CAPE TOWN It was hard to ignore the heat (or the irony) as a group of scientists told occupants in a sweltering hall on a quayside in Cape Town that they hope evidence gathered during a three-month circumnavigation of Antarctica would “prove convincing to those politicians who have been sitting on the fence” about climate change.

Professor David Walton, the chief scientist for the expedition which returned here last week, told the first workshop on results from the recently completed Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) here Tuesday that he was “hopeful that here is some more compelling evidence that we are destroying our planet but that there are some mitigating things we can do to save our future”.

ACE is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute, a newly created entity founded by EPFL, the Swiss Institute of Forest, Snow and Landscape research, WSL, ETHZ, the University of Bern and Editions Paulsen.

It set out with a diverse range of scientists from all around the world on board with a holistic mission to study the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean.

Frederik Paulsen, polar explorer and president of the ACE Foundation, reminded everyone in the sweltering room that a better understanding of Antarctica was critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole planet.

The philanthropist, who is widely credited for having made the expedition possible, said the poles are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth, yet played a central role in regulating the world’s climate.

A total of 22 projects covering terrestrial, marine and atmospheric disciplines were completed during the expedition which pushed science beyond cultural and geographical borders and advanced the tech frontier.

It is very early days still in terms of understanding and being able to act on findings from the voyage. In fact, when the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov sailed into Cape Town last week, marking the end of the three-month long voyage, it was merely “the end of the beginning”, according to Walton.

“The next stage will last another two to three years, making the best of what we have learnt; the real work has just begun.”

Paulsen confirmed this and added, with a wry smile, that this could be seen as a dream for any researcher since it meant they could start asking for grants for the next 10 years.

The good news spreads well beyond the researchers from 73 institutes and 22 countries involved because all the data collected, the physical samples even, will be made available widely.

Walton said the plan had always been to spread the network of ACE as widely as possible. Research publications as well as all the data, even the samples where possible, will be available on an open access basis.

“All of this is part of a belief that things like this are going to be important only if they make their findings and data as widely available as possible.”

He said none of the country operators had ever tried something as big or holistic as this expedition, which had been bigger than any of the national programmes.

The mission, which involved polar institutes from seven countries and covered air, land and marine research, seems to have set out from the start to smash silo thinking and break down barriers.

Now, he said, they must get to work “to make sure the data we get is properly calibrated and controlled and its accessibility is organized in an efficient manner”.

Paulsen agreed, saying that only by joining forces could the different countries succeed in gaining a better understanding of the region, which was “not only desirable but crucial and there is still much to be done”.


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