McGill sends students to Antarctica to conduct research

Many students have complained about Montreal’s arctic temperatures in the past weeks, but few, if any, have actually had a real Arctic experience. In the coming weeks, that is about to change. A group of McGill students led by Professor Eric Galbraith are heading to Antarctica for a two-week field study program as part of a course offered by the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at McGill.

Galbraith, who has been to Antarctica six times, described his experiences there as “unlike anywhere else—it’s as close as we can get to visiting another planet.”

It appears there is no other way to describe an experience in which students will be able see penguins, seals, and glaciers as part of their daily course activities. Indeed, it was some of these activities and the uniqueness of the experience that drew several McGill students to the course in the first place.

“The main reason why I chose to go on this study was because it gave me the chance to go to Antarctica,” said Katrina Adams, a U3 Biology major taking part in the trip. “Now, not many field courses take you there, and it is pretty much the adventure of a lifetime.”

The course involved a series of lectures with Galbraith prior to departure. Students will be taking scientific measurements of ocean currents and of the glaciers themselves while in Antarctica. They will also have the opportunity to see many of the concepts they had learned about throughout their studies.

“We’d like to take some useful measurements of how the ocean currents are behaving, which may be important for understanding the response of the Antarctic ice sheet to climate change,” Galbraith said.

Climate change is an important issue for many students taking part in the field study.

“I want to have a different perspective of the climate issue by looking at one of the regions where the impacts of global warming are significant,” said Audrey Yank, a U4 Biosource Engineering major who is taking part in the study.

“Antarctica has a really large impact on global climate, because it acts kind of like a refrigerator for the world, and an aeration pump for the oceans,” Galbraith said. “Because it’s so hard to get to, it is not all that well understood, and there are still lots of scientific mysteries to explore there.”

To get to Antarctica, students flew to Argentina, and then boarded a boat that was scheduled to bring them to Antarctica on Monday. The students will use the boat as the base for their daily studies. Staying on the continent itself would involve living at a research facility, which Galbraith said was not possible.

McGill arranged the two-week-long study in Antarctica through Students on Ice, a non-profit organization specializing in educational events in both the Northern and Southern polar areas. Students on Ice’s mission statement says its goal is to “to provide students, educators and scientists from around the world with inspiring educational opportunities at the ends of the Earth and, in doing so, help them foster a new understanding and respect for the planet.”

McGill students are not the only ones taking part in this field study. Students from Carleton University, the University of Ottawa, and the University of California, Los Angeles are among the half-dozen schools sending students to Antarctica through the same program. The approximate cost per student for the trip is $11,000.

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