by the polar explorer, Robert Swan, the expedition aimed to bring together students from different disciplines but with shared enthusiasm in issues of climate change and energy security, mix them up with academic experts, ice and penguins and see what collaborative projects and activities emerged as a result.
"Our voyage began in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southern-most city in the world. The time in Ushuaia was used to set the scene for discussion that would continue throughout the expedition. By collecting the key questions that we hoped to explore, common themes emerged, including: government and policy, collaboration, leadership, communication, inter-dependency and technical solutions. We also spent some time using the C-ROADS climate simulation tool, developed in MIT for use in policy design, to explore possible future emissions scenarios. I found the model to be hugely thought provoking from the potential scale of the required change, to the limited impacts of the carbon targets that are currently being pursued, and the challenges that will be faced when negotiating responsibility and action on a historic and future emissions perspective.
"On the 27th March, we boarded the Akademik Ioffe, a Russian research ship that was to be our home for the next nine days, and set off down the Beagle Channel. The journey to the Antarctic Peninsula was to take us two days across the Drake Passage, regarded by many as the roughest seas in the world. The Drake lived up to its reputation as we were hit by the worst storm of the season and it was somewhat alarming to see waves roll past my window up on the 4th deck... Whilst many of the expeditioners were able to battle through and continue meeting in their discussion groups, my inability to find any sea-legs meant I spent two days in bed feeling rather seasick!
"Our first stop in Antarctica was King George Island where brightly coloured research stations stand out against the almost lunar landscape and our first penguin and seal sightings caused great excitement. We visited the E-Base, an educational base powered solely by renewable energy and built by 2041, the organisation founded by Robert Swan dedicated to the preservation of Antarctica.
"Our next stop was Enterprise Island in Wilhelmina Bay where we wove in and out of incredible ice formations on zodiac boats as the clouds broke above our heads, covering everything in a dramatic light. We stumbled across two humpback whales feeding on krill and sat amazed watching these vast creatures just a few metres from us. That afternoon we went to Cuverville Island, home to several thousand breeding pairs of Gentoo penguin and their offspring.
"Our first stop on the Antarctic continent was Neco Bay; we hiked up the snow covered slopes to a ridge where we were promised an ice calving, where a mass of ice breaks off from its parent glacier, ice berg or ice shelf. After twenty or so minutes of admiring the view, we were not disappointed. A small calving of the ice shelf opposite the ridge caused an enormous rumbling to echo all around the bay and we watched as a sheet of ice crumbled into the icy sea.
"That afternoon we headed to Paradise Bay, where we were to spend the night camping on the small, domed Paradise Island. We were given the option of camping under canvas or sleeping outside. Seeing as it is not everyday you get to go camping in Antarctica (fewer than 100,000 people have ever done it), I decided to brave the cold and helped build a rudimentary windbreak out of snow bricks and settled down to sleep in two sleeping bags, many layers of clothes and hand warmers in my socks! The stars were fantastically bright with the Milky Way smudged across the sky and it was only the growl of ice calvings (and the odd snore!) that pierced the silence every few hours.
"Our last day in Antarctica involved visiting the Ukrainian Vernadsky research station where we dropped off their final food supplies before the winter and looked around Wordie House, an early British research station. The journey back was spent bringing our discussions to a conclusion and identifying opportunities for collaboration on new and existing projects.
"Antarctica is regulated by international treaty and relies on international co-operation to ensure the scientific communities living there are supplied with the necessary resources. It is striking that one of the areas of the world most obviously affected by climate change and most vulnerable to future resource exploitation is governed through the type of international collaboration that will likely be necessary to tackle climate change.
"Tackling climate change will require international and multi-disciplinary action and I am extremely grateful to BP for the chance to participate in this experience, through which a diverse network of people and resources has been established."
Further information about the expedition can be found at: http://www.expedition-antarctic-2009.com/
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