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Robert Swan Leads Antarctic Expedition to Show Firsthand Effects of Climate Change

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 I. Read Part II.]

Robert Swan is a "polar explorer, environmentalist and the first man ever to walk unsupported to both the North and South Poles," according to his site 2041. Swan walked to the South Pole in 1984 and the North Pole in 1989. Since then, he has traveled to Antarctica 35 times. His journeys inspired him to launch 2041 to protect Antarctica. The name comes from the date when the world’s moratoriums on mining and drilling in Antarctica will expire. Its mission is "to build personal leadership skills among people who choose to embrace the challenge of sustaining all forms of life—in their families, communities, organizations and the planet."

Next week, he and his 2041 team will journey to the last great wilderness on Earth. The International Antarctic Expedition 2015 will bring together people from around the world to "debate, discuss and determine firsthand the effects of climate change." The team will assess the effects of temperature rise on Antarctica and, upon return, the team plans to educate the public and hopefully spur action on climate change.

Swan has been recognized for his work with an appointment as UN Goodwill Ambassador for Youth and Special Envoy to the Director General of UNESCO. He's even been knighted as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Since 2003, he has taken 1,100 people from 72 nations to Antarctica "in hopes that it will ignite their passion for preservation." Swan says, "The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it."

The International Antarctic Expedition will offer participants the option to do an overnight camping expedition on the Antarctic ice. Photo credit: 2041

This year's expedition begins on March 13, in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. From there, the team will embark on their ship, Sea Spirit, to Antarctica. With stops at Cuverville Island, Neko Harbour, Paradise Harbour and Lemaire Channel, the team will get an expansive tour of the icy continent. The team will also stop at King George Island, the location of the 2041 E-Base, the first education station in Antarctica made with sustainable products and powered by renewable energy. In 2008, Swan successfully became the first person in Antarctic history to live for two weeks solely on renewable energy. On March 25, the 2041 team will return to Ushuaia.

Dr. Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of 5 Gyres Institute, will be on Swan's Antarctica expedition and will provide blog posts to EcoWatch. Stay tuned.

For the last decade, Swan and his 2041 team have been taking people to see the impacts of climate change on Antarctica. Photo credit: 2041

In a Ted Talk last October, Swan explains the importance of these expeditions: "We need to listen to what these places are telling us," he said. "And if we don't, we will end up with our own survival situation here on planet Earth."

The gravity of Antarctica's ice melt is severe. The continent holds 90 percent of the world's ice and 70 percent of the world's freshwater, according to Swan. The sea level rise from Antarctica's ice melt would reshape the world as we know it.

Watch his Ted Talk:

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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.

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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.