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Laurier graduate student to spend two weeks chilling with penguins and polar ice
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Antarctica is the most environmentally hostile continent on the planet. It has the highest average elevation, which consequently makes it the driest, windiest and coldest place on Earth. The lowest recorded temperature is a brisk -89.2 °C.
These harsh conditions make travel and life on Antarctica extremely difficult and not many people get the opportunity to experience it, but a trip to Antarctica is exactly what Laurier graduate student Kevin Turner is looking forward to this month. The PhD candidate in geography and environmental studies departs for the chilly continent February 13 for a two-week research and educational excursion by boat.
Turner’s research is focused on hydrology, the movement of water in relation to land and atmosphere. His fieldwork usually takes place on the opposite side of the globe, in the Canadian Arctic. He works with Laurier geography and environmental studies professor Dr. Brent Wolfe, investigating the impact of climate change on lake water levels in northern Yukon Territory. Both are involved with a government-sponsored project in the Old Crow Flats through International Polar Year (IPY), a two-year program of science, research and education that focuses on the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
February’s voyage is the first annual University Antarctic Expedition by IPY and Students on Ice, an award-winning organization that offers educational expeditions to both the Arctic and Antarctic. The trip will expose Turner to the scientific procedures that are used when investigating hydrological issues in the Antarctic, and in turn will provide him with a more comprehensive understanding of how climate change is affecting Polar regions as a whole.
“These places are the most susceptible to a changing climate and the hydrological and oceanographic impacts will have serious international consequences,” says Turner.
On the boat there will be lectures, classes and workshops on a variety of topics, from ecology to oceanography. Students will also get the chance to take zodiac boats out to the Antarctic mainland and surrounding islands. Turner is interested in learning the methods for ice core sampling.
“Scientists in the past have taken cylindrical samples of ice that extended hundreds of metres into a glacier and contained evidence of what this world was like hundreds of thousands of years ago,” he says. “For example, by examining the concentration of gases such as carbon dioxide, contained in tiny air bubbles throughout the core, scientists can gain an understanding of how climate has changed.”
It was Dr. Michael English, director of Laurier’s Cold Regions Research Centre (CRRC), who first informed Turner of the expedition and helped him gather funding for the $10,000 trip. A collection of funds from Laurier’s president, vice-presidents: academic and research, the Faculty of Graduate Studies, an anonymous donor found by Fred Nichols and the CRRC are all helping Turner make it on the boat that costs up to $25,000 a day to run.
“I’m extremely happy with the support from Laurier,” says Turner. “The university sees the benefits to an excursion like this and really stepped up.”
Turner also happens to be a professional photographer who enjoys shooting landscapes, so he’s looking forward to taking some pretty spectacular photos.
“Being submerged in this place and seeing everything, from penguins to massive icebergs floating by, will be an amazing experience,” he says. “And I also get to conduct research, meet like-minded people and learn from professors on the boat – I’m very excited.