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YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel

Covid-19 and Antarctica

Antarctic Connections, Conundrums and Covid-19

A sizzling summer afternoon sheltering on our patio in Alabama, the connection between the us and the Covid-19 pandemic are painfully obvious. But the connection between the US and what goes on in the Antarctic is hard to grasp—it’s a conundrum.
By sheer luck this year, 2020, we visited Antarctic on the cruise ship,
Zaandam. It turned out to be the most phenomenal and memorable cruise. A cruise of a lifetime. We barely made it back home before Covid-19 hit the US. Which got us thinking about ships and tourists, Covid-19 and pandemics, climate change and melting ice, and the connections and conundrums between all of this.

Brazilian research Vessel, Rongel, Admiralty Bay, Antartica (Boris Datnow)

As of this writing, Antarctic is Earth's only continent still free from the deadly COVID-19 pathogen. A coronavirus outbreak on an Antarctic base would be a nightmare scenario. Frigid temperatures as low as -63C, means windows must remain closed in cramped conditions—perfect for a virus outbreak. Scientists and governing bodies are scrambling to enact strict measures to prevent the coronavirus from reaching this frozen landmass.

Midnight in Antarctic, March 2020 (Boris Datnow)
Of course, we weren’t pioneers to the Antarctic, simply tourists. For more than a hundred years adventurers and scientists have travelled to Antarctica and most parts have now been visited. They left more than footprints and more than just photographs behind.
On that eye-opening journey the threat of visitors to the Antarctic’s pristine environment became clearly visible. Gliding past majestic glaciers melting and retreating, it is was hard to visualize that this had anything to do with our home state of Alabama. But as we listened to the team of onboard scientists who have devoted their lives to studying the white continent, we came to grips with the depth of the problem.Tourism increases the possibility of oil spills and pollutants, which damage the fragile ecosystems.

Watermelon Snow, Admiralty Bay, Antarctic (Boris Datnow)

Some species of Antarctic animals have been taken to the verge of extinction for economic benefit. Others have been killed incidentally or disturbed. Soils have been contaminated, untreated sewage has been discharged into the sea, and garbage that will not decompose or break down for hundreds of years has been left behind in even the remotest parts.

To reduce the impact the ANTARCTIC TREATY was signed Dec 1,1959, in Washington D.C. and was fully enforced in June 23, 1961. It designated the continent “a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science” thus creating an unprecedented global partnership that now includes 50 countries.
Other measures have been implemented to decrease the impact of humans:
Public Advocacy and Education
International Treaties
Creation of protected regions
Strict enforcement of rules and regulations
Climate Research
Clean technology to reduce green house gases
Limited number of cruise ships at any one time
Special fuel with low carbon emission used on the ships
No food or services allowed on open decks.
Exclusion of paper, cups and solid objects that could fly overboard.
Secure clothing

Admiralty Bay, Antarctic showing melting glaciers (Claire Datnow

Although these guidelines and restrictions are helpful, if enforced, the roots of the problem go much deeper Rigorous scientific studies have shown that changes taking place in Antarctica are the result of a complex interplay of climate, weather, and ocean currents.
Scientists are paying close attention to warming in
Antarctica, home to 90 percent of our planet’s ice. If it were all to melt, it would raise sea levels by 190 feet. Oceans have already risen more than 8 inches since 1880, and between 1992 and 2017, Antarctica lost 2.71 trillion metric tons of ice every second. This is roughly the volume of three Olympic-size swimming pools. Half of these losses came in the last five years, a sign of an accelerating melt rate.
In addition, the Earth’s oceans circulate along gradients of hot and cold as well as salty and fresh water. Studies have shown that ice melt runoff from Antarctica, Greenland, and even inland glaciers can throw off the circulation the ocean’s currents. This in turn, contributes to the changing climate patterns we are experience today.
Since scientists still have much to learn about Antarctica’s ice, they are now in a race to gather as much data as possible as the seventh continent melts before their eyes. What happens in the Antarctic affects all humanity, and in turn what humans do on the rest of the planet affects the Antarctic. Simply put, it’s all an inextricably connected chain of cause and effect. The most significant factor is the increasing levels of green house gas generated by global human activity, which has caused:

Charlotte Bay, Antarctic (Boris Datnow)

The Antarctic Peninsula to warm faster than rest of planet—up 3F degrees
The Ice Shelf to collapse
Sea levels to rise
A decline in penguins, seals, krill and fish
An Increase in non native species, eg. giant king crab, fungi, algae
Ocean acidification and warming
What happens in the Antarctic affects all humanity, and in turn what humans do on the rest of the planet affects the Antarctic. Simply put, it’s all inextricably connected chain of cause and effect. The most significant event is the increasing levels of green house gas generated by human activity around the globe, which has caused:
eg. giant king crab, fungi, algae
Ocean acidification and warming

Falkland Island, Adele Penguins (Claire Datnow)
We came home with a reminder that warming in even the coldest, most remote part of the planet can and does have global consequences. This in turn, reminds me of another amazing connection.
The Firestorm Phenomenon, the Eco mystery l’m currently writing about the firestorms exploding around the globe and how they are is connected to climate change—told through the eyes of three teens from Sumatra, Western Australia, and Northern California. Slated for publication 2021.
So what about our connection to climate change? Should we shrug our shoulders and say, ‘This is way too big a problem for me to take on?’ In ways large and small, all of us have a responsibility to become wise stewards of our the Earth, to educate ourselves, and to support laws, policies and the many organizations protecting and conserving the planet for future generation to come.

Emperor Penguins with Chicks, Falkland Island (Boris Datnow)