‘Journey to the End of the Earth’ by Tishani Doshi describes the journey from Madras (Chennai) to Antarctica with a group of high school students to study the conditions there. It is believed that man is responsible for global warming which is causing climatic changes. We hear that ice caps are melting and glaciers are receding. But we seldom realize the real impact of the rise in temperature. ‘Students on Ice’ is a programme headed by Canadian Geoff Green. Its aim is to provide young students and opportunity to see and understand the impact of global warming.
The author visited Antarctica on a Russian research ship called Akademik Shokalskiy. He started from Chennai. They had to cross nine time zones, six checkpoints, three water bodies and three ecospheres. The whole journey took him 100 hours. When he landed on the Antarctica, he was spellbound by its vastness, isolation and uninterrupted horizon. He wondered how there could have been a time when India and Antarctica were part of the same land mass — Gondwana.
About 650 million years ago, Gondwana was a super continent. It was warm and many species of flora and fauna prospered there. But there were no humans then. But around the time when dinosaurs were wiped out, Gondwana began to break up. India pushed against Asia and buckled its crust to form the Himalayas. South America drifted to join North America, opening up the Drake Passage. It created a cold current that went round the South Pole. It left the Antarctica cold and isolated.
The Antarctica a is now a part of that history. It helps us to understand where we came from and where we are going. It helps us to understand the significance of Cordilleran folds and pre-Cambrian granite shields. It helps us to understand about evolution and extinction. Antarctica has remained unspoiled by humans. Its ice-cores hold half-a-million-year old carbon record. It can help us to examine Earth’s past, present and future.
Antarctica is huge expanse of ice. It is all barren. There are no human markers. There are no trees, buildings or billboards. There are huge icebergs. There are blue whales. But there are very tiny things too. There are no mornings, noons, evenings and nights. It is a 24-hour day. There is silence everywhere. So you lose all earthly sense of time and space there.
Human civilisation is only 12000 years old. It is only a few seconds old on the geological clock. But during this short period, man has caused much confusion. He has built towns and cities. He has wiped out many other species to grab limited natural resources. By burning fossil fuels, man has created a blanket of carbon dioxide around the world. This is raising the global temperature.
This rise in temperature has caused climatic changes. It is the most hotly debated question. Many scientists foretell disaster.
Antarctica is the place to see the impact of these changes. Because it has a simple ecosystem, a little change in the environment can trigger a big effect. For example, take the microscopic phytoplankton. They are single celled plants. Through photosynthesis they assimilate carbon to form organic compounds. They sustain the entire food chain in the if oceans. They regulate the global carbon cycle. Any further depletion of ozone layer will cripple phytoplankton. f they did not function, the entire food chain and global carbon cycle would collapse.
‘Students on Ice’ is a programme headed by Canadian Geoff Green.’ He has chosen to take students to the end Students are young. They are ready to learn and act. They can actually see the effect of global warming. They see glaar ciers retreating and ice shelves collapsing. They cannot remain unaffected. They can see that the threat is real. They e the future policy-makers. They have idealism. They will act.
Just near the Antarctic Circle, the research ship Shokalskiy was caught between white stretches of ice. It could go no farther. So, the captain decided to turn round and go north. But before doing that he ordered everybody to climb down the gang plank and walk on the ocean. So, all the 52 of them walked on ice. Beneath the ice there was a living ocean. They saw seals sunning themselves on ice floes. They looked like stray dogs lying in the shade of a banyan tree.