02 January 2007 – Comment

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Comment

We have our first comment. If you would like to send us comments/questions etc we will post them on the diary pages.
Please email them to : adam@xs4all.nl

hello I-Tasc crew,

Thanks for the work and stories from there. I am reading them daily. Slowly I begin to have questions. I am also motivated by the last posts by all of you about the meaning of doing this adventure.
I see that your objectives are scientific so I am wondering if there would be some way for you to measure how polluted Antarctica already is or find access to this data. I mean electromagnetic pollution and also from fuel, from radiation, etc.

I had some conversation some days ago with a friend here in Barcelona.
Some kind of end-of-the-world conversation (is a surprise for me but people keep bringing this subject up). Anyway, he was describing to me how he thought, the poles would become the next colonisation ends. Due to global warming (and Mars being still too expensive). So he was saying that Antarctica will become a site to be colonised by the rich and the elite.

You know I think artists sometimes are used to present in a friendly way the work of scientists or governments or 'foundations' (i.g.people with power/money) so, in this case perhaps you are in the role of explorers for a tendency to inhabit this remote end. How remote the possibility of colonisation is in the treaties already existing for Antarctica? Even if this sounds like bad conspiracy theory or sci-fi, I would just keep the idea of colonisation and consider tourism as a form of it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

I don't think that one is necessarily cynical for wondering what the
reasons to be there are. I think this wondering is healthy but must lead to a decision, not only in the realm of the symbolic (like making a statement by not doing anything). I would just ask if is possible to find out how far this agenda has already gone. How many non-scientific people are reaching this far end including tourists that come to different bases, journalists, artists. And what does this mean in terms of pollution.

I really would like to know how far pollution in Antarctica has already
gone and what are the measurements being done to quantify it.

About your worries of polluting, I think you are right, that you are part of a movement/change/ in the world where there are very few places left that are not wasted and some are exploring, measuring, estimating how possible a new colonisation is or at least how to make available new ends for leisure (so, touristic colonisation). I mean, 10 years ago perhaps, this kind of adventure such as yours could not have taken place, because really only scientific people and military could be there.

I also wonder where are the animals in all this, have you seen them?, is there life in the ice or rocks around (lichens?), is all white, like a steppe of ice? I saw something like this once, in Chile while we were
doing  a trail in Parque Torres del Paine. Going up a mountain, from the top you could see Campos de Hielo Sur. Also in Argentinian Patagonia although the fields were of low bushes and not from ice. Some feeling of immensity I guess.

best wishes for you all,

pueblo

Well, thank you Pueblo for the post. You have asked very many questions and I can’t answer them all but we will endeavour to respond as much as possible to your points.

I have taken the questions about the lichens and animals to one of the scientists here.

Ian Meiklejohn is a geomorphologist from the University of Pretoria (he studies the changes to geology over time). The photos taken are by David Harding, another Geomorphologist from the University of Pretoria, and they were taken from around the base and at Roberts Colony. Ian confesses to not being a lichen expert but he was kind enough to give me quite a bit of information anyway. Lichen are not actually an ‘entity’ in their own right, rather they are a symbiotic process between algae and fungi.

They are very primitive, and together with moss, are the only forms of ‘vegetation’ in this part of Antarctica. In other parts of the continent you can also find a particular species of grass and a species of flowering plant. However, that is about all that survives here as far as plant life goes.

The moss supports invertebrate which include mites and springtails. The lichens live off the moisture in the rocks and they settle when their spores land in cracks in rocks.

There are several types of lichen but not many are known or studied in Antarctica. The two mainly found here are Crustose and Folisoe. Crustose forms a crust on the rocks and the Foliose look more plant-like.

Lichen play an important role in turning the rocks into soil. They do this in two ways, one is that their hypae (‘roots’) bury down into cracks and split the rocks over time, and the second is that they break rocks down by an acidic residue they deposit. Some scientists believe that because of their role in making soil, they are one of the earliest indicators of global warming. If more lichen are found more southerly than usual then this could be the result of global warming.

The birds here (Snow Petrels, Scue, and Fulma) don’t eat the lichen, they eat mainly fish and other birds. However, the birds may help feed the lichen through guano deposits (bird excrement).

Roberts Colony, about 30km north of here, is a site where many lichen and moss are found. It is a Nunatak and because of the abundance of lichen, moss, and birds, some scientists are working towards keeping Roberts Colony a managed protected area. There are also three protected areas around the base where people can’t go and this is to protect damaging the lichen. In fact, many of the rocks around the base contain lichen and we were briefed when we arrived about not stepping on them.

That’s all I can answer for now. I hope it gives you some of the information you want… if there are any other questions just send them to me (if anyone else would like to post a comment here or ask questions please send to: adam@xs4all.nl and I will put them on the webpage and I-TASC will respond also).

thanks again!

And for a brief update. We have been housebound these last days in a storm. Apparently, it moved from ‘just a windy day’ to a storm – Franz Hoffman (the boss) couldn’t see the caterpillar trucks parked about 20m from the door, so this is the official word! The winds are about 40 knots and only a few of the experienced hands go outside. I peeked at my antenna on the roof for the FM station and it’s still there so that’s really great news. The radio is getting people quite excited but I feel a bit behind on it so we have to get things going tomorrow.

When the storm clears, Tom and I have organised to hitch a ride with the caterpillar drivers back to the ship (still by the ice shelf). It’s 200km or so over Antarctica and it takes 15 hours each way. Apparently, it’s not good for the kidneys as the trucks rattle a lot but according to the drivers it’s the only way to see Antarctica. Looking forward to it but might get back exhausted. We will also do some communications tests on the trip to see how far the High Frequency Radio modems can reach.

Thanks to all the people that have written to say hi and wish us a lovely Christmas and New Years. Especially thanks to my wonderful partner Lotte for spending a stuttery new years eve with me over IRC from Amsterdam :)) and also thanks to Mr Snow for offering to send us some Debian Disks, and Honor for doing the call out for the material for the station. Thanks also to all the people that are trying to send material to us for the station – I hope it gets here in time! (thanks also to mum for the early Xmas prezzie of the merino and possum hat).