This year, an estimated 100,000 tourists will visit Antarctic waters. But in any one field season, only 5,000 people globally support scientific research in Antarctica.
In recent years the latter has often included Allison Cusick, a PhD candidate from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography who works in the lab of phytoplankton ecologist Maria Vernet. Cusick plans to cruise the Antarctic Peninsula in February 2023, continuing her work with the Fjordphyto citizen science project she co-founded. The program, now funded by NASA, partners with Antarctic tourist ship operators to engage travelers to collect data on phytoplankton abundance, temperature, salinity, and more that helps improve understanding of how melting glaciers are affecting the marine food web. Cusick said about a thousand people participate every year.
More than half a dozen scientists from Scripps Oceanography and the Scripps Polar Center will be venturing to Antarctica for the 2022-23 field season. Two are taking part in the first field season of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Center for Oldest Ice Exploration (COLDEX), which launched with Scripps Oceanography as a partner last year.
The COVID-19 pandemic eliminated the 2020-21 field season. And even though four Scripps Oceanography researchers returned to Antarctica in 2021-22, precautions still exert lingering effects on logistics and supply chains. Graduate student Austin Carter and research geophysicist Jamin Greenbaum, for example, both experienced two-week travel delays.
This year’s field season is also the first since the release of a report issued by the NSF’s Office of Polar Programs on Sexual Assault/Harassment Prevention and Response. The report acknowledged that problems exist and recommended a plan to better address and prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault in the U.S. Antarctic Program.
“We’re putting in quite a bit of time and effort into how we can develop a bottom-up approach to protect our teams,” Jamin Greenbaum said. “That’s definitely front and center this year.”
Greenbaum organized two four-hour bystander workshops before the field season commenced about how crew members should intervene if they see bullying and harassment in the field. About 45 people from multiple field teams and institutions attended. The Scripps Polar Center also organized a Town Hall on this issue in November 2022.
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