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Antarctic Expedition Team Finds Clear Signs of Climate Change at the Bottom of the World

Climate

[Editor's note: EcoWatch is tracking Robert Swan's International Antarctic Expedition 2015, which brings together people from around the world to "debate, discuss and determine firsthand the effects of climate change" via a 13-day trip to Antarctica. This is Part II. Read Part I.]

"If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on Earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it." Robert Swan offers this quote from Andrew Denton, an Australian television producer, as his inspiration for fighting to protect the great icy continent.

Robert Swan briefed participants of the International Antarctic Expedition on the climate impacts of Antarctica's rapid melting and the geopolitics of protecting the icy continent. Photo credit: 2041

Swan, the famed Arctic and Antarctic explorer, and his team at 2041 are leading a group of intrepid travelers to Antarctica right now as part of the International Antarctic Expedition. The team, which has been documenting the trip on its Expedition 2015 blog, welcomed travelers from all over the world as they arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina on Friday. They spent Friday and Saturday gearing up for their departure on Sunday. As prep for the expedition, the team hiked up to the Martial Glacier in the mountains overlooking Ushuaia on Saturday. The glacier, which has been steadily retreating for the last 15 years, serves as the first of many physical impacts of climate change that the crew will take in over the next few weeks. In a video from the hike, one trekker says, "Here we are, where the glacier used to be, and that's really frightening."

The 2041 team hiked up to the Martial Glacier, which overlooks the town of Ushuaia, Argentina as preparation for the expedition to Antarctica. Photo credit: 2041

On Friday and Saturday, participants were briefed on the current, political and environmental status of Antarctica. The 2041 team explained how climate change is drastically impacting the icy continent, which has huge implications for the entire globe. All hope is not lost though: Participants brainstormed ways to advocate for change at every level starting with their own communities. Then, on Sunday, the team set sail for Antarctica. Galyna Tymoshenko, who represents Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm, is on the trip and wrote a blog post on the day of the crew's departure. He ended his post with "Today, full of thrill, we are heading south. The journey will take us beyond the edge of the world, beyond the edge of ourselves."

You can track the expedition through the "Ship Tracker" page on 2041's website. They just hit the tip of Antarctica yesterday. The plan is to make numerous shore landings in inflatable rubber boats, or "zodiacs." They will take in stunning ice shelves, calving glaciers, whales and one of the largest gatherings of penguins on the continent.

Robert Swan made a video this weekend explaining the International Antarctic Treaty and the goal of the expedition. In it, he asks: "Do we have the sense to leave one place alone on Earth as a natural reserve for science and peace?"

Watch the video below:

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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