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US News Antarctica needs humans to protect it. It also needs humans to stay away. What's a potential visitor to do?

18:46  12 june  2018
18:46  12 june  2018 Source:   pri.org

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Antarctica doesn’t need visitors , it needs protectors and that requires us all to take a vested interest in this place. The concept that we protect what we love comes from a selfish place (if we’re going to be real about it ), so we proposition that the same logic is applied to why we need to protect

That' s different than it used to be, and it would be nice if that carried over at home. We go to great lengths, at great expense, to protect the Antarctic environment; all of the garbage except human waste is carried out of there. We also do a lot of recycling.

  Massive flat topped iceberg floating in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica showing the weathered cracks and fissures on the sides © Getty Massive flat topped iceberg floating in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica showing the weathered cracks and fissures on the sides

Sherry Ott has been all over the world. Borneo, Mongolia, Nepal — she writes about travel for a living.

But Antarctica was different.

Polar research ice camp over a drifting ice floe in Antarctica © Getty Polar research ice camp over a drifting ice floe in Antarctica It’s “the closest you can get to leaving this planet," Ott says. “This was the first place ever that I had been where clearly people were not in charge.”

No one even knew Antarctica existed until the late 1700s. It’s likely than no human set foot on the remote continent until at least the 1820s. And a century later, people had still barely begun exploring it.

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The real problems have to do with human nature and economics. Living on Mars would be way, way more miserable than living in Antarctica . Imagine how much more expensive it would be to stay drunk for your entire life on Mars.

How humans cope with extreme cold. What ' s it like in Antarctica ? There was also a variation of the second approach whereby larger sinkable items such as broken and useless vehicles were taken out onto the sea ice and left.

  Antarctica needs humans to protect it. It also needs humans to stay away. What's a potential visitor to do? © Getty Even today, with 40 permanent research stations and dozens of ships plying its waters in the summertime, Ott says she was struck on her visit last year by how untouched it still felt.

“It was the wildlife that owned this land,” she says. “One of my best days on Earth was being able to just sit on the beach, and king penguins would just walk right up to you, and the stiller you sat, pretty soon you get surrounded by them.”

Iceland, Jokulsarlon lagoon, © Getty Iceland, Jokulsarlon lagoon, There were something like 60,000 penguins, all waddling around and squawking.

And then there’s the ice. Antarctica as we know it is almost completely covered in ice, and that’s a huge part of the drama of being there. The sight and sound of massive icebergs breaking apart can be unforgettable.

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"You can also do things like produce and store oxygen from resources at Mars beforehand for the crew and the ascent vehicle. Antarctica , or submarines ? all that feeds into the human behavioral aspects of crew selection." You'd Also Like. What ' s Next for Mars Exploration?

These ionized atoms travel at basically the speed of light, although Earth’ s magnetic field is also able to protect the planet and objects in low Earth orbit This works fairly well, but we don’t know how thick the shielding needs to be on a Mars-bound ship. Too thick, and it ’ s cost prohibitive to get the ship out

Ott says traveling to Antarctica was life-changing, and she says part of her wishes everyone could experience what she did.

Massive Iceberg floating in the Southern Ocean in Antarctica © Getty Massive Iceberg floating in the Southern Ocean in Antarctica “I wish everyone could see it once, somehow, and have that feeling of being in a place where humans aren’t in charge.”

But she says the other part of her isn’t so sure.

“I want people to go to Antarctica, and I don’t.”

  Antarctica needs humans to protect it. It also needs humans to stay away. What's a potential visitor to do? © Getty That’s because when you do see Antarctica, it’s hard to ignore how climate change is affecting the place, and the whole planet. And as a visitor, you contribute to that crisis, and to melting that huge block of ice.

By one count, a two-week trip from the US to Antarctica produces 25 tons of carbon pollution, the very stuff that’s causing the atmosphere to warm up.

And there are lots of visitors to Antarctica these days — about 40,000 tourists a year, and more than 4,000 scientists and support staff.

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So we need to be totally sure it is what we want to do , need to do it also based on a thorough Right now it might seem strange to do that rather than send humans there. But when we have loads of Will First Mars Astronauts Stay In Orbit - Tele-operating Sterile Rovers - To Protect Earth And Mars

It 's also far more promising for tourist hotels, and human research stations, because it is so much easier to get to than Mars, it ' s a great place for radio and infrared telescopes, and it 's potentially Robots and humans together. Robotic scouting phase - need to go back and find out what ' s there first.

Cruise ship in Antarctica © Getty Cruise ship in Antarctica Last year, Ott says she saw the effects of climate change in action when her tour leader steered his ship toward an Antarctic island. He’d been going there for decades, but in tourist season the quickest route would usually be blocked by ice, and the ship would have to take a longer route.

This time, though, Ott says it was so warm that the ice had melted and the ship could go straight through.

A small cruise ship makes passage through the Lemaire Channel in Antarctica © Getty A small cruise ship makes passage through the Lemaire Channel in Antarctica For Ott, it was “one of those ‘uh-oh’ moments,” one of those moments when climate change is no longer an abstract, distant problem we hear about on the news. Ott was seeing its effects right in front of her, and it created a sort of moral dilemma.

As a writer, “I’m kind of making it worse,” she says. “Because then I come back and I write about these places and I get people excited about going there, and I’m perpetuating the problem even more.”

Other visitors, including scientists, experience a similar dilemma.

  Antarctica needs humans to protect it. It also needs humans to stay away. What's a potential visitor to do? © Getty Heather Lynch is a professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University in New York who goes to Antarctica frequently. And she says every trip racks up a big “carbon debt.”

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Distractions and lack of focus on the fireline can draw your attention away from potential problems or hazards. Since you can’t avoid it , you need to understand what you’re facing. To protect yourself and others, you need to know how to identify and manage the risks that you face.

So we need to be totally sure it is what we want to do , need to do it also based on a thorough Right now it might seem strange to do that rather than send humans there. But when we have loads of Will First Mars Astronauts Stay In Orbit - Tele-operating Sterile Rovers - To Protect Earth And Mars

“All of us, scientists included, come back every year in debt,” Lynch says. “And we spend the rest of that year repaying that debt.”

Melting glaciers are a clear sign of climat change and global warming. © Getty Melting glaciers are a clear sign of climat change and global warming.

Lynch says she helps repay her carbon debt through her research, which focuses on how climate change is affecting penguins.

And here’s a twist: To do that work, she and her colleagues actually depend on tourist ships to ferry them back and forth, for free. Otherwise, she says, “we would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just on paying for those trips.”

In lieu of paying her way, Lynch gives onboard lectures about her work.

  Antarctica needs humans to protect it. It also needs humans to stay away. What's a potential visitor to do? © Getty

Scientists sometimes benefit from the tourist trips in other ways, too, like when paying passengers collect air samples or share photos of whales.

So science and tourism have forged kind of an alliance in Antarctica, but it’s an alliance that just increases that carbon debt.

  Antarctica needs humans to protect it. It also needs humans to stay away. What's a potential visitor to do? © Getty And there are other impacts to consider when humans travel to the region — the impacts of just being there.

“When we’re standing there and we have snot running out of our nose and cells coming off our body, technically it’s pollution,” says Justine Shaw, a conservation scientist at the University of Queensland in Australia. “Because we're introducing bacteria and viruses that have never been [there].”

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Antarctica is not made for humans , and The term “climate change” is a bit misleading, because what ’ s happening is about so much more than rising temperatures — it ’s about how all the She has a strong need to ground our understanding of earth surface processes in on-the-ground observations

Home › Environmental management › Human impacts in Antarctica . IUU fishing is also a concern because it may involve the use of fishing techniques that can cause The Madrid Protocol established a system for area protection and management, which will be used to protect areas of outstanding

  Antarctica needs humans to protect it. It also needs humans to stay away. What's a potential visitor to do? © Getty Almost all tour operators follow strict protocols about contaminants, down to detailed instructions on how to wash your boots every time you get on and off the ice.

But Shaw says even with careful guidelines, humans can introduce things like flies and invasive weeds, which take full advantage of warming temperatures to take root in this new habitat.

It definitely gives her pause.

A mountain peak is covered with white snow in Antarctica © Getty A mountain peak is covered with white snow in Antarctica “The easy thing to do would be to say everyone put down your tools, put down your toys, walk away and just let Antarctica do its thing,” Shaw says. “But that’s not going to happen.”

Scientists need to go to Antarctica to study everything from climate change to astrophysics.

And Shaw agrees that tourism plays an important role.

Arctic spring in south Spitsbergen © Getty Arctic spring in south Spitsbergen “No tourist goes to Antarctica and comes back and says, ‘ah, yeah, it’s not that great,’” she says.

Just the opposite — Shaw says everyone who goes there is moved by its beauty and uniqueness, and comes to understand what a risk climate change is to the place.

In some cases, visitors even make a pledge to advocate for its protection. That’s what happened on Ott’s expedition.

Adelie penguin jumping between two ice floes © Getty Adelie penguin jumping between two ice floes

But does visiting Antarctica really change what people do when they get back? Are all those impacts really worth it?

“It’s the existential question, I think, with conservation in general,” says Robert Powell, a professor of parks and environmental ethics at Clemson University.

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We've not done either, let' s do what we can do , and can afford to do , first. So Antarctica should be considered as a stepping stone to anywhere offworld, especially Mars, since it is the most That would be the long-term benefit, because those are what every human in humanity needs for survival.

What ' s it like in Antarctica ? Hypothermia and humans . Antarctica is however the most stringently protected part of the earth, there are strict guidelines under the Antarctic Treaty Protocol on Environmental Protection about what can and can't be left in Antarctica , unfortunately though

Powell used to be a guide in Antarctica, and as an academic, he has surveyed tourists before trips to Antarctica, immediately after, and then a few months later.

He found that tourists generally were moved by their experience. He says they intended to change behaviors and become ambassadors for Antarctica, and were inspired to donate to groups that protect the region and to avoid products that harm the environment.

But later, he says, once they’ve slid back into their regular lives, “in a lot of cases, folks just fall into their everyday patterns.”

  Antarctica needs humans to protect it. It also needs humans to stay away. What's a potential visitor to do? © Getty Overall, Powell found no significant change in behavior.

But he has found a few dramatic exceptions, like the pastor of a megachurch whose Antarctica voyage inspired him to start a national campaign to get evangelical Christians to act on climate change.

Not everyone will have such a strong reaction, Powell says, “but we hear many people that have changed careers, and really have these sort of epiphanies on these trips.”

And Powell says even those rare experiences are important.

But does it ultimately balance out? Does tourism help? Or does it hurt Antarctica?

Powell admits that for that essential question, there’s just no easy answer.

A version of this story originally appeared on an episode of WHYY's The Pulse.

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