London: More than 50 researchers from 30 countries are to carry out the first scientific circumnavigation of Antarctica in an attempt to measure pollution and climate change, with the official launch held on Monday.
The international team will sail on Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov, leaving Cape Town on 20 December and returning on 18 March next year.
Organisers of the Antarctic Circumpolar Expedition (ACE) hope to foster collaboration in a bid to gain a deeper understanding of humankind’s effect on the Southern Ocean.
“Researchers will work on a number of interrelated fields, from biology to climatology to oceanography, for the future of this continent,” said an expedition press release.
“A better understanding of Antarctica is critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole planet,” it added.
“Scientific progress depends more than ever on communication between diverse scientific domains. For example, marine biology depends on complex mathematical models currently being developed by oceanographers.”
The team leaders issued a call last year for research proposals, receiving over 100 ideas. A panel of experts whittled these down to 22.
Adopted projects include mapping whales, penguins and albatrosses in the Southern Ocean; measuring the effect of plastic pollution on the food chain; and logging the extent of phytoplankton—the base of the food chain—and its role in regulating climate.
Scientists will also take ice core samples and study biodiversity on the continent in an attempt to reveal conditions before the onset of the Industrial Revolution.
ACE is the first project of the newly-created Swiss Polar Institute (SPI)—a joint venture comprising various Swiss research and educational institutions that aims to “enhance international relations and collaboration between countries, as well as to spark the interest of a new generation of young scientists in polar research.”
The journey will be divided into three legs, with Hobart in Australia and Punta Arenas in Chile serving as staging posts.
Other stop-offs include the Crozet Islands, South Sandwich, South Georgia and the Mertz iceshelf on Antarctica itself.
Frederik Paulsen, a founder of the SPI, David Walton, the expedition’s science coordinator, other contributing scientists and politicians were due to gather in London on Monday for the official launch.