“Almost two weeks after the No Ordinary Place, No Ordinary Assignment I grapple with the realisation that I have travelled to the bottom of the Earth. As an enthusiastic wildlife documentary filmmaker, Antarctica is the icing on the cake. It is a continent that is so intrinsically connected to the rest of the world that its story must be told. The harshest place on Earth stands up to its reputation of being remote, extreme and of grand scientific significance. It is a place I was determined to reach within my lifetime.” – Marli Lopez-Hope
“The research, which is supported in part by Air New Zealand, was hands on and entertaining, breaking down my misconceptions about climate change and global warming. The people were diverse and interesting revealing themselves in ways only 24 hours of sunshine allows. And the Antarctic environment itself got under my skin, blowing my mind with the enormous expanse of the Ross Ice Shelf and the beauty that is revealed in so many shades of white.” – Michael Armstrong
To read Marli & Michael’s full story on their journey to the ice visit www.airnewzealand.co.nz/voiceforantarctica
My keen 'yes-man' approach to the assignment lead to a slightly miss-guided entry into the Antarctic Marathon the day after we finished field training. With very little training under my belt I figured this was too good an opportunity to miss. And it seemed like a great decision as I turned at the halfway mark in under two hours and in 5th place but things went down-hill fast. Unbeknownst to me the wind had been steadily picking up at my back, blowing me to the 13 mile marker. After the turn I felt the full icy force, like a thousand frosty needles piercing my thermal layers. In just two miles of this my legs had turned to lead. I became frozen in place, quite literally, with cramps in every muscle below my naval. The only option was to waddle to the American aid station to relax while watching the other racers and a gaggle of emperor penguins press into the wind.
On the back of this Marli and I were able to head out on the McMurdo Sound sea ice, drilling with researchers and learning about climate change's effects on 'extremophiles'; microorganisms who live in the ice and act as the starting point for the Antarctic food chain. Interestingly this research is indicating an ability for life to adapt to the velocity of change we are seeing. But of course this leads to more questions than answers. I'm hoping to corner some scientists to probe this further over the next few days.
Yesterday morning was spent tinkering with radar and communications equipment used in meteorological and climatological research before we conquered Castle Rock - an ancient magma plug at the base of Mount Erebus. It was a hair raising climb through mist and blizzard. Once at the top we were greeted by a sudden clearing in the storm revealing a crystal clear day with views right across Ross Island. We were flanked on every side by the most epic views: Mount Erebus to the North; Mount Discovery to the South; the Antarctic continent to the west with its myriad of glaciers punching through the Trans-Antarctic mountains; and the endless Ross Ice shelf stretching off to the east.
We are both secretly hoping we get stuck down here for the winter but the chances are we'll be home on schedule next week.
Goodbye for now,
Animals spotted: Weddell Seals basking in the sun and three Adelie penguins tottering across the ice
My oh my it has been a whirl-wind of a ride for the past three days. I can now proudly and humbly say that in my personal experience, Antarctica is an ecosystem on Earth that is absolutely like no other.
My journey began on Thursday the 16th of January at the Antarctica New Zealand and United States Antarctic Program's airport check in. To ride in the LC 130 Hercules Aircraft to Antarctica, one must ride like a piece of luggage, including being weighed on scales before departure! It has been a long time coming, but all of my nerves and excitement were at the forefront of my mind as Jason, Michael and I stepped inside the Hercules plane. It isn’t a far stretch of the imagination that on January the 16th, Jason, Michael and I looked like three very snug teddy bears in our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear. This made for a few red faces and sweaty palms, but certainly nothing to complain about. The eight-hour plane ride went incredibly fast, especially when I was invited up into the cockpit to meet the pilots, engineers and aircraft navigation team. I will never forget the moment I was awoken from a slumber by Jason and Michael and told to look out of the small round windows in the plane. My face was beaming - I could see the beginning of Antarctica! A tear or two fell down the side of my face, but who wouldn't shed a happy-tear for such an exquisite view? To end the journey, Jason and I sat up in the cockpit for the 1 hour-long descent onto the icy runway. It was a sight like no other, I couldn’t believe it. I had touched down in Antarctica.
For the past two days my excitement levels have risen beyond what I imagine they could have ever reached. For our safety induction at Scott Base, Michael, Jason and I set out yesterday with our field trainer, Drew and a group of new-comers, to set up camp and sleep in the Antarctic wilderness for a night. We learned how to build a wind shelter with blocks of ice, use a camp stove, set up a sturdy Polar Tent and even how to build a trench under the snow to sleep in. Unfortunately for me, I was following all too well the serious safety instructions that I forgot how to simply cook my Back Country Cuisine Mi Goreng dinner- placing 12 cups of hot water into the packet and not 2...you can imagine the soupy result I had from that misadventure! The night ended for myself and Jason at 2am because we couldn’t get ourselves away from our cameras and the extraordinary view.
Today I am the proud owner of a skidoo licence which will be essential for me to travel with Michael and Jason to the Ross Ice Shelf to meet Craig Stewart from Cambridge University who is conducting work with the Ross Ice Shelf Project. Although the skidoo is certainly not a piece of machinery to play with, I did have an incredible amount of fun flying over arduous terrain and learning how to correct myself if I begin to slide out of control.
Currently, I am slightly wind-burned and in need of a good night's rest, but it is so hard to draw myself away from the window with a view of the most pristine ecosystem in my front yard, The Ross Sea. Tomorrow, if all goes to plan, I will be abseiling into a crevasse and cheering on Michael as he attempts the Antarctica New Zealand Marathon!
Goodbye and Goodnight from Ross Island and Scott Base!
In preparation for their assignment to Antarctica, Marli and Michael spent the last couple of days meeting with leading research scientists at the GNS Research Facility in Wellington and with key members of the Antarctica NZ team in Christchurch, to equip themselves as best as possible for their time down on the ice.
Marli and Michael’s pre-deployment training began at the GNS Science New Zealand Ice Core Research Facility in Wellington. There they met with Nancy Bertler, the lead researcher at the Facility, and the team of researchers; Rebecca Pyne, Daniel Emanuelsson and Peter Neff. The GNS research team provided Marli and Michael with a detailed overview of the ice core research being undertaken in Antarctica and the implications the research findings are having on understanding climate change. Having suited up sufficiently to cope in a -35 degree ice core freezer, Marli and Michael inspected a 3,000 year old piece of ice drilled from the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution Project. Nancy and the team explained how ice core drilling works and how they melt the ice core samples to measure the change in the atmosphere in different years in history dating back to 30,000 years.
A short flight later, Marli and Michael arrived in Christchurch where they visited the International Antarctic Centre and met with the Antarctica New Zealand team. Programme Manager, Ed Butler, briefed the pair on their deployment to Antarctica and what to expect during their time at Scott Base, while also providing them with some last minute packing tips.
Later in the evening Marli and Michael met with National Geographic photographer, Jason Edwards, joining them on their assignment. The three adventurers got acquainted, discussed their learnings from the research trip and even had a planning call with Antarctica New Zealand Programme Support Leader, Simon Trotter at Scott Base in Antarctica. Simon gave the team an update on weather conditions in Antarctica and details about the research field work they were going to be a part of.
As a last step in their pre-deployment training, Marli, Michael and Jason visited the Antarctica New Zealand office were they were kitted out with all the cold weather gear they would need for on the ice. Layers of thermals and jackets were fitted, heavy duty boots were sized up and name badges were fixed. Marli and Michael were almost unrecognisable in their full kit! Although well prepared for the freezing temperatures they will encounter in Antarctica.
And as of 10am this morning they were on their way! Keep an eye out for their next update from the ice!
During their time on the ice they are going to spend a couple weeks learning more about scientific research and experiencing the fascinating aspects of Antarctica life. And all the while they will bring their experience to life for everyone back home. They will be our Voice for Antarctica!
For updates from Marli & Michael and to follow their adventure visit airnewzealand.com/voiceforantarctica and keep an eye out on our social media channels.
Meet Marli Lopez-Hope from Byron Bay, Australia
Twenty year old Marli, a Film and Television Production student and passionate wildlife filmmaker has recently spent time creating a wildlife documentary in Botswana’s Okavango Delta with South Africa’s NHU Wildlife Film Academy. Her goal is to use her film and storytelling skills to make a real difference to the world.
Meet Michael Armstrong from Nelson, New Zealand
Michael, a recent Masters in Science (MSc) graduate from Florida State University says he developed a love of the environment watching wildlife documentaries as a child and has been an outdoor enthusiast ever since. “The opportunity to visit Antarctica will take my explorations to another level. This will be the biggest thing I have ever done.”