Director of the Traveler Program, Reach the World
Antarctica’s remote Weddell Sea is home to a plethora of seals and penguins, but it is noticeably lacking in humans.
Between the broad stretch of open ocean, heavy pack ice, and massive ice shelves, this is one of the most remote, desolate, and dangerous places on our planet. However, earlier this year, from the deck of South African ice-breaker S.A. Agulhas II, the excited voices of K-12 students in North America cut through the howling Antarctic wind.
“How do you use ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) to map the seafloor?” “What animals live beneath the pack ice?” “How do I get a job like yours?”
As part of an innovative, 12-week virtual exchange partnership between Reach the World and The Explorers Club, more than 4,500 students across North America and around the world interacted in real time with the scientists, explorers, crew, and technicians of the Weddell Sea Expedition 2019.
Through video conferences and articles published at www.reachtheworld.org, the students witnessed science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in action as expedition scientists conducted research using cutting-edge technology both above and below the sea ice. All classrooms participated at no cost thanks to the support of The Flotilla Foundation.
Journey to Antarctica
On board the ship, technicians demonstrated how ROVs captured stunning media and specimens from the unexplored sea floor more than 1,500 feet below. During a video conference with marine biologist Betina Frinault, students were among the first humans on Earth to see what lives on the Weddell Sea floor.
During another video conference, students virtually explored the online room aboard the S.A. Agulhas II, watching in real time as technicians used Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) to survey the seabed and create the first seafloor map of the Weddell Sea. The AUVs also worked with aerial drones to scan the pack ice from above and below to gauge its thickness, another scientific first.
Before returning home, the expedition became the first ship in 100 years to reach the site where Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance was crushed by pack ice in 1915. Students learned about Shackleton’s life and legacy in their classrooms. Then they video conferenced with underwater archeologist and Chief of Exploration Mensun Bound, who captivated his young audience with extraordinary stories of Shackleton, his crew, and their incredible survival — all streaming live from the site where Shackleton’s Endurance sank more than 100 years ago.
At the end of the expedition, Reach the World partnered with The Explorers Club in New York during Oceans Week 2019. Bound, Expedition Leader Dr. John Shears, marine biologist Dr. Lucy Woodall, and oceanographer Dr. Katherine Hutchinson led a panel discussion at The Explorers Club and completed a “flag return” that was live-streamed into K-12 classrooms across the country.
To round out the week, expedition members met with students from P.S. 157 Grove Hill School in the Bronx and East Harlem School in Manhattan. The explorers talked to the students about their research and fielded closing questions about their careers. Dr. Woodall even danced like a sea anemone to demonstrate how they feed, and Dr. Hutchinson mimicked the dynamic movements of ocean currents.
The results? Young people across the country are planning their own expeditions, considering STEM-based careers, and thinking about how they can work to preserve wild places, such as the Weddell Sea. Thanks to the transformative power of Reach the World’s Explorer Program, the next generation of conservationists, scientists, and explorers is ready to embark!
Timothy Jacob, Director of the Traveler Program, Reach the World, [email protected]