I wrote this article as a Special Correspondent for the Cape Times (News) – it ran on 21 December 2016
Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov leaves from Table Bay on ground breaking expedition
On a perfect day in Cape Town, an A list crowd of VIP’s and diplomats that included the gracious and eloquent Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology, Krystyna Marty Lang the Swiss Deputy Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Frederik Paulsen the President of the ACE Foundation, Philippe Gillet the Chairman of the Swiss Polar Institute, gathered on the East Pier at the V&A Waterfront to bid farewell to the Russian scientific research vessel Akademik Treshnikov as it set sail on an unprecedented three month journey to the Antarctic. The ground breaking mission, known as the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute, a newly formed organisation founded by the various entities that include the Swiss Institute of Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, the University of Bern, and Editions Paulsen.
As the Akademik Treshnikov made its way on 19 November from Bremerhaven in Germany to its official departure point in Cape Town’s Table Bay Harbour, 50 hand picked young scientists from around the world, including six from around South Africa, undertook an intense course on board. The empowering ACE Maritime University offered the young academics a rare opportunity to glean valuable knowledge and experience and engage in practical assignments, all under the auspices of the Russian Geographic Society. Professor Isabelle Ansorge, HOD of UCT’s Department of Oceanography, was responsible for ensuring the South Africans’ participation in the venture that ended once the ship reached the Mother City.
The North and South Poles are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth and play a crucial role in providing the planet’s oceans with strong underwater streams that regulate the world’s weather patterns from the region to the equator. David Walton, the lead scientist on board, explained that circumnavigating the Antarctic in one season would give the team “a bird’s eye view” of the prevailing situation in the Southern Seas, and enable the group to merge critical data sets captured via all 22 projects. Scientists joining the expedition, 150 in total, hail from various universities and institutes in Switzerland, South Africa, Russia, Germany, France, Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain, the USA and Canada. Issues tackled will be air-sea interactions and the pre-industrial Antarctic atmosphere (Switzerland), changes in the ocean’s capacity to absorb CO2 and the evaluation of the carbon storage capacity in seabed organisms (UK), understanding the survival strategy of plankton and biodiversity, and testing the diversity of marine refugia on sub Antarctic islands (Australia), changes in ecosystems after the calving of a giant iceberg (Canada), monitoring the threatened albatrosses and penguins (Russia) and profiling the southern ocean’s microbial community (South Africa). Scientist Julia Shmale from the Paul Scherrer Institute who will be looking at atmospheric sciences during the full circumnavigation said, “our success will be measured by answering many questions but we’ll have achieved even greater success if we return with more questions.”
The expedition was initiated and sponsored by leading industrialist and philanthropist Dr Frederik Paulsen, who has a well-established track record in polar exploration. The Akademik Treshnikov returns to SA in March 2017.
Follow the expedition on Facebook https://m.facebook.com/ACEexpedition/