Olle Carlsson reflects on his career at the ends of the earth

Olle Carlsson is another integral part of the SOI Antarctic expedition team. He drives zodiacs, gives presentations on Antarctic history and his expedition spirit is never in short supply. We asked Olle about his career following the sun from the Arctic to Antarctica and back.

 

How did you get involved with SOI in the first place?

When I started working as a guide in Antarctica, I was hired by the pioneer Lars-Eric Lindblad, who initiated tourism in the deep South. I was however unhappy with the size of the ship, and docked in Ushuaia I saw smaller ships much more to my liking. I called to a guy on the deck of one of them and asked “How can I get a job on a ship like this?” He at once invited me to a guided tour on board and gave me the info needed to apply for a job. The guy was Geoff Green, and soon we worked together, of and on. When Geoff started his heart project Students on Ice, I was invited to join, which, sharing his vision of the need to take young people to Antarctica, I soon did.

Olle guiding a zodiac tour in Neko Harbour during the Antarctic 2009 expedition. Photo (c) Olivia Rempel

Olle guiding a zodiac tour in Neko Harbour during the Antarctic 2009 expedition. Photo (c) Olivia Rempel

 

Tell me about your first visit to Antarctica, did you know right away that you’d be returning again and again?

My first experience of the Polar areas was Svalbard in the Arctic, and I fell in love with the land, the ice and the wildlife adapted to these harsh conditions. I knew that Antarctica would be as strong an experience, and my hope was to be allowed to return many, many times. – I have spent 2-3 months each year in the southern summer in Antarctica. And this season is my 25th!

 

Tell me a bit about your books, what was the process of putting them together like? 

My initial fascination in Antarctica was triggered by – pictures! My friend Stefan Lundgren, a keen photographer, came to Antarctica in the beginning of the 1980’s as an able seaman on a logistic ship. His pictures from the Kingdom of the ice for the first time gave me an idea of what the white area at the bottom of the world map was about. Thus started my yearning to go there. Stefan once complained that his pictures just were “collecting dust”, so I suggested him to make a book. He felt that he was not a writer, and I said that “Maybe I am – or can become”! Studies, interviews, joining an Antarctic Treaty meeting in Paris – a lot of hard and very enthusiastic work for the better part of a year resulted in our first book: “Antarctica – in the interest of all Mankind” (in Swedish only), which is a broad introduction to many aspects of the continent. I was the main author, but we created it together. It was appointed the WWF book in Sweden in 1990, and it had a spin-off effect: it became my ticket to Antarctica, which at the time I still had never visited!

Our second book is in English, and is a photo book with texts introducing some of the things you may wonder and want to know about if you visit Antarctica. We call it a Souvenir book    and have printed four (small) editions, which has allowed us to update texts and change pictures for better ones taken the season before!

 

Olle chats with students at Heroina Island during the Antarctic 2010 expedition. Photo (c) Lee Narraway

Olle chats with students at Heroina Island during the Antarctic 2010 expedition. Photo (c) Lee Narraway

What are some of your fondest SOI memories?

I can not single out any special moments, they are far too many and ranges from wonderful moments with the young adults, to sharing with them the lovely, impressing vistas, moments with whales and penguins – the absolutely whole fantastic lot!!

 

In the many years you’ve been visiting Antarctica (and the Arctic), have you noticed any changes?

Both Polar regions are a bit of the ” canaries in the mine”, which were kept to give an early warning of gases in the shafts. Changes in climate tends to be stronger and show up earlier in these areas. Yes, I have noticed changes, quite some. In the North the lack of sea ice around Svalbard in the summer is the most striking sign of change, followed by an extremely fast retreat of many glaciers. In Antarctica the picture is a bit different: crumbling glaciers, yes, but ironically the warming in the Peninsula area has led to huge amounts of snow in the early spring and summer, and on the east side of the Peninsula, in the Weddell sea, the last three years have offered more pack ice than I ever saw before! This is caused by a shift in the wind systems: winds now mainly come from the south, from the very cold interior of the continent and reaching the sea the cold air causes freezing. In spite of the fact that annual mean temperatures in the Peninsula, as in Svalbard, have increased by 3C in just 50 years time!

Many changes which I cannot see in situ are nowadays well documented by satellites and researchers, and the whole picture certainly alerts concern.

 

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The Students on Ice Antarctic Expedition is taking place December 26th, 2014 to January 8th, 2015. To learn more and follow the expedition through photos, videos and student journals visit the expedition website and follow journey updates on Facebook and Twitter.

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This website was made possible by a generous contribution from the Leacross Foundation.