Ottawa

Fantastic voyage: scientists return from exhilarating Antarctic adventure

'You can't go to that landscape and not have it affect you'

wynet smith jumping antarctica

Wynet Smith, an Ottawa geographer and executive director of Global Forest Watch Canada, was one of about 70 women who recently took part in an all-female scientific expedition to Antarctica. (Wynet Smith)

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For Shelley Ball and Wynet Smith, there are few words to describe the grandeur and majesty of Antarctica.

Bell and Smith were among some 70 women with scientific backgrounds who travelled there in December, part of the largest ever all-female expedition to the globe's southernmost continent.

"I'm still in a state of shock and awe," said Smith, an Ottawa-based geographer and the executive director of Global Forest Watch Canada, on CBC Ottawa's All In A Day.

"I've travelled many places in the world ... but I have to say, the location, the landscape of Antarctica and the wildlife there, turned my world upside down in many ways."

penguins antarctica shelley ball

Penguins gather on the Antarctic Peninsula. (Shelley Ball)

The Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition departed Dec. 2 from the southern tip of Argentina and spent 20 days at sea, exploring the Antarctic Peninsula — the continent's northernmost tip.

Ball and Smith were among five Canadian women who made the voyage, along with fellow travellers from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Costa Rica and Germany.

The journey's goals included raising the profile of women in the scientific disciplines, while also giving those chosen for the expedition a first-hand look at how climate change is playing out in Antarctica.

"It definitely defined my path forward, my personal mission in life — which is connecting people to nature, especially youth," said Ball, a Westport, Ont., biologist and the founder and president of Biosphere Environmental Education. 

penguins half moon island antarctica

A bird flaps its wings on Half Moon Island, a small island of Antarctica that's only accessible by sea or helicopter. (Wynet Smith)

The expedition took Ball and Smith to some of the most remote places on earth, including the penguin colonies at Deception Island and American and Argentine scientific research stations.

It was conversations with researchers at those stations, said Ball, that really hammered home the effects of climate change.

"They're saying, 'Wow, you know, there used to be a glacier in our backyard when this station was built in the late 50s. It's [now] half a kilometre away.' And that is really sobering."

It wasn't all serious: the trip also involved sliding down mountains, communing with penguins, and even the odd snowball fight. Smith shared photos and videos from Antarctica on Twitter, coupled with verses in haiku.

The expedition also involved mentorship training on how to become better scientific leaders and communicators, and both Ball and Smith say they hope to use those skills now that they're back in Canada.

They also say they're planning a return voyage at some point.

"I left a piece of my heart in Antarctica," Ball said. "You can't go to that landscape and not have it affect you."

iceberg paradise bay antarctica

An iceberg in Paradise Bay off the coast of Antarctica. (Wynet Smith)

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