Adventure Antarctica – A Journey to the Bottom of the Earth

There is something in us that yearns for exploration. Although certain places are dangerous and mysterious, this certainly did not stop CityU’s Antarctica Expedition team from exploring Argentina (Ushuaia) and the South Pole for 21 days. It was a chance to bring together 23 students from diverse disciplines to collect and interpret environmental data using new forms of creativity and visualisation as serious scientists and artists.

I talked to Daquan CUI (Creative Media) and Xiaoting TANG (Computer Science) from the team known as “THE SHAPES” and Shun LIAO (Computer Science) and Xiaoyan SHEN (Creative Media) from “THE MICROGANISMS” about their unique insights and discoveries in one of the most forbidding and remote landscapes on earth. We discussed the work they’re carrying out to better humanity and build a sustainable future.

THE SHAPES: How Do You Tell a Story Using Only Shapes?
The project’s aim is to create a 3-dimensional engineered kinetic sculpture, and use it like a graphic storytelling device to communicate the environmental issues encountered in Antarctica and Hong Kong. The goal is to help CityU students and the Hong Kong public achieve a better understanding of environmental issues. Xiaoting explained that he and Daquan found interesting and meaningful subjects to take photos of in Ushuaia (a city in southern Argentina) and Antarctica. Comparing their distinct cultural differences, the students have taken 360-degree photos of symbolic objects such as native masks that represent mythological spirits. So far they have already taken around 180 photos. The 3-D model will take the form of a beautiful glistening light-bulb display in the Creative Media Centre.

For more information, please click here.

THE MICROORGANISMS: How Do You Live Between Sea and Fresh Water?
Incorporating microbiology, time-lapse microscopy, DNA sequencing and programming, Shun, Xiaoyan and their team members study the life cycle and biological footprints of microorganism meta-populations in Hong Kong, Argentina (Ushuaia) and Antarctica. The team collects samples of algae and even protozoa in seawater where the water is especially murky. They then conduct studies of the population diversity, and isolate and sequence the 21 kinds of amino acids in the DNA samples in accordance with musical notes. The final product will comprise a demonstration of different visual and sound effect designs.

For more information, please click here.

Guide to Survival in Antarctica

  1. Lots (and Lots) of Sunscreen
    In case you didn’t know, the ultraviolet rays at the South Pole are extremely strong. Wearing plenty of sunblock, Xiaoting lamented he must have lost layers of skin on his face. (Not to worry. He looks fine now.)

  2. Wear Removable Layers of Clothes
    So you can take them off when it’s too hot! All of the students mentioned that it was much hotter than they imagined. Xiaoting said it was so hot on his first day he had to take off his coat. In fact, it was summertime in Antarctica, and the temperature was around 0 degrees.

  3. Extra Gloves or Socks
    It can get very cold once your gloves or socks get wet from the snow, Xiaoyan said. Basically, one should prepare for weather that often turns hot and cold.

  4. Toilet Etiquette
    Needless to say, normal bathroom routines operate a bit differently in the land of ice and snow. The most primitive method is to use a communal bucket. When in use, the students signalled using two big sticks in cross formation so that others would not come near. When they were finished, they made the sticks parallel.

  5. Make Friends with the Indigenous
    Say hi to the animals. They’re all friendly. Shun was very surprised at the wide diversity of animals, from big emperor penguins to seals. The penguins are not afraid of humans and will waddle past. They were lucky to catch a glimpse of the majestic Antarctica whale. One such whale around 2 metres in size appeared right next to their small boat.


A Near-Death Experience
Although none of the students came close to death, one night they were forced to camp on land in the ice and snow, and had to dig a hole in which to place their sleeping bags. According to Daquan, it was “like digging your own grave.” Shun added that when they woke up the next day, they had to dig their way out through the snow on their “coffins.” Xiaoting mentioned that the snow was so thick, two thirds of his leg became trapped because he was carrying heavy camera equipment.

Heroic Moments
The whole team spent their Christmas at the South Pole, and their way of celebrating was unconventionally appropriate—they swam in the extremely cold Antarctic Ocean on Christmas Day. Neither Daquan nor Shun had planned to go swimming with the other adventurous, festive swimmers. However, upon hearing a woman’s cry for help, they both jumped into the freezing cold sea to her rescue, wearing only their underwear.

Life Lessons
Xiaoting and Daquan shared that it is very important to plan a timetable for carrying out projects. At first, they did not have a clear objective for the kind or amount of photos they were going to take. After a while, they reorganised their strategy to better plan how many photos to take daily, how to categorise them and how to coordinate the duties of the other team members accordingly, such as interchanging their roles when shooting on land or at sea.

Shun really appreciated the diversity of wildlife in Antarctica because he had thought it to be a place of extreme cold and complete desolation. He truly enjoyed its biodiversity, and carried a smile whenever he talked about the penguins and seals. He also found peace of mind in the untouched environment, which was so contrary to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong.

For Xiaoyan, the important message of environmental protection is something she took home with her. She said she is definitely more aware of issues such as global warming and the duty everyone has to protect the world.

Larger than Life
On this Antarctica expedition, students witnessed fantastic forms of life, made friends with like-minded peers and went to the end of the world. The hunger to know and the desire to be first aided their passion for experimental endeavours, and brought together teams in the sciences and humanities to explore environmental issues for the betterment of future generations.

As long as we keep seeking and learning, our world keeps growing.