And the scientific work begins ...
Most of the delegation’s research will be based on Horseshoe Island. However, the researchers began their work from the very first moments of the journey. Assistant team leaders Hakan Yavaşoğlu and Oğuz Selbesoğlu started to install the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) station on board. The first was completed in a few hours. They'll have to wait a few more days for the second stage.
Biologist Turgay Çakmak and team leader Dr. Ersan Başar headed out in a boat to collect water samples. Engineer Lt. Tuba Çınar measured different features of the water. Meanwhile, Abdulmuttalip Erdoğan of the TRT World team, who spent hours outside in the frigid weather, caught a severe cold. When his body temperature reached 38.5 C (101.3 F), he was examined by our team doctor Seren Kırmızı and put up on a drip by the medical team on board. He seemed to recover within a few hours, which gave everyone on the ship huge relief.
Faculty members of Istanbul Medeniyet University commissioned biologist Turgay Çakmak to investigate algae in Antarctica. Çakmak, who came to the continent for research, said the microscopic algae there had begun to attract the attention of the biotechnology industry. About his work, Çakmak said: "Algae are a group of living creatures that have adapted to various ecological conditions, from fresh, salty, brackish and alkaline water to hot springs, from caves to deserts where there are sufficient light and moisture, and it has taken over most ecosystems. The Antarctic continent, covered with snow and glaciers, is no exception and is home to many types of algae. In this project, I am collecting microscopic algae on the Antarctic continent. The algae will be able to be evaluated biotechnologically through tests and studies of the samples. Algae can be used in many sectors, including as vehicle fuel, pharmaceutical or nutritional additives and in agriculture."
First contact with whales
While cruising on the ship, we all gathered above with news from the deck. A group of whales was passing the ship, they said. We were a little disappointed when we reached the deck because we only had the opportunity to see the backs of the whales. The whales, who do not spend much time near the surface, soon disappeared completely, disturbed by the noise of the ship. A few hours later, we came across a terrifying sight that also fascinated us all. The sea had transformed into a field of ice. The ship passed near an array of ice floes, both large and small. A few were even larger than our vessel. The lonely seals and penguins on the floating ice seemed to point to the extent of global warming.
Traveling by ship through ice floes is risky. We realized how dangerous our journey actually was while charging through the ice floes. Though most captains would not attempt to navigate these waters; we made progress thanks to the skills of our captain and the guidance of an assistant positioned on the stern informing him about ice undetectable from above. In just four hours, we had gathered crucial data about Antarctica and global warming.
Becoming witnesses of history
We finally reached the Faure Islands where the GNSS station would be established by Turkey's General Directorate of Mapping (HGM). After the feasibility study was conducted, it was decided that the station would be set up on Dismal Island. While the three-person HGM team made preparations for the installation of the station in the designated area, helicopters and boats were put into operation again. The logistics transfer from the air and the sea took about three hours.
When the weather conditions were opportune, some members of the science delegation on the ship landed on Dismal Island and took samples of rocks, plants and water. During their sampling survey, the scientists were attacked by south polar skua birds. The skua birds, who wanted to protect their nests in the area, were diving at the scientists and marking their territory. The scientists remained within these limits and fulfilled the requirement of the most emphasized subject throughout their training. One of the most certain and clear rules communicated was the fact that Antarctica belongs primarily to the animals living there and that their habitats should never be harmed. Therefore, the minute we felt that the animals living there were disturbed by our presence, we moved away from the area. We fully abided by our training.
The installation of the GNSS station continued on the second day. At the end of the second day, the station was ready. This was Turkey’s first GNSS station abroad. The GNSS station basically tracks the movements of the Earth’s crust. However, it is also used as a global navigation system. All information obtained at this station, which collects very important data for scientists dealing with mapping and location, will also be shared with the world in real-time.
The Turkish base
After setting up the station on Dismal, we left the island accompanied by some confused glances from the seals. Our next stop was Horseshoe Island, where Turkey's first provisional science base is located. This is the first time we will see the base, which was established with great effort last year. Only three people on the team have seen the base before – that is, they were on the team last year. The other 21 are excited to visit the base. We were able to cover the 73 kilometers in five or six hours. The ship’s captain anchored at night. When we went up on the deck, we could see the base from afar. I don't know how accurate it is to say "night." It is not easy to distinguish day from night in Antarctica. The continent has no local time. For this reason, we use Chile’s local time, even though it’s far away. We benefit almost 16-17 hours of daylight. Though it is not possible to say the sky completely darkens for the remaining hours. The next day, we set off in the early hours of the morning in Zodiac boats. Our goal is to reach the Turkish base. After struggling with the wind and waves for 15 minutes, we reached the island. Two seals greeted us at the entrance of the island. The former members of the team said these two seals have been living in the same place for four years and got used to our team. None of the creatures in Antarctica, except for skua birds, run away from humans because they do not consider people a threat, yet. Aside from whale hunting, which stopped long ago, the likely reason seals do not fear humans is because the creatures on this continent aren't hunted. After meeting the two seals, seeing the Turkish flag on the temporary science base consisting of three containers inspired excitement for the team. At first, amid the excitement, we didn’t notice a colony of Adelie penguins clustered on the slope next to us. The leader of the penguin colony separated from his friends and rushed at us at full speed. We stayed where we were. The penguin, whose purpose was to protect his colony, paused for a moment as he approached on his mission to frighten. Realizing he could not take on the crowd, he headed back. To avoid disturbing the colony further, we turned our attention to our equipment. When the rest of the team was finished with the Zodiacs, we fulfilled perhaps our most important task on the island. With the Bulgarian and Belarusian scientists among us, we sang our national anthem and raised our flag.
A place like no other
I'm a very lucky person. So far, I have had the opportunity of visiting many countries on each of the world's six continents (bar Antarctica, until now). Each of them had different features and different beauties to offer. I saw structures that I admired very much. Sometimes I witnessed annoying events with great disappointment. But each of them was about the world I knew. So while I was living in each one, I was very aware of where I was and what I was doing. Today, I am sure once again that Antarctica is a place that is like no other on Earth! There is nowhere else that I can compare it to. Its nature, the air, the breath we take, the creatures living here ... They are all very different. In just a blink, the landscape in front of me can change before my eyes. The wind, a mountain of ice breaking, the rain, the snow, everything happens and changes in an instant. Though amid these intense and rapid changes, there is a certain stillness. This place is like a limbo between Earth and space.
I get attacked - by birds
On my second day on Horseshoe Island, I took a long walk to get to know the land a bit better. The scientists also started to work on different parts of the island. The island was more like a pool of scientists, each and everyone working like a bee. There is a steep slope just behind the area where the Turkish base is located. After climbing this ice-covered slope, I reached a rocky area. There were two small ponds, which gets covered in ice from time to time. An incredible view greeted me when I crossed the ponds. The mainland of Antarctica and the magnificent sea in front of it form an incredible union. Out at sea, there are pieces of ice breaking from both the mainland and Horseshoe Island, with seals resting on them. I was suddenly attacked while trying to descend with quick steps to the seaside full of excitement. A skua bird started screeching, circling above my head. Obviously, I was close to his home. As I tried to figure out where his nest was to steer myself away from it, he started to dive toward me again. This time he aimed to attack. When I cowered to the ground, he flew over me. He tried to attack two more times but left me alone after seeing me changing direction. When I finally reached the shore, I wanted to stay there for hours and get lost in the silence. Of course, I couldn't do this for a very long time. After a couple of hours of waiting, I left, starting to feel the effects of the bitter cold and returned to the base. When I went back to the base, helicopter sorties had started for the last logistics operations. The things scientists needed were carried from the ship to the island in five helicopter sorties. Everything was now ready for station building work that would take several days.
The first Turkish female officer on Antarctica
As an attendant at the Navigation Hydrography and Oceanography Department, Lt. Tuba Çınar was one of the women in our team. One of the most challenging missions of the expedition team was seabed mapping. To see this work on-site, I tagged along for a day. Lt. Tuba, two sailors and I set sail out toward the sea on one of the boats. And let me tell you, you sway a lot more on a small boat than a big ship because of all the waves. This makes it very difficult to work on a boat. Such sea-mapping studies, which can last hours and even days, were carried out in strategic and important regions in the Antarctic Ocean as part of the National Antarctic Science Expedition. Last year, the sea was scanned around Horseshoe Island and a depth map was created. The Naval Forces Command, which continued its mapping work this year as well, sent its first Turkish female officer to the island this time around. By staying on a boat for days on and around Horseshoe Island to take measurements and do mapping work, Lt. Tuba Çınar provided Turkey and the world with crucial data.
Although Antarctica is a land of countless beauties and wonders, many things are entirely absent from its surface. For instance, not one reptile can be found here and, except crustaceans, one has only a slim chance of stumbling across its only species of insect – the Belgica Antarctica. Furthermore, as there is barely a patch of soil to be found on the entire continent, neither can one expect to come across a single tree. Although it has only been a week since we arrived, every day presents us with a new, shocking discovery.
Plankton is the buzzword
Our foremost reason to come to Antarctica was to monitor scientific research. We thus decided to have a chat on board the boat with scientist and expedition leader, Dr. Ersan Başar of the Black Sea Technical University’s (KTÜ) Marine Sciences Faculty. While conducting studies throughout the expedition, the professor has been taking samples of sea plankton from around Antarctica. Başar has been researching the distribution of phytoplankton and zooplankton for the last four years. Most of the studies he has been involved in Antarctica and elsewhere relate to various forms of plankton. Explaining how these studies focus on the quantity and variety of these species to determine the fertility of marine life, Başar says: "When we started this project four years ago, we were given the chance to explore marine life covering an area of 500 square kilometers. This allows us to collect an important data set to the benefit of both Turkey and the world at large. Alongside this, we’ve also conducted work to see the extent of oil pollution in the water. Aside from this project, which has been ongoing for the last two years, we’ve also had the chance to explore the resources of the area." Başar said the expedition has been rather successful and that the project has been a fruitful endeavor for all involved.
Research has shown that there are many metals and hydrocarbon reserves on the continent and its surrounding Southern Ocean. On the floor of the Ross Sea alone, over 50 billion barrels of petrol, as well as iron, gold, silver, nickel and other resources have been found. Alongside these, the continent is home to one of the most crucial, yet fast-depleting, of resources for human life, freshwater. It appears that 70% of the world’s freshwater reserves are present, in the form of ice, on this frosty continent.
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