These past 10 days have reminded me of my first trip to Antarctica on several accounts. I’ve been up in Auckland at the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) open science conference and Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) science communication workshop, then straight back down to Christchurch for the International Polar Network (IPTRN) conference at the University of Canterbury (UC). (Enough acronyms? I’ll get to those later…) Sure, the Antarctic theme is a factor in eliciting reminiscences, but it’s more the go-go-go factor that has me thinking about Christmas 2011 out on the Ross Ice Shelf. I’ve hardly had time to scoff a sandwich and catch my breath since these latest rounds of meetings began.

Thinking back to my first trip to The Ice, I was all prepped by reading novels and poetry about snow and Erebus, and fully prepared to come face to face with the majestic silence that features so heavily in southern polar literature. As the soundtrack on our bus ride to the base made clear, such absence of sound was to remain firmly in the realms of fiction for the duration of our stay. More than that, the lack of a quiet moment for reflection was what really struck me. We were constantly on the go; pitching tents, digging snow pits, preparing food, counting seals, fashioning snow caves… The only entries in my diary during our time in the field are snatched moments in bed right before my top eyelids collapsed onto the bottom ones, or observances written up during the half hour the rest of our contingent was out for a ski. In Antarctica green flags mark the path and mean ‘go’, but so do red flags. It saves the colour blind from being lost down crevasses, but also provides an apt metaphor for the full-tilt pattern of life that plays out under the summer Antarctic sun. These conferences have been hurtling by at full tilt as well, under the luminous glow of halogen bulbs that bar sleep even when night falls.

Comparison made, it’s time to return to caps lock and bullet points for my last thought of the evening…

Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth, but it must also be in the running for the continent with the greatest acronym-to-population ration in the world as well. I’ll be writing about APECS, SCAR, COMNAP and the ATS in coming days once my brain catches up with my body again, but here is a taster list of acronyms just to get things started. (Also because by this point my head is spitting out thoughts in scattered chunks rather like morse code, and the code of acronyms is easier to address than writing a 3000 word philosophical essay right before bedtime)

  • APECS – Association of Polar Early Career Scientists
  • ATS – Antarctic Treaty System
  • CCAMLR – Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
  • CEP – Committee for Environmental Protection
  • COMNAP – Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programmes
  • IEE – Initial Environmental Evaluation
  • SCAR – Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research
  • For more, visit IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) for their list


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