Holidays on ice

TRU grad savours field studies in Antarctica

Mike Youds / Kamloops Daily News
January 3, 2014 01:00 AM

Rafting upon arrival at Elephant Island in Antarctica

She hasn't spoken with her parents since Boxing Day, but Katelynn Daly's excuse is as solid as the ice she'll be visiting over the coming week.

"They know I'm safe," she said reassuringly on Thursday aboard the Argentinian icebreaker MV Ushuaia, some 18,000 kilometres from home in Antarctica.

Ordinarily, the TRU environmental chemistry graduate would be spending time with her family in Kamloops over the holidays. Instead, she took advantage of time off after graduating to do some travelling, including a voyage with the international educational program Students On Ice (SOI).

A group of 72 high school and university students is accompanied by a team of scientists, researchers and educators. Professors from institutions including UNBC and Carleton University will enrich the adventure through workshops and credit courses exploring a variety of topics, including health of the polar regions and impact on humans. Daly is immersed in a master's level course in oceanography as she ponders post-graduate studies. An outdoors lover, she is naturally drawn to environmental science. A polar expedition could only enhance her prospects.

"We've had lots of lectures on different aspects of climate change and how it relates to Antarctica."

"I'm definitely looking at good schools for next year," she added. "It really helps out because all of the university students are taking courses."

On a general level, she's learned that the climate changes observed in Antarctica to date are believed to be beyond anything that has occurred over the past 10,000 years. They don't yet know what the incremental changes mean, though.

"It could send us into another ice age. You just don't know."

The expedition will be conducting an annual monitoring of the Koerner Ice Cap, which is used to gauge polar ice-cap patterns. Antarctic ice grew to hit a 35-year-record in 2013, confounding scientists due to the fact that the Southern Ocean is warming.

Other local students have made the same journey with SOI in recent years, but none has been able to contact The Daily News en route as Daly managed on Thursday. The call was an exception to what has been an expedition rule: No social media.

In deference to their extraordinary surroundings, the social media generation agreed to do without, Daly explained. That's why she hasn't contacted family since boarding a plane in Toronto on Dec. 26.

"The expedition was not allowed to bring personal devices such as iPads, cellphones or computers," she said. "It's really to get as much out of the experience and enjoy the company of each other."

She called at a particularly exciting moment as the polar vessel completed its voyage across Duke Passage en route to the Antarctic Peninsula and landfall.

The passage between South America and the icebound continent is notorious for whipping up stormy seas, which has earned it the nautical nickname Duke Shake. Seas were relatively calm for the crossing, more befitting the optional name Duke Lake, but Daly still had difficulty exiting her top bunk and has a bruise to show for it.

"I want it to get a little bit stronger," she said. "I'd like to experience what Duke Passage is like when it's rough."

Daly got a sense of the harsh realities of polar adventure on a Zodiac raft outing at Elephant Island on New Year's Day. The Zodiac's engine conked out. They drifted for about 25 minutes until the outboard was coaxed back to life.

"It definitely got fixed pretty quickly," she said.

She's done a lot of travelling in the past, including a trip to Japan in Grade 12 and living in Vietnam while enrolled in the TRU Studies Abroad program.

"It's a very different experience from the other ones, but in a good way," she said, describing the field studies with peers with strong interests in scientific pursuit. "It's all like-minded people coming together."

Having arrived New Year's Day, they'd already spotted fin whales rising around the ship, Magellanic penguins, petrels and albatross around Elephant Island.

They had a brief stopover in Argentina - a chance to explore the southern Patagonian Andes - and plan to visit an Antarctic research station.

And they didn't miss celebrating a New Year's they'll never forget.

"Oh, it was great. It was a lot of fun. We had a party in the lounge area with lots of food and champagne for the adults."

The sun began to rise between 3 and 4 a.m. on New Year's Day, a little earlier than at 52 degrees north.

By the way, how is the weather at latitude 66 degrees south?

"It's cold but nothing right now that we can't handle. It's very similar to the weather up at Sun Peaks."

The expedition's progress can be tracked at

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