What makes a journey with Aurora Expeditions so unique is that you share your experience with our on-board team of wildlife, historical and geographical experts. While you witness the sights up close and personal, our guest lecturers and researchers can also open your eyes to the subtleties and fascinating qualities of your destination, making your expedition all the more meaningful.
We are thrilled to have Dr Paul Willis, director of the Royal Institute of Australia (RIAUS) joining our Weddell Sea & Antarctic Explorer expedition in February 2017, where in addition to interpreting fossils, he will discuss the impact of climate change on the Antarctic region.
WATCH! Get a taste of what you could experience in Antarctica travelling alongside Paul by watching his video below!
What makes you interested in Antarctica?
Antarctica is one of those places that steals a part of your soul, and will never return it. So really, you have no choice but to keep going back!
As a palaeontologist, what initially piqued my interest was the opportunity to see one of the greatest fossil deposits on the planet. Any other world-class fossil deposit sites accessible to humans have mostly been picked clean by fossil hunters and other palaeontologists over the years. When you get to Seymour Island in Antarctica, it’s like you’re walking on the sea floor 65 million years ago, and that’s an absolutely magical experience.
How is climate change affecting the Antarctic region?
Climate change is affecting Antarctica just like anywhere else. According to the monitoring stations, the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest-warming places in the world. On a ground level, this has resulted in more sea ice earlier in the season, which has sometimes prevented us from reaching Seymour Island. Supposedly, this occurs due to the warming conditions breaking up the ice from further down in the Weddell Sea and pushing it north.
Why is it important for people to be informed about the effects of climate change in Antarctica?
If we don’t get climate change right, we stand to lose not only our societies and civilisations, we could very well drive ourselves and many other species on the face of the Earth to extinction. It is a crucial issue which could affect us within the close of the century, potentially causing a mass-extinction. This isn’t just about our future, it’s about the future of life on the planet.
When you can go to somewhere like Antarctica which is relatively pristine and untouched by mankind, you realise that the planet is not just here to support human beings. There is a whole different set of eco-systems that support different forms of life, working to a completely different rhythm. More than anything, when you see Antarctica, it puts what we’re doing to the planet into perspective.
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What type of fossils can be found in Antarctica?
On islands such as Seymour, James Ross and Vega, you can see fossils dating back to the end of the age of the dinosaurs. The most common fossils you’ll see are shells such as clams and ammonites. Sprinkled amongst those are marine snails, some of which even have the original mother of pearl attached.
Occasionally, you can also spot plesiosaurs, sharks and marine reptiles such as mosasaurs which were living in the oceans when dinosaurs walked the Earth. Interestingly enough, it’s also the area where the world’s oldest duck was discovered (75 million years old)!
What can fossils in Antarctica tell us about the past?
Fossils are like a window into the past which show you a brief snapshot of a window of time. You can literally walk across a carpet of fossils, and see an abrupt line in the dirt from the moment when the meteorite hit Mexico and wiped out the dinosaurs in the second-largest mass extinction of all time.
We also see younger fossils about 55 million years old of the nothofagus or Antarctic beech tree, which can be still found growing today in Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. This interesting distribution is actually evidence from when the various continents were all joined together and the trees formed a continuous forest. So you can actually stand on Seymour Island with fossils of these trees in your hand and know that you’re holding part of a forest that once connected Australia to South America.
What are you most looking forward to on your expedition to Antarctica with Aurora Expeditions?
Getting to see the fossils again is just such a thrilling experience. If we look hard enough, I’m hoping we might even come across the remains of a meteorite I once spotted on a previous expedition! I’ll be doing lectures about the geology and palaeontology of Antarctica as well as climate change, but I’ll be happy to sit down and talk about any number of subjects on the voyage!