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Heading south for the winter

by Eavan Moore on December 12, 2013 community

Studying glacial melting processes during Carleton's Antarctic Expedition 2011 with Students on Ice. Photo credit: Claudia Schroder-Adams.

Thirteen earth science students from Carleton University will spend this winter break in an unusual classroom: the waters and shores of Antarctica. Their opportunity comes via the organization Students on Ice, now in its second decade of taking high school and university students on a two-week, multidisciplinary austral experience.

“We are going to an area that leaves a deep and personal impression on all participants,” says Claudia Schroder-Adams, an earth science professor at Carleton who will teach a course on the paleogeographic and paleobiological evolution of the Antarctic Peninsula.  “Geological processes are understood when experienced in action. To be able to teach in such a unique and powerful environment is most rewarding. ”

The expedition brings together about 70 students and 20 teachers, who will cover subjects as wide-ranging as oceanography, history and tourism. Through ship-based classes and frequent mainland field trips, students will seek to understand both the gradual transformation of Antarctica –which was fern-covered under much warmer paleoclimate conditions – and the importance of protecting a region that is intimately connected to the world’s oceans and inhabited areas.

Brent Clark, a fourth-year earth science student at Carleton, is paying for the trip with savings from three summers spent working in resource exploration. He says directly witnessing the impacts of climate change on Antarctic ice will have an immediacy that pictures can’t convey.  “Mining has been given a bad name over the last forty years,” he explains.  “If I do end up going into resource exploration or into working at a mine, it will make me a little bit more environmentally conscious.”

The geological highlights of the trip include a visit to Deception Island, where the group’s Zodiacs will be able to enter the collapsed caldera of a volcano. Clark is also looking forward to seeing the southernmost exposure of the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary (sea ice allowing), which marks the dinosaurs’ mass extinction.

University students on the trip will mentor their high-school counterparts, picking a topic to go over with them and helping them spark specific interests in geology or environmental science. “It's one way to help a younger generation grow up to potentially be the next environmental leaders or polar researchers,” says Clark. 

Between December 27, 2013, and January 10, 2014, the expedition will post updates to the Students on Ice website. At the end of February, Carleton participants will present their experiences at a public outreach event in Ottawa.

For now, the Carleton team is busily fundraising to defray its costs, which include airfare plus a $10,750-per-student fee. Any donations will be evenly distributed to reimburse students after the trip. They have set up a FutureFunder website, and The Faculty of Science has agreed to match up to $10,000 of the funds raised through December.


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