In a first-of-its-kind expedition, more than 50 researchers hailing from 30 countries are joining forces on a journey to circumnavigate Antarctica. Their goal? To measure pollution and signs of climate change across the continent. The team will set off from Cape Town on the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov on December 20, 2016 with a planned return of March 18 next year. The researchers involved hail from a variety of disciplines, including oceanography, biology, and climatology.

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The journey is treacherous and the conditions hostile, but it will help scientists better understand the effect humankind is having on the Southern Ocean. Not only will the Antarctic Circumpolar Expedition (ACE) study the main land mass, but it’s also the first attempt to study all the major islands in the surrounding ocean. While there’s been a good amount of recent research about the Arctic and the changes occurring as the northern ice cap melts, the southern pole is vastly less understood.

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Though the project began with over 90 proposals for potential research ideas, in the end, only 22 were accepted. The adopted projects include measuring the effects of plastic pollution on the food chain and measuring the role phytoplankton plays in regulating the climate. The organization behind the expedition is the newly formed Swiss Polar Institute, a joint venture between a number of Swiss research and educational institutions that aims to “enhance international relations and collaboration between countries, as well as to spark the interest of a new generation of young scientists in polar research.”

Via Phys

Images via Andreas Kambanis