Opinion || Brilliant beauty and melting melancholy

If you know me, then you probably know that I have recently come home from a trip to Antarctica, as part of the Homeward Bound leadership program for women in science.

In fact, my friends are probably already sick of hearing about it.

But, since I have this opportunity, I’m going to write about it a little more.

Antarctica is, in a word, beautiful. 

It is a land of few colours; the white of the snow, the grey of the rocks, and the million shades of blue of the ocean, the sky, and the ice.

And of course, the black and the white of the penguins. 

For 21 days we were surrounded by the creaking of icebergs, the gentle blowing of whales, and the cacophony of penguin colonies. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

But it was also devastatingly sad.

For 21 days we were also surrounded by the sight of glaciers that have retreated hundreds of metres, bare mountain-tops that were once snow-covered, deep snow in once-bare areas, and below it all, the warming ocean and the retreating ice shelf. 

Scientific research tells us that, over the past five years, the rate at which the Antarctic ice sheet is melting has tripled.

Over 200 billion tons of ice is being lost each year – and each year sea levels are rising by 0.6mm. The area I visited, on the Antarctic peninsula, is one of the most rapidly warming places on earth. 

These are alarming statistics, and we should be worried. We are already seeing changes in weather patterns, and changes to the Antarctic plant and animal populations.

Climate change is real, and I have seen it’s effects first hand. 

Returning home to Australia, caught in the midst of a heatwave, has further hammered home this message. Antarctica is not the only place that is affected – climate change is affecting us all.

Global warming is making extreme weather events, like the heatwave we are currently experiencing, more common, and more intense.

As a scientist, I would usually be among the first calling for more research, and more data. But in this case we’ve already done enough research.

We’ve already collected enough data. The science is, like the penguins, black and white. What we need now is action.

While in Antarctica our group of scientists sent messages to the leaders of our countries, urging them to take action on climate change. I hope you’ll join us.

Dr Mary McMillan Lecturer School of Science and Technology University of New England.