On December 26, 65 high school students from around the world embarked on an expedition to the Antarctic as part of the award-winning Students on Ice program.
The program aims to explore ways for the young to spearhead efforts that contribute to societal action. It celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2009, having lead a total of over 1,500 students and experts from 40 countries to both the Arctic and Antarctic.
Founded by Canadian adventurer and environmentalist Geoff Green, the organization joins students from nine countries with 25 international experts.
Polar scientists, educators, artists and musicians will accompany the students. They will also lead workshops and research activities to investigate the effects of climate change on the delicate Antarctic ecosystems. The voyage is no relaxing cruise for the students. Lectures, workshops and hands-on research exploring marine biology, history, earth sciences, environmental issues and sustainable development will keep the students busy.
Students will gain experience in diverse areas such as wildlife recognition and observation, technological research, including Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, nature interpretation through journal writing and photography, youth forums on sustainable development, ecological footprints and much more.
Madison Miller, 16, and Jean-Paul Renaud, 17, are two high school students from Toronto currently on the Students on Ice program. Both students emailed directly from the ship in Antarctica to talk about their experiences so far.
The prospect of being on a team with some of the most recognized polar experts on the planet was just too good to pass up, said Renaud.
Here, I am surrounded with adults who have a true passion for what they do, said Miller. They have inspired me to take my passions seriously and to consider them as possible careers, as opposed to hobbies.
Miller heard about the SOI program after Geoff Green gave an inspiring presentation at her school, Branksome Hall. He inspired me to get involved in a personal way. SOI seemed to me to be a perfect way to get involved in such a way.
Renaud, a student of Ursula Franklin Academy, read about the program in the newspaper. The combination of adventure, international collaboration and expert advice help to lay the groundwork for a new perspective on climate change and a new perspective of the planet itself, said Renaud.
During their two weeks abroad, students can keep in touch with family, friends and interested students through a daily blog. Blogs include articles from current SOI students and alumni, offering accounts and opinions on current environmental issues as well as recent experiences on the SOI program.
There have been so many great experiences; it is difficult, if not impossible, to rank them, said Miller. However, one experience that has truly impacted me is seeing the immense tabular icebergs… I have a totally different outlook on the issues that currently face the environment because I have seen these. It has, in a very real sense, been life-changing.
Participants felt that this years expedition was of particular significance, as it took place amid the recent United Nations Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in mid-December. The conference did not result in a treaty, but it spurred a worldwide focus on the effects of climate change.
Although it may seem near impossible to make a difference, it is most definitely not, said Renaud. By becoming educated about the issues, making small changes to everyday life and encouraging others to do the same, one can make a significant impact.
The Students on Ice members daily blog is available at