Authored by Julia Wagemann
Today is our eighth day aboard the Island Sky. A week ago, we boarded The Island Sky in Puerto Madryn for a journey to Antarctica, a journey beyond the comfort zone for many of us. As our journey progresses, this is the furthest south geographically that many of us have ever been. We left the Falkland Islands three days ago, knowing that it would take at least two days at sea to reach the north-western tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The past few days have given us a sense of how far Antarctica is from any landmass, and yet the more we learn about this unique continent, the more we realise that this icy continent affects many processes on Earth and influences our daily lives far more than we can imagine.
On our voyage we are accompanied by an expedition team of highly knowledgeable and respected scientists who have been involved in Antarctic research for decades and who will share their expertise with us throughout the voyage. Three days ago, the ship’s expedition team started a small competition, asking us to put a piece of paper in a jar with the day and time we expected to see the first iceberg. At the time, we had just left the Falklands and the north-eastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula was still far away. To the surprise of many, including the ship’s expedition team, we sighted our first iceberg two days ago at 56°18.2 S and 56°21.2 W, just 24 hours after leaving the Falklands. This was much earlier than expected and 60 miles further north than where the team would have expected it. This iceberg most likely calved from the Pine Island Glacier, Amundsen Sea, west of Antarctica and has now entered too warm water where it will quickly melt away.
Photo: First Iceberg. Credit: Heidi Victoria
Antarctica is the highest, windiest, driest, coldest and darkest continent on Earth, and despite being the continent with the most untouched ecosystem, the floating iceberg is one of many signs that Antarctica is out of its comfort zone. This year the extent of Antarctic Sea ice reached its lowest annual maximum on record (Smith et al. 2023). In many places, glaciers have retreated. Frozen places where penguin colonies used to live are now melting. Instead of snow, rain is falling. Ice is breaking up and melting away. It is expected, that over the next 100 years, about 45 cm of the global sea level rise will be due to water released from the Antarctic ice shelf (Edwards et al. 2019).
This journey pushes many of us out of our comfort zones. We learn to coexist on a boat for 19 days with people we have only met online. We learn about our strengths and weaknesses, how we react in certain situations and how we can collaborate. We reflect on our own leadership style and how we can adapt our leadership to the emerging challenges we face on our planet. The challenges we face in relation to our changing planet are serious and constantly changing. Known leadership approaches cannot cope with the emerging complexity and we need a new adaptive leadership that requires collective courage and boldness to challenge the status quo. As Homeward Bound participants, we are deliberately pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones as a way to grow and be better prepared to lead in an emerging context.
Aboard the Island Sky, we are preparing for our first encounter with Antarctica, that unique and pristine continent. Unlike us, Antarctica is being involuntarily pushed out of its comfort zone and needs our collective efforts to help it survive. Many who have experienced Antarctica return home with the same message: “Once you have experienced Antarctica, it will never leave you”. Our future, and the future of our children and grandchildren, depends on how long we continue to push Antarctica out of its comfort zone, and how soon we are able to apply new leadership principles that are collaborative, inclusive and legacy-minded.
As Prof Mark Brandon said during one of his lectures on the ship: ‘If you can do something to protect Antarctica, do it. We must!
Edwards, T.L., Brandon, M.A., Durand, G. and Edwards, N.R. (2019). Revisiting Antarctic Sea ice loss due to marine ice cliff instability. Nature, 566, pp. 58-64.
Smith, I., Pauling, A., Leonard, G. , Richter, M.E. , Thomas, M., Langhorne, P. and Rack, W. (2023). As Antarctic Sea ice continues its dramatic decline, we need more measurements and much better models to predict its future. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/as-antarctic-sea-ice-continues-its-dramatic-decline-we-need-more-measurements-and-much-better-models-to-predict-its-future-213747 (last accessed: 19 November 2023)