In Antarctica, pretty much each organism is threatened. 66 North/Unsplash

As we move into the thick of the Antarctic winter, we would anticipate the ocean about the southernmost continent to be cloaked in its common veil of thick sea ice. Even so, in 2023, the familiar scene is absolutely diverse. Places of East Antarctica, in an unprecedented departure, appear additional like summer season, with drastically decreased sea ice levels[1]. Fast climate adjust, on the other hand, is not the only alarming transformation underway.

In spite of getting some of the most isolated ecosystems on the planet, Antarctic seas show indicators of human contamination. Microplastics, ubiquitous in today’s planet, have infiltrated this distant landscape, tainting the bodies of their native penguins[2]. They even permeated the life cycle of the Antarctic krill, the foundation of the Antarctic meals chain[3]. This implies that something that relies on krill for survival — which in Antarctica is pretty much each organism — is at danger. A related narrative of degradation is unfolding in the Arctic, exactly where plastic pollution adorns the beaches of Svalbard, getting traveled from a supply as far away as Brazil. The stomachs of several nearby seabirds are now more than 80 % plastic. The adjust in polar landscapes is unprecedented, and human influence lies at the heart of it.
Antarctic penguins. James Eades/Unsplash

Double the scientists, triple the funds

“Our duty is twofold: to study these unexplored regions, though making certain that they stay preserved for generations to come,” explains Antoni Jinman, a renowned polar explorer. With a current scientific expedition to Antarctica commemorating Shackleton’s final voyage, Jinman has taken on a new target: the fight against plastic pollution in these pristine environments. Recognizing the urgency of the predicament, he emphasizes the want for collective action: “It is higher time we rally behind this mission.”

Polar study paints a sobering image of the fragility and interdependence of our planet. From studying microscopic plankton to tracking the movement of tectonic plates, researchers have expanded our understanding of these regions, highlighting the urgent want for their conservation.

The quantity of polar scientists and the funding devoted to polar study have grown drastically more than the previous two decades. In 2003, there have been about two,000 active polar explorers worldwide, a figure anticipated to rise to four,500 by 2023, according to the International Committee for Arctic Science and the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Analysis.[6].

This important improve in the study workforce is reflected in an improve in funding. For instance, the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States, a single of the biggest funders of polar study, reported a price range allocation of $300 million for polar study in 2003. By 2023, this quantity has pretty much tripled, reaching close to $880. million[7].

Funding sources for polar study are diverse, ranging from government bodies such as the NSF in the US and the Environmental Analysis Council in the UK to non-profit organizations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts and numerous university grants.[8]. These funds are mostly devoted to a wide variety of study endeavors, from understanding the influence of climate adjust and human activities on polar ecosystems to enhancing our understanding of polar geology, ice dynamics and polar biodiversity.

But in spite of these expanding sources towards complete polar science, possibilities and funding for early profession scientists, these who will undertake, and additional importantly, continue science and study at the most important time period, are restricted.
The group explores Antarctic waters. Lengthy Ma/Unsplash

Field instruction needed

A 2022 survey by the UK Polar Network (UKPN), component of the Association of Early Profession Polar Scientists, revealed a worrying trend. An alarming 81 % of their members expressed concern about a lack of standard field capabilities, casting a shadow more than their capacity to conduct successful study in polar environments[4]. Visualize attempting to set up camp in freezing situations or dealing with individual hygiene difficulties though underprepared and overexposed. How to adjust a tampon at low temperatures? Trivial for us at dwelling, but with potentially harmful overall health implications in a fieldwork atmosphere.

Historically, UKPN has supplied early profession researchers (ECRs) with standard field instruction, frequently in collaboration with their Russian counterpart, APECS Russia. The current Russian-Ukrainian conflict, on the other hand, forced this plan to pause[5]. Regrettably, option polar-focused instruction possibilities in the UK are handful of and far amongst, specifically for early profession levels.

A glimmer of hope seems in the type of a 2023 collaboration amongst the Clean Planet Foundation, Jinman and Polar Network UK. Their joint project, Clean Planet Peninsula, aims to equip the subsequent generation of polar explorers with the important fieldwork capabilities they want, generating a sustainable future for polar study in the UK.

In 2022, Jinman witnessed a single of the devastating effects of climate adjust on these exceptional ecosystems. Searching at how elevated snowfall has impacted the breeding cycles of Antarctic penguins, he noted:

“Due to lingering snow, the alarming egg delay reduces the window for egg hatching, chick molting and nesting just before the onslaught of the relentless Antarctic winter this dramatic population decline threatens their survival.”

Ginman’s encounter with the polar regions started with his historic expeditions to the North and South Poles, exactly where he skied solo, becoming a single of the handful of Britons to reach this feat. It was these terrifying journeys that drew Jinman’s interest to the dire reality of climate adjust and plastic pollution in these pristine environments. Deeply moved by the disturbing truth, he decided to transform his part from observer to conservationist, devoting his efforts to preserving these remote landscapes.

1 of Jinman’s notable encounters that underscored the gravity of the predicament occurred throughout an expedition to Antarctica in 2022. Although setting up camp close to an emperor penguin colony, Jinman noticed anything uncommon. Quite a few curious penguins picked up a piece of colorful plastic waste, mistaking it for meals. The disturbing scene presented a stark reminder of the far-reaching impacts of human activity. It served as a pivotal moment for Jinman, fueling his commitment to fighting plastic pollution.

In addition, Jinman’s efforts go beyond his person research and study. As a devoted mentor, he was instrumental in shaping the subsequent generation of polar explorers. His belief that study should really also embrace conservation and sustainability inspired numerous early profession researchers, encouraging a progressive and accountable strategy to polar study.

The future of polar exploration

As we strategy the future of polar study, early profession researchers ought to seize the chance to initiate a additional inclusive, sustainable strategy to their perform. It is time to integrate diverse disciplines, recognize the worth of indigenous understanding[9], and foster a correct ethos of collaboration in polar study. By setting new requirements in collaborative study and rallying behind revolutionary initiatives such as the Peninsula Clean Planet project, we can make sure a future exactly where the polar regions continue to thrive.

Let us respond to the contact to action, not as passive observers, but as active participants in the preservation of the world’s most extraordinary landscapes. It is our shared duty to rewrite the narrative of plastic pollution in the polar regions and generate a legacy for generations to come.

We invite you to join us on this extraordinary journey. A journey that transcends borders and disciplines, uniting us in a typical objective to guard these magnificent regions from the scourge of plastic pollution and make sure the beauty and integrity of our planet for future generations.

This post was written by Chloe Nunn, Dr Katerina Garifalou and Ellie Honan. Chloe and Ellie are co-chairs of the UK Polar Network. Katerina is Vice President of International Partnerships at Clean Planet Foundation and Vice President of New Ventures at Clean Planet Power.


  • [1] Park, JV, et al. “Current and unprecedented speedy decline of sea ice close to the Antarctic Peninsula.” Geophysical Analysis Letters, vol. 48, no. 11, 2021.
  • [2] Provencher, JF, et al. “Ingestion of Plastic Marine Debris by Lengthy-tailed Ducks in the Eastern Canadian Arctic.” Sea Pollution Bulletin, vol. 78, no. 1-two, 2014, p. 144-150.
  • [3] Dawson, AL, et al. “Converting microplastics into nanoplastics by means of the digestive fragmentation of Antarctic krill.” Nature Communications, vol. 9, no. 1, 2018, p. 1001.
  • [4] UK Polar Network. “2022 UK Pole Networking Expertise Survey Outcomes. UKPN, 2022.”
  • [5] O’Brien, C., et al. “The influence of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict on scientific cooperation.” Science, technologies and human values, vol. 44, no. six, 2019, p. 1029-1053.
  • [6] International Arctic Scientific Committee and Scientific Committee for Antarctic Analysis. “Polar explorers count 2003-2023.” IASC & SCAR, 2023.
  • [7] National Science Foundation. “Polar Analysis Price range Allocation 2003-2023”. NSF, 2023.
  • [8] Pearce, TD, et al. “Funding Polar Analysis: The Function of Government and Non-Profit Organizations”. Polar Science, vol. 13, no. 1, 2019, p. 15-24.
  • [9] Huntington, HP “Using Classic Ecological Expertise in Science: Techniques and Applications.” Ecological Applications, Vol. ten, no. five, 2000, p. 1270-1274.

The growing popularity of polar science

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