A Texas A&M professor and two A&M students are among 27 researchers preparing for a 40-day expedition to Antarctica next month.
Alejandro “Alex” Orsi, a professor in the department of oceanography at A&M, said Wednesday that he made his first trip to Earth’s southernmost, coldest continent in 1985.
“These students will be learning from the best people, the best technicians in the world,” Orsi said of the journey, which will begin April 3 in Cape Town, South Africa. The collection of researchers will take about eight full days of sailing aboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson to near the Antarctic shelf break.
Antarctica, which is mostly covered in ice, is the fifth-largest continent on the planet. It is about the size of the United States and Mexico combined. It has two seasons: summer and winter. Its summer runs from October to February, and Orsi said the expedition is “competing against the ice” to reach its research space in time.
Orsi described Antarctica at length on Wednesday, and chuckled as he said the cold “wasn’t the first thing that comes to mind” when asked to describe Antarctica for those who have never seen it.
“I feel more cold here in Texas here when it’s 32 degrees and humid,” Orsi said, laughing. “One thing you have in Antarctica is zero humidity. There is no water vapor, no humidity — it’s so cold that everything falls as snow. On a sunny day, you could be outside in a T-shirt there.”
Orsi went on to say the cold can be overwhelming at times, and that the environment is especially breathtaking.
“You see so many shades of white. The skies are white, the ocean is white with all the sea ice, and there’s this complete silence,” he said.
Orsi said the smoke from the boats can be seen, on a clear day, for miles.
“That’s what always shocks me — even seeing that impact, that human impact ... we are intruding in a place that’s not ours. I think the same thing when I see the sea lions basking in the sun, floating with the ice. Then we come along, and they have to move. I wonder: Who has the right of way here?” Orso said.
Orsi is the chief scientist for the expedition, which has a formal name: The I6S Global Ocean Ship-based Hydrographic Investigation Program
“The overall science goal of the I6S GO-SHIP cruise is to learn how the southwestern portion of the Indian Ocean has changed over the past decades,” Orsi said. “Specifically, GO-SHIP long-term measurements seek to characterize how the deep ocean has warmed and freshened, to determine if the regional budgets of dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide have changed, and to estimate rates of nutrients depletion and ocean acidification.”
According to an A&M release, six students will be actively working on the cruise, including two from Texas A&M: Loicka Baille, an undergraduate student in the department of ocean engineering; and Garrett Walsh, an oceanography graduate student.
I6S 2019 will be the third expedition along the line, following the French original in 1996 and the U.S. repeat in 2008.
Once the I6S cruise departures from Cape Town, Texas A&M Oceanography will receive and share updates from the scientists aboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson.
Orsi said the students chosen will contribute research and work. “This journey is meant to train the next generation and provide an important experience,” he said.