Reflections from my PolarTREC Journey

    Where it all began

    While the actual 'Weddell Seal in the Ross Sea expedition' went from January 6 through February 20, my expedition started much earlier - a year earlier in fact - when I was selected for the PolarTREC program in January of 2011. One month later I attended PolarTREC Orientation and Share Fair - where myself and 11 other PolarTREC teachers learned the in's and out's of what it means to be a PolarTREC teacher. We received many beneficial 'tips' from former alumni and we even got 'cold weather training' as our orientation was in Fairbanks, Alaska in February. Burrr! If I remember correctly, the temperature dropped to -10 degrees F.

    Temp in Fairbanks, AK
    The temperature in Fairbanks, AK reached -10 during orientation. Yikes!

    A debt of gratitude is owed to:

    • NSF (National Science Foundation) and the OPP (Office of Polar Programs) for valuing and investing in the PolarTREC program (and in science education) so future generations of students can be inspired, informed, and more scientifically literate.
    • ARCUS and PolarTREC for managing the program so successfully! A special thank you goes out to the PolarTREC staff especially Janet, Sarah, Ronnie and Zeb! And I can't forget Kristin. Your expertise was unsurpassed!
    • PolarTREC alumni - Your prior experience has been an invaluable tool from which I learned an extraordinary amount! Special thanks goes out to our orientation 'alum' Gary, Betsy and Tim; my coaches Robin, Jeff and Michelle; and Lollie and Robert who encouraged me to apply.

    The Preparation

    After orientation, the preparation began and the staff of the Pink Palace Education Department was hard at work learning about Antarctica and the Weddell seals. We had an amazing time developing programming for:

    • Lab, classroom and homeschool programs
    • A mini exhibit in the Education lobby of the Pink Palace Museum - complete with a 'life size' image of a Weddell seal and pup.
    • Outreach programs - and boy did we do some outreach! I had an absolutely fabulous time talking about the expedition to numerous groups all over the Memphis area. I even did programs in Middle Tennessee, East Tennessee and even in Illinois.

    This part of the expedition went from April through my departure date of January 6.

    As I reflect on this part of my expedition many, many highlights come to mind but one in particular stands apart from the rest. In November of last year, I presented to the 4th and 5th grade students at Holy Family Catholic School in Peoria, IL. The students were all extremely enthusiastic! Then several weeks later, I had the pleasure of hosting one of those students when she and her family made a surprise visit to the Pink Palace Museum. What a joy!

    Alex and Katie
    Alex and Katie in front of the penguin pond at the Pink Palace Museum. I was thrilled to get this surprise visit!

    A special thanks to...

    • The Pink Palace Museum management team for allowing my participation in this program.

    • The entire staff of the Pink Palace Education Department whose tireless assistance made all of this possible. I could not have done this without each and every one of you!

    • Teachers, Students, Museum Members and other followers - Your enthusiasm about the project and all of your questions were extremely motivational! Thank you for being a major source of my inspiration.

    Pink Palace Museum

    The Expedition

    The Expedition was an absolutely fantastic, life-changing experience. It has truly opened my eyes to the vastness, fragility and inner-connectiveness of the world in which we live.

    During the 'real' expedition - from January 6 - February 20, there were a number of personal firsts. It was my first time:

    • In Antarctica!
    • Working with Weddell seals
    • Flying in a Twin OtterA highly maneuverable utility aircraft developed by de Havilland Canada. It can be flown slowly and in tight circles, and is designed for 20 passengers, short takeoffs and landings, and often used for cargo, passengers, and as a science platform. and a Helicopter
    • Riding a snowmobile - and I highly recommend it!
    • Seeing penguins in their natural habitat
    • Experiencing an earthquake

    I could not have been partnered with a better project - both in terms of the subject and the team. The entire Weddell seal team is the best in their field - top notch! Their knowledge, patients, and willingness to share their expertise was extremely helpful and above and beyond my expectations.

    The team
    The Weddell seal in the Ross Sea team - They are the BEST!!!

    The Seals

    What else can I say about the seals? They are absolutely amazing creatures! The gentle, carefree, yet inquisitive nature of the seals made my first time working with an apex predator a smashing success!

    Stay tuned for ways to monitor the 21 seals this team tagged during the final season!

    Weddell seal
    What a fantastic creature!

    The Future

    Although I'm sad that the 'real' expedition is over, I somehow feel that this journey has only just begun. And I am looking forward to what the future brings!

    No looking back
    No looking back! What does the future hold?