« Eco Art – International Installations Tackling Environmental Issues | Main | Volunteer Photo of the Week: Kirsten Inglis »
Tuesday
Apr152014

Antarctica: A New Frontier

Antarctica is a frozen, windswept continent, with no permanent inhabitants residing on the frozen planet because of its hostility and remoteness. Yet, it has lured explorers, adventurers and scientists alike for the same reason: it is the last great wilderness on our planet, with a huge unknown quality that humans are curious to uncover. All in all, it’s the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for the greatest adventure of your life!

Video courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Exploration

A new frontier, first discovered in 1820 by ship expeditions that acted on the much hypothesized ‘southern land’; it was not until 1895 that the first recorded and confirmed landing on the Antarctic Peninsula actually took place. This led to an expansion in exploration of the new found land, with the continents highest peak and only active volcano – Mount Erebus – being duly conquered in 1908 by a British expedition. This was followed by a race between a Norwegian and British expedition to the South Pole in 1911, with a fateful end awaiting the unsuccessful British expedition on their return from the Pole after having made it there a month behind their Norwegian counterparts.

Mount Erebus, courtesy of Wikipedia

Conservation

Now, Antarctica is a hub for scientific research, with expeditions conducted to document the environmental effects of humans on the continent, the effect that global warming is having, amongst research on the Antarctic ecosystem and its importance to the planet. However, to this day, the continent is largely unexplored because of the harsh, near-unliveable conditions that it provides to explorers. But with advancements in technology and new research techniques, more of the mysteries of the polar region are being uncovered, with the likes of the BBC’s Frozen Planet providing a thorough and extraordinary documentation of life in the South Pole.

There have been many restrictions put into place in the concerted effort to preserve the Peninsula’s environment. For example, the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978 brought about several restrictions to U.S. activity in Antarctica, including abducting native mammals and birds, polluting the continent or introducing non-indigenous species. There is also a more widespread regulation managing all fisheries in the Southern Ocean for the consideration of its potential effects on the entire Antarctic ecosystem. However, much work is still needed to abolish the illegal fishing that is a serious and increasing problem in the Southern Oceans.

NASA conducting scientific research, courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Wildlife

A frozen desert would not indicate that there would be much in terms of native wildlife – and you would be completely wrong for thinking this! The climate suits ‘specialists’ that have evolved to live in such an environment, with a number of penguin species, blue whales, orcas and fur seals being the commonly seen inhabitants. In fact, in some areas, all that can been seen is vistas upon vistas full of seals wriggling along on the snow, and herds of emperor penguins waddling along on their vast journey to their breeding grounds miles inland from the coast – much like a scene from Happy Feet, minus the singing animals! Not to forget the colossal blue whale, which at 30 metres long and over 170 tonnes in weight provides a majestic sight when seen surfacing amongst a field of icebergs, before it splashes back down into the dark, icy waters. One thing that they all have in common is the fact they rely, directly or indirectly, on phytoplankton to survive. Also, as a part of annual migrations, a plethora of birds flying to the continent, such as albatrosses and petrels, are normally spotted battling the strong winds of the barren plains.

A global Census of Marine Life released in 2010, revealed that a remarkable 235 marine organisms live in both Polar Regions and make the 12,000 km trip from each pole annually because of the ideal conditions at certain points of the year – only emphasising the importance of the arctic conditions for a vast range of marine life.

Emperor Penguins, courtesy of Christopher Michel

Opportunities

With better conservation methods and a wealth of highly skilled, highly experienced personnel that have experienced life in the coldest regions of the world, there are more opportunities for those that yearn for an adventure to explore the final unblemished region on Earth – possibly before climate change has its full impact on it. And by experiencing this unique continent and contributing to the conservation efforts, the importance of the invaluable research, surveys and findings that are made in the Antarctic can illustrate to everyone the importance that this continent holds to the rest of the world.

By Manny Mahoon

Frontier provides conservation and eco-tours of Antarctica, not causing any negative impact on the wildlife on the continent. Find out about Frontier's Antarctica Voyage and if you're thinking about planning your trip, why not incorperate a volunteer placement and give a little something back along the way?

Get more from us on social media with FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest. 

See more from volunteers on YouTubeFlickr and Instagram #FrontierVolunteer.