About the Expedition

Students on Ice Antarctic University Expedition:
December 28, 2013-January 9, 2014

Welcome and thank you for your interest in the SOI Antarctic University Expedition 2013!

This ship-based expedition offers prospective students the opportunity to enroll in one of several University-level field courses, and experience one of the most awe-inspiring places on Earth. We will use an interdisciplinary approach to examine the uniqueness of the Antarctic continent, its political, scientific and exploration history.

Once in Antarctic waters, all students will make frequent field trips to the Antarctic mainland via Zodiac inflatables from the expedition vessel. These landings will be supplemented by lectures, presentations, seminars and lab exercises in dedicated space aboard our ship, the M/V Ushuaia.

The expedition will have approximately 60 participating students, and 30 university faculty, scientists, experts, policy makers and educators. Undergraduate and graduate students from around the world and from any university can apply to participate.


Antarctica is an amazing and incredibly unique continent. It is both an austere and inhospitable land and home to some of the most extraordinary biodiversity on the planet. It is a desert with vaulting mountains, immense glaciers, active volcanoes and awe-inspiring vistas. Antarctica is a cornerstone of the planet's global ecosystem; a window to the world; a symbol of peace, understanding and conservation; and one of the greatest classrooms and laboratories on Earth.

Antarctica was not always in its present southerly location. At one time it was part of present day Australia and Gondwanaland. Remains of dinosaurs and tropical forests have been discovered. Indeed, the whole concept of continental drift is made more fascinating by a study of this land of extremes.

Although the average water accumulation (arriving in the form of snow or ice) is only 12-15 centimetres or 5-6 inches (5 centimetres/2 inches or less over much of the interior), the icecap has reached a thickness of over 4,000 metres in some areas and covers about 14 million square kilometres. Ninety-eight percent of Antarctica's continental area is covered with ice. This accounts for ninety percent of the worlds ice and sixty-eight percent of the Earth's fresh water. If all this ice melted the Earth's ocean level would rise 50 to 60 metres.

Beneath the icecap lies a rocky landmass of about 7 million square kilometres. It is estimated that much of the landmass of western Antarctica is depressed into the Earth's crust to a depth of 1,000 metres lower than its original level. However, large mountains soar as high as 5,140 metres (16,859 feet).

There is little flora in Antarctica but what exists is significant. Brilliantly coloured lichens and mosses establish themselves in ice-free areas and the frigid sea provides haven for many varieties of microscopic life (phytoplankton).

Fauna exists in overwhelming abundance, especially during the brief austral summer. Hundreds of thousands of penguins gather to breed and feed. Whales, seals and albatross share the vast spaces. Krill, the most abundant animal in the world, occupies a central place in the Antarctic ecosystem and provides the basic food source for many Antarctic predators. Man can be counted among the potential, voracious consumers.

Human activity has been recent and limited but there is an exciting and sometimes unsettling history of exploration and exploitation. The remains of decades old whaling stations and exploration outposts stand as silent reminders of past activity. Abandoned and active research stations are testament to the political and scientific presence in Antarctica of several nations. The Antarctic Treaty came into force in 1961 and remains one of the most effective international agreements ever signed. As of June 2011, 48 members adhere to the Treaty (28 consultative and 20 non-consultative) and an annual meeting is held to discuss a range of issues.

The history of Antarctic exploration is a fascinating one. Speculation existed from the beginning of the first millennium of the existence of a southern continent. The first recorded expedition to search for it began with Bouvets expedition in 1738. Successive voyages by explorers, including the amazing navigator James Cook, proved the existence of a southern land but ice and sea conditions and adverse weather prevented any sighting. In 1821, Bellinghausen was the first to record sighting the continent although there is evidence that whalers and sealers had been keeping it secret for some years! Feats of great bravery, lies and intrigue, tragic failures and incredible successes are found in the stories of the early and present day explorers.

Much remains to be discovered, and protected, as you consider joining the ranks of Antarctic explorers.

Speculation over the existence of a southern land was not confirmed until the early 1820s when British and American commercial operators and British and Russian national expeditions began exploring the Antarctic Peninsula region and other areas south of the Antarctic Circle. Not until 1840 was it established that Antarctica was indeed a continent and not just a group of islands. Several exploration firsts were achieved in the early 20th century.

Following World War II, there was an upsurge in scientific research on the continent. A number of countries have set up year-round research stations on Antarctica. Seven have made territorial claims, but not all countries recognize these claims. In order to form a legal framework for the activities of nations on the continent, an Antarctic Treaty was negotiated that neither denies nor gives recognition to existing territorial claims; signed in 1959, it entered into force in 1961.

General Information about Antarctica:

Expedition Vessel

M/V Ushuaia - The motor vessel Ushuaia is a steel-hulled, ice-strengthened ship for Antarctic supply and oceanographic research, completely refurbished to meet both passenger and oceanographic needs. The Ushuaia is ISM Code certified. The crew is committed to protecting the environment and the safety of passengers.

Originally built for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the M/V Ushuaia has been refurbished to accommodate a maximum of 89 passengers and staff in 45 comfortable cabins.

The ice-strengthened polar vessel is very well appointed and provides ample deck space and an open bridge policy. The ship is extremely manoeuvrable and ideal for this type of expedition. The full complement of inflatable landing craft Zodiacs allow us to explore, conduct landings, field research, and wildlife viewing on the otherwise inaccessible coastline.

Public areas feature a large dining room, an observation lounge, a conference room with modern multimedia equipment, a well-stocked library, a changing room, a laboratory, and a small infirmary. Ushuaia's chefs prepare excellent meals each day. The vessels expert captain, officers and crew are highly experienced in Antarctic navigation and have a great love of Antarctic ecosystems. Our expedition team of international experts, scientists and field staff will help to deliver the education program and are all passionate about the protection of the Antarctic environment.

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Our Antarctic itinerary is always subject to change due to weather and ice conditions. It is rare that we ever follow an itinerary exactly as planned. One of the mottos of polar expedition travel is "Flexibility is the Key". We take advantage of all opportunities that present themselves, while at the same time respecting the power of the Antarctic environment. Course instructors will collaborate with the Students on Ice management team to ensure that locations of interest are included in the itinerary. With these points in mind, here is an outline of our exciting itinerary:

December 26, 2013

The journey begins for various expedition members from around the world making their way south to Argentina December 26-27.

Today, various groups of expeditioners will board flights from cities around the world to Buenos Aires, Argentina or Santiago, Chile. This will be a great opportunity to catch-up on some last minute Antarctic course-pack reading. The adventure officially begins!

December 27, 2013
Buenos Aires, Argentina or Santiago, Chile

Meeting other students and staff in transit, expedition groups arrive to Buenos Aires or Santiago before continuing to Ushuaia.

December 28, 2013
Ushuaia, Argentina

Located on the shores of the Beagle Channel, this beautiful region is home to mountains, forests and glaciers. Upon arrival, expeditioners will check into our hotel and have a chance to shower, change and rest.

This evening, we will have our first Expedition Briefing at the hotel and discuss our adventure ahead.

Expedition members who have arranged their accommodations independently in Ushuaia will move to the hotel on this day. Everyone will participate in the Expedition Briefing and enjoy a group dinner.

December 29, 2013
Ushuaia, Argentina

Our expedition program begins with a combination of educational presentations, workshops and field-course meetings that will help us to prepare for the journey ahead!

The evening, all students and staff will overnight together at our hotel. The evening program includes an Expedition Briefing at the hotel to discuss next day activities, followed by dinner as a complete expedition team!

December 30, 2013
Ushuaia, Argentina and Beagle Channel

Today we spend the morning exploring Ushuaia's surrounding region. Students will hike into the Tierra del Fuego backcountry.

This afternoon we board our expedition vessel the M/V Ushuaia at the dock in Ushuaia.

After checking into our cabins, there will be an Introductory Briefing with our Expedition Leader, the Education Team, fellow student participants and the ship's staff. Soon after well cast off the lines, raise the Students on Ice Flag and set sail down the Beagle Channel towards the Drake Passage. Our shipboard journey to Antarctica begins!

This evening, we will enjoy our first meal together aboard the M/V Ushuaia, participate in a mandatory emergency drill, share our excitement and be on the look out for the Southern Cross...

December 31, 2013
Drake Passage

We spend the day at sea sailing across the infamous Drake Passage towards Antarctica. Our shipboard education program kicks off and there will be an important briefing on Antarctic visitor guidelines. Be sure to get out on deck in search of whales and seabirds, including the mighty Wandering Albatross!

January 1, 2014
Drake Passage and South Shetland Islands

We cross the Antarctic convergence during our second day at sea. Our shipboard education program continues and well be instructed on Zodiac safety and landing procedures. Depending on weather conditions and the speed of our Drake Passage crossing, we may attempt our first landing in the South Shetland Islands.

January 2, 2014

Our first full day in Antarctica! Almost 24-hour daylight will allow us take full advantage of our days here. All expedition landings and the overall expedition ship schedule will be planned closer to the expedition. Possible landing sites today include Brown Bluff and a visit to the Argentine Station Esperanza. Thousands of Adélie and Gentoo penguins and their chicks await us at these sites, and we'll be in excellent whale watching territory.

January 3, 2014

Today we'll have a full day for exploring and making landings along the Antarctic Peninsula. If weather conditions permit, we'll attempt Zodiac landings and cruises on and around Deception Island. This horseshoe shaped dormant volcano is also home to a giant Chinstrap penguin colony and abandoned whaling station.

January 4, 2014

Today we'll have another full day of Zodiac landings, cruises and educational activities. We hope to make visits to Danco Island, Neko Harbour and Goudier Island. At Neko Harbour, well be able to hike up onto a small icecap for an incredible view of Andvord Bay and some ice-coring research activities. We may be able to visit Port Lockroy's United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust museum and post office, examining Whale bones and observing Cormorants at Jougla Point.

January 5, 2014

Today is another full day of landings and educational activities. By now the beauty and wonder of Antarctica will have cast its spell over us. We hope to try and explore Yalour and Pleneau Islands, and also visit the Ukrainian station Vernadsky, one of the most interesting and active scientific research bases in Antarctica.

January 6, 2014

Our final full day in Antarctica will be spent on exploring areas around Skontorp Cove, Cuverville Island and the Melchior Islands. More workshops in the field and landings are planned. This evening we bid farewell to Antarctica and begin our journey back to South America.

January 7, 2014
Drake Passage

We spend the day at sea reflecting on the experiences and adventures behind us. Our shipboard education program continues with a variety of presentations, workshops and activities.

January 8, 2014
Drake Passage and Beagle Channel

Our shipboard education program wraps up. Weather conditions permitting, we'll sail around famous Cape Horn! This evening we arrive back to the Beagle Channel. Tonight we celebrate our expedition with a farewell dinner and special presentations.

January 9, 2014
Ushuaia, Argentina

This morning, we arrive back in Ushuaia. Upon disembarking our ship and saying goodbye to the crew, some students will transfer to the airport to return home. Other students will head to town for the day, checking into the hotel in the afternoon.

The afternoon is free time for those who wish to explore the city, visit the museums, or hike. This evening, those who remain in Ushuaia will enjoy a group dinner and activities in town and overnight at the hotel before most of us begin our travels home in the morning.

January 10, 2014

Most students arrive home to their respective countries and home universities.

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