Those teachers whose students are about to take the Edexcel B Synoptic paper will have Antarctica at the front of their minds, because all the materials are about the icy continent. From the resources given it seems likely that the questions will revolve around Antarctic tourism in particular.

Our expedition is classed as tourism – and we are tourists. This means that we can’t use any of the logistics operations used to supply the scientific bases. We will be camping inland at Patriot Hills, the only tourist base in the interior.

We fly into the base on a Russian Illusion bomber and land on an ice runway. The bomber takes off from Punta Arenas in Chile and is run by ALE.

ALE’s Mike Sharp gave me some interesting facts and figures about Antarctic tourism.

  • The number of tourists booking with ALE is increasing. Last year, Mike flew about 250 people into Antarctica; this year he has taken double the number of deposits he had at the same point last year.
  • The type of tourist he is dealing with is changing. In the past he has dealt mainly with expeditions – for example walks to the Pole and independent research projects like ours – and people coming to run the South Pole Ice Marathon (approximately 20 people will be competing this year). However, this year he has already taken a number of bookings for people who just want to fly into the Pole, have a look around, buy a baseball cap from the American Scientific Base and fly back out again.
  • The majority of Antarctic tourism is around the coast and the numbers of tourists is increasing rapidly.  There are rules and regulations about where people can go ashore and how close they can get to wildlife, but with the increasing size of ships – one that can take 1000 passengers is due down this season – he sees that tourism could have a detrimental affect on the environment.
  • With the increasing number of cruise ships, Mike thinks that it is only a matter of time before one gets caught in an ice flow and they have problems with oil and fuel leaking into the pristine environment from the crushed ship.

Overall Mike thinks that Antarctica is an incredible place which isn’t being overly affected by tourism at the moment. However, in the future he can foresee issues due to the increasing number or visitors.

From my point of view I am encouraged by the incredible emphasis on reducing our environmental impact while we are in Antarctica. We had to complete documents from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office asking us how we are mitigating the risk of our research projects damaging the environment.

Oh, and we have to take all of our waste – with the exception of urine – out with us.