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In Defence of AAE 2013

For the past week, I have followed the unfolding saga as those onboard Akademik Shokalskiy watch the weather, the ice, the approaching icebreakers. Ten months ago we were battling the ice approaching the Ross Sea in MV Ortelius. Greg Mortimer was our leader then, and he is co-leader of the team on the edge of Commonwealth Bay now. I have only briefly met team leader Chris Turney, but I know of his dedication to science and all things Antarctic. Any expedition guided by these two men is in good and safe hands. Both are careful, considerate leaders. Why, then, are there those who criticise and belittle this expedition?

The world is divided into those who ‘get’ Antarctica, and those who don’t. Those who do are people who make the short trip to the wonderland of the Antarctic Peninsular, and ones who take the continent more seriously and venture into East Antarctica. The REAL Antarctica. Of those who don’t ‘get it’, most still appreciate what a special place this is, and understand the need to monitor its changes which affect the whole planet. A very few laugh at serious scientists who take risks to gather this information.

I have followed just about every tweet and post and blog (including some on WordPress) and am disgusted at the minority who call Chris and his gang all sorts of names – like idiot. They accuse him of running away from the ship, of having too much fun (!). These critics obviously do not understand that science is not tied to the ship. In Mawson’s case, the ship left them. For a year. In Chris’s case, his science is complete, and he needs to return to analyse the data and write papers. The Shokalskiy will be left in the very capable hands of its Russian crew who know very well how to look after themselves and their ship. The scientists are merely passengers.

And as for having fun – surely it is the role of the expedition leader to keep morale high? When we were battling the ice last February, there were a few onboard who grumbled. Greg jumped on this very quickly, organising activities to keep everyone content: Zodiac rides among the ice; helicopter flights over the Transantarctic Mountains; trivia quizzes.

This afternoon, according to Chris, a helicopter has come from the Xue Long and they will be flying out within the hour. The plan is to lift all non-crew onto the Xue Long, then transfer to Aurora Australis who will resume resupplying Casey Station. I have to admit, I am envious. I would give anything to be with them; to experience everything that powerful place has thrown at them, and share the camaraderie I know will be strong.

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