The Omega Foundation
Kids to the Ice Program

 

Trip report by Art Mortvedt
January 6, 2005

Chilean school science teacher Teresita Gomez eloquently summarized one of the main objectives of The Omega Foundation's Kids to the Ice Expedition to King George Island, Antarctica, by saying that "we need to know in order to love and protect", and to conduct "science with a heart".

She and 8 other teachers, along with 29 students (9 primary, 12 high school, and 8 university) met at the Punta Arenas airport this week. They were departing on a flight to Antarctica, courtesy of The Omega Foundation. King George Island on the Antarctic Peninsula had a reported 700 foot ceiling and 6,000 meter visibility, so our Captain, Mr. Sergio Cortes, cleared us for departure.

We were flying Aerovias DAP Airlines in their DeHaviland DHC-7-102 aircraft. Additional flight crew members included First Officer Mr. Alvaro Corsi, Canadian Observation Pilot Mr. Kenny MacIntosh, Flight Engineer Mr. John Davis, Chief Flight Attendant Helen Maclain, and Flight Attendant Carol Harper Stanton.

Administrative educators on board included Mr. Salvatore Cirillo, Ms. Bride Fugellie, and Ms. Elisa Rodriguez. INACH, the Chilean Antarctic Institute, was represented by Librarian Ms. Cynthia Valenzuela. Particularly valuable for me was on board translator and English student Ms. Carolina Cardenas. Christian Caceres, photographer for El Mercurio newspaper, was documenting our expedition with digital still photos.

Our cruising altitude enroute to Chilean Teniente Marsh Base on King George Island was 15,000 feet, with an estimated time enroute of 3 hours and 30 minutes. Flight conditions at this altitude were quite smooth with occasional light turbulence. Checking with the flight crew enroute, I was informed that the destination weather was "not good, but good enough".

The interest and enthusiasm shown by the students was obvious. These were top students, primarily in science, that had been selected for their excellent academic achievement. One group, for example, had been studying the ornithology of coastal and boreal birds. Through this trip, they hoped to have a better understanding of the predatory relationship between Antarctic skuas and penguins.

Many students came to me before, during, and after the expedition expressing their gratitude to The Omega Foundation for providing this great opportunity. As we cruised along, some students were reading scientific papers on marine mammals, some were writing postcards to friends and family that were to be posted from the Correo (Post Office) on King George Island, and all joined to sing the anthem entitled "Himno de la Region de Magallanes y Antarctica Chilena". Many students wore blue ball caps given out by INACH. Sandwiches and soft drinks were served.

We landed at King George Island at 12:40 P.M. Alejo Contraras, DAP Airline Representative, met us at the airfield. After checking that all were equipped with proper warm clothing and rubber boots, we proceeded to hike overland to a section of the island containing a higher density of wildlife.

As we tread lightly across the wet and mossy terrain, we first encountered a pod of elephant seals hauled out on a rocky outcrop, grunting and snorting and giving us a casual glance as the students took many photographs from a safe distance. From stop to stop, as the group collected, Alejo would lecture in Spanish about the region and its wildlife.

Our group saw two species of penguins - the chinstrap and adelie. Several Weddell seals were also hauled out, as was one female fur seal. Realizing the aggressive nature of fur seals and the prevalent serious infection from a bite, we kept our distance. Nesting skuas were spotted - one banded around the leg - and Antarctic terns kept the sky lively with their graceful flight

We hiked the snow fields and rocky outcrops to return to the airfield. Alejo and I then escorted the group to the Chilean Teniente Marsh Antarctic Base, a myriad of brightly colored buildings. Our photographer took a group photo in front of the INACH building. We walked among the base buildings, post cards were mailed at the Correo, and we proceeded back to the aircraft.

We only wished that base scientists had been available to visit with the students, and that a deteriorating weather forecast hadn't cut our time too short to visit other Antarctic bases, such as the adjacent Russian Bellingshausen base.

As we boarded the aircraft for the return flight to Punta Arenas, the atmosphere was entirely positive. Flight crew bade farewell to the very helpful Chilean ground crew, and we all took our seats. Off we went to a cruising altitude of 16,000 feet. Enroute, students and staff napped, read, or were engaged in light conversation. Sandwiches and drinks were again served by the cabin staff.

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We arrived back in Punta Arenas that night and assembled in the arrivals lounge. This was now my opportunity to give a short speech. I commented that they - young scientists - will be responsible for the future protection of Antarctica, that The Omega Foundation appreciates their enthusiasm and maintenance of excellent academic standards, and to keep up the good work.

Never before have I received so much applause, so many kisses, and hand shakes in any one place. Clearly students, educators, and parents all very much appreciated this expedition to Antarctica, and The Omega Foundation for helping make it happen

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