Citizenship utilizes the power of travelers to help researchers around the world – record data, make observations and report on natural phenomena. And yes, you can even do that in Antarctica.
Antarctic travel must be about more than just a vacation. Given the amount of energy and carbon it takes to reach the Antarctic Peninsula, a thousand kilometers south of Ushuaia, across the wild Drake Passage, a visit to the world’s last pristine wilderness needs a reason.
That’s what makes civil science great. It is a chance to learn a lot, feel more connected to the continent and contribute in a very real way to valuable scientific research. And anyone can do it! Although the biology class is a distant memory of seed dissection, you can make observations and record data that will influence global research.
“Once we’re down in Antarctica, I think we have an ethical commitment to enriching people’s experience and making that connection,” said Will Abbott, Intrepid’s head of operations in Antarctica. “The trip is not just about tourism, it’s not about an exciting experience, it’s about giving something back to the continent, often in ways you never thought you could.”
What is Citizenship?
Exactly what it sounds like. Citizen science harnesses the power of ordinary travelers to help researchers collect data and make observations. It is especially useful in places that are remote, inhospitable and expensive to get to, such as Antarctica.
Travelers record data under the supervision of the Intrepids Citizen Science Coordinator, and this data is traced back to scientists around the world. It can be a study of migratory seabirds, measuring phytoplankton or taking pictures of a whale’s fluke (the underside of a whale’s tail when diving).
Imagine a huge, untapped pool of potential scientists delivering rolling data from the coldest, driest, highest and windiest place on earth.
“These are reputable science programs, but they can be helped by average Joes like you and me,” Will says. “Often the only technical skills you need are to take a picture or to collect a sample and screw a lid on. It’s a really scalable way to help the climate movement.”
How can I get involved?
As of this year, Intrepid is running civic science programs on all of its Antarctic voyages. Our ship is Ocean Endeavor, and each tour will be accompanied by a trained Citizen Science Coordinator. Through partnerships with NASA, Oxford University, Happy Whale and other research organizations, you have the opportunity to participate in several programs during the journey. These programs are not mandatory, but they are there to give you a chance to contribute to the future of Antarctica and learn more about the desert.
Why is civic science important to Antarctica?
Antarctica and the Southern Ocean play a crucial role in regulating the Earth’s climate, which in a way makes Antarctica zero when it comes to climate change. What is happening here is affecting the entire planet. Scientists need to know how clouds form day by day. They must track animal migration, observe weather patterns and measure the health of phytoplankton – the small microscopic organisms that form the basis of the entire ocean food chain. But it is difficult and very expensive for researchers to do this all year round. That’s why they need citizen researchers out there in the front line collecting data.
What programs can I participate in?
We currently have five civic science programs running aboard Ocean Endeavor. Some of these programs have number limits, which means that not everyone will be able to participate. But don’t worry, you will still get to share the experience.
“Even if you’re not one of the ten people on Zodiac collecting phytoplankton, our Citizen Science Coordinator will take pictures and share the results of what we call ‘Recap’ – the half hour before dinner every night where everyone gathers in the main lounge to share the highlights of the day, ”says Will.
Here are the five programs that Intrepid supports in Antarctica:
Clouds affect how much sunlight the Earth absorbs and how much heat is released into space. The problem is that although satellites can spot clouds, their patterns must be verified by observers on Earth. By observing and recording cloud cover timed for NASA satellite overflights, citizen scientists will contribute valuable climate research.
During your trip, we encourage you to take pictures of whales (the underside of their tails), including any identifiable tags, and upload these pictures to a special database. Happy Whale then uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze and identify each individual whale and then tracks their movement across the oceans. You can even follow a whale’s journey all year round online.
By conducting bird surveys while at sea or on the coast, we can help scientists begin to understand the distribution patterns and habitat use of seabirds in the southern ocean. You will work in small groups with a trained ornithologist, out on the decks to identify different seabirds. Definitely a great program for twitchers out there.
Phytoplankton are the most important inhabitants of the sea, even if you cannot see them with the naked eye. They support the entire marine food chain and account for 50% of all photosynthesis on earth. During your trip, you will collect phytoplankton samples from Zodiac, which will help researchers get a seasonal picture of phytoplankton abundance and distribution.
This project supports Secchi Disk Foundation and is named after the white disc that measures the clarity of seawater. A Secchi Disk will be used to register the Secchi Depth and will be lowered vertically into the seawater from the Zodiac. This study gives you a unique insight into the marine food chain, and the data collected here will help researchers better understand the ecological health of the Antarctic Peninsula.
“It’s fun,” says Will, “because even though civic science may not be what initially attracts people to Antarctica, you can see it on their faces once they are down there and they experience it, getting involved in the projects. “They’re engaged in the desert. They love it.”
Want to learn more about civil science in Antarctica? We have all the information over here.