Carbon-free to Antarctica

Hanna with a leaf from a species that we dubbed ‘Acer utterlihumungus’

Dr Hannah Walker, UBoC’s former i-Tree researcher, is heading down to Antarctica for five months with the British Antarctic Survey.

Not many trees there, you’re thinking. But this is a return to Hannah’s background in atmospheric science and a big change from her role in the i-Tree survey of the University of Leeds campus.

One fascinating tree on the university campus does, however, provide a link (not this one though).

Hannah surveying the University of Leeds’ Nothofagus Antarctica

50 million years ago trees of the Nothofagus (southern beech) genus grew in temperate rainforests on what is now the frozen continent of Antarctica, when it was part of the supercontinent Gondwana. The University of Leeds is home to a single specimen of Nothofagus antarctica, which is now native to the threatened temperate rain forests of Chile and Argentina, and is the southernmost tree on Earth.

Hannah will travel via Chile on her journey by train and plane from Leeds to the Rothera Research Station on Adelaide Island where she’s joining the meteorology team, taking a wide range of instrument measurements for the SYNOP and CLIMAT reports, and doing other vital things like checking for seals in the bay before dives, washing-up, co-piloting twin otter aircraft (well, sitting in the co-pilot seat), helping unload supply ships – and, of course, shovelling snow when needed!

As responsible climate scientists, Hannah and her colleague, former New Zealand weatherman John Law, were keen to negate the emissions from this epic trip. We calculated that the return journey would emit the enormous total of 6 tonnes of CO2e per person. (On average people living in the UK emit about 7 tonnes a year, so this demonstrates the impact of long haul aircraft flight, and the importance of planting trees to help compensate.) The good news is, however, that when Offset via Plan Vivo’s Trees of Hope project in Malawi this costs just £43, which is a tiny fraction of the total cost of travelling to and from Antarctica.

Practicing rescues in the UK from a 15m tall instrument mast which John and Hannah had to build themselves. The ‘victim’ is a 70 kg dummy filled with sand!

We’re hoping the other 100 or more people working at Rothera this winter (it’ll be summer there) will follow suit. We certainly need to understand the rapidly-changing climate of Antarctica and its surrounding ocean (the news continues to be alarming), but we need to make sure we don’t make the situation any worse while we find out. 

And we certainly don’t want Nothofagus antarctica recolonising our southernmost continent any time soon!