A recent study published in Nature Climate Change, by British Antarctic Survey researchers has found the collapse of the West Antarctic ice-sheet to be ‘unavoidable’. The researchers ran four scenarios of predicted warming between 1.5 and 4.3 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, and all saw similar levels of ice melt up until 2045. The fourth, and most extreme warming scenario diverged after that, but ultimately there is no scenario where we don’t lose the West Antarctic ice sheet.
This ice-sheet is also home to the Antarctic Peninsula, the most popular landing point for visitors. Seventy-five percent of tours dock at the peninsula, and it is also the landing strip for the majority of the continent’s airports. Tomorrow’s Air partner, Swoop, has been leading tours to Antarctica for over 15 years. Swoop is a certified B Corp company with a sustainability strategy that isn’t afraid to tackle tough topics. A lot has changed in our environmental and political climate since Lars Lindblad led the first ever tourist expedition to Antarctica in 1966. But conservation tourism is still guided by his belief that ‘you can’t protect what you don’t know.’
Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty, which was initiated in 1959. There are now 56 Parties to the Treaty. In 2048 key aspects of the Treaty shall come up for re-negotiation, in particular: anti-mining regulations, protection of marine areas, and species conservation efforts. The silver lining of the disappearing West Antarctic ice sheet is that it won’t happen overnight. We have time to raise awareness, build collective action, and bring to scale climate saving technologies such as carbon removal and sustainable aviation fuel in order to protect the integrity of this pristine environment.
If you travel to Antarctica consider joining citizen efforts to preserve it as a place of science and peace. With Swoop you can participate in their citizen science program and help gather climate data while on your vacation. Learn more about the projects Swoop supports here. Antarctica is a place of incredible opportunity when it comes to climate conscious travel, here’s 6 tips for traveling to the frosty white continent.
The preferred start location for your journey is from Ushuaia Argentina where you can sail across the infamous Drakes Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. While there is an option to fly into the peninsula, you can sometimes expect weather related delays and many agree that the 48 hour crossing bristles with anticipation and that first breath of cold air is so worth it. The seas can be unpredictable, but Swoop’s fleet ensures the utmost safety and a more sustainable option.
In the spirit of debunking myths around Antarctica as a travel destination: first, there are a host of activities to do, and second, yes - you can camp! On top of kayaking with humpback whales, snorkeling, or participating in citizen science, it's actually not too cold to spend a night out on the ice. Many of the first polar explorers. If you plan your trip during the summer months (November - March) temperatures will be warm enough for you to bed down under the midnight sun.
It’s a once in a lifetime experience to sleep among the glaciers, and especially serene knowing that a steaming hot shower awaits you back on the ship. Unlike the first polar explorers who spend days on end in the Antarctic desert. British Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen both led expeditions in the race to the South Pole. Amundsen's team reached the pole a month before Scott’s, and all 26 of his men traveled more than 1,600 miles in 99 days across the ice and made it out alive.
Often described as the Serengeti of the Southern Ocean, South Georgia Island is a 2 day trip from either the Falkland Islands or Antarctica, and is teeming with wildlife. Only accessible by boat, the island is home to 5 million seals, 65 million breeding birds, 7 million penguins, and 250,000 albatrosses, to name a few.
To get the clearest photos of penguins diving off the ice or migrating birds, you’ll want to ensure your gear is properly protected with a waterproof camera bag and switched to a fast shutter speed. You also never know when the wind is going to pick up. Glaciers cover close to 98% of the continent, but parts of Antarctica are known to be the driest on earth. The McMurdo Dry Valleys are formed from strong katabatic winds that evaporate all water, ice and snow. Scientists consider the dry valleys to be the closest of any terrestrial environment to Mars.
Or truly anytime between November and March - temperatures average between 33 and 36 degrees F, and might even be warmer than it is at home in the northern hemisphere. February is Antarctica’s most active wildlife month, and with close to 24 hours of sunlight, you’re guaranteed to see penguin chicks start fledging and learning to swim, skuas and leopard seals on the hunt, and spot some whales.
Antarctica and its surrounding islands are home to more than 100 million breeding birds, but recent studies have shown climate-related extreme snow storms have led to breeding challenges for many species. With Swoop’s seabird citizen science project you have the opportunity to work with an ornithologist and conduct surveys around seabird patterns and habitat usage in the Southern Ocean.
The southern ocean is known for Antarctic Bottom Water, a unique type of water mass that is the coldest, densest, and saltiest water in the world. It surrounds the base of the continent’s ice sheets and drives ocean currents, stores carbon and transports heat around the globe. Surface ocean temperatures are typically 32 degrees F, perfect for a cold plunge. Health benefits and adrenaline rush included, Swoop has named the polar plunge its Antarctic right of passage.
Swoop makes it easy to cross the 7th continent off your list, but that's not to say that traveling to the edge of the earth doesn’t come with some challenges. Weather can be unpredictable, and while the tour operator ensures your safety every step of the way, it’s important to remember to seize the moment in such a dynamic environment.
At Tomorrow’s Air we’re grateful for Swoop’s 2023 partnership, supporting climate conscious travel education, and helping scale carbon removal technologies through their 2023 order for 29 tonnes of carbon dioxide for removal and permanent storage from the atmosphere.
Learn more about Swoop’s Antarctic expeditions.