Journey to the end of the Earth


Journey to the End of the Earth

By Tishani Doshi

Journey to the End of the Earth Introduction

The lesson revolves around Antarctica, the world's most preserved place. There aren't many people who have been there, but Tishani Doshi is one of them. A south Indian person who went on an expedition with a group of teenagers affiliated with the 'Students on Ice' programme takes young minds to the far reaches of the globe. As a result, it explains why Antarctica is the place to go if you want to see the past, present, and future in their most realistic form.

Journey to the End of the Earth Summary

It takes nine time zones, six checkpoints, three water bodies, and the same number of ecospheres for a south Indian man to travel to Antarctica from Madras. Tishani Doshi travelled to the South Pole with an expedition group called 'Students on Ice,' which gives young minds the opportunity to become more aware of the realistic version of global climate change. According to the organization's founder, we are the young versions of future policymakers who can change the situation. Antarctica is one of the world's coldest, driest, and windiest continents.

It is completely white as far as the eyes can see, and the uninterrupted blue horizon provides immense relief. It's hard to believe that India and Antarctica were once part of the same supercontinent, Gondwana, before being separated into countries and giving rise to the world we know today. Until then, Antarctica had a warmer climate. Despite human civilisation all over the world, it still exists in its natural state. As a sun-worshipping south Indian, it was unthinkable for the author to visit the place that contains 90% of the world's ice, a place so quiet that it is only interrupted by snow avalanches.

It is home to many evidences that can provide us with a glimpse of the past while also assisting us in forecasting the future. The place serves as a wake-up call to the impending threat that global warming is, in fact, a reality. Who knows if Antarctica will ever be warm again, and if it does, will we be there to witness it?

Journey to the End of the Earth Lesson Explanation

EARLY this year, I found myself aboard a Russian research vessel — the Akademik Shokalskiy — heading towards the coldest, driest, windiest continent in the world: Antarctica. My journey began 13.09 degrees north of the Equator in Madras, and involved crossing nine time zones, six checkpoints, three bodies of water, and at least as many ecospheres.

  • Ecospheres- parts of the universe habitable by living organisms

The author begins by discussing his journey to Antarctica, one of the world's coldest, driest, and windiest continents. He travelled there on the Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian research vessel. The author is a South Indian who started his journey from Madras. During his journey, he passed through nine time zones, six checkpoints, three bodies of water, and an equal number of ecospheres.

By the time I actually set foot on the Antarctic continent I had been travelling over 100 hours in a combination of a car, an aeroplane and a ship; so, my first emotion on facing Antarctica’s expansive white landscape and the uninterrupted blue horizon was a relief, followed up with an immediate and profound wonder. Wonder at its immensity, its isolation, but mainly at how there could ever have been a time when India and Antarctica were part of the same landmass.

  • Expansive- covering a wide area in terms of space or scope; extensive
  • Profound- very great or intense
  • Isolation- separation
  • Landmass- a continent or other large body of land

To reach the continent, he travelled for approximately 100 hours by car, plane, and ship. So, when he first set foot on the continent, he was relieved because it was all white as far as the eye could see. It was also very reassuring to see the blue horizon. The next emotion that came after was awe. He was astounded to learn that once upon a time, India and Antarctica were geographically connected.

Part of history

Six hundred and fifty million years ago, a giant amalgamated southern supercontinent — Gondwana — did indeed exist, centred roughly around the present-day Antarctica. Things were quite different then: humans hadn’t arrived on the global scene, and the climate was much warmer, hosting a huge variety of flora and fauna. For 500 million years

Gondwana thrived, but around the time when the dinosaurs were wiped out and the age of the mammals got under way, the landmass was forced to separate into countries, shaping the globe much as we know it today.

  • Amalgamated- combine or unite to form one structure
  • Supercontinent- a former large continent from which other continents are held to have broken off and drifted away
  • Thrived- prosper; flourish

Millions of years ago, there was a supercontinent called Gondwana, from which Antarctica and India are thought to have split. However, the situation was vastly different from what it is now. There were no humans, and the climate was warmer, resulting in a wide range of flora and fauna. Gondwana flourished for 500 million years, until dinosaurs became extinct and humans emerged. The vast continent was then forced to segregate into countries and the world we know today.

To visit Antarctica now is to be a part of that history; to get a grasp of where we’ve come from and where we could possibly be heading. It’s to understand the significance of Cordilleran folds and pre-Cambrian granite shields; ozone and carbon; evolution and extinction. When you think about all that can happen in a million years, it can get pretty mind-boggling. Imagine: India pushing northwards, jamming against Asia to buckle its crust and form the Himalayas; South America drifting off to join North America, opening up the Drake Passage to create a cold circumpolar current, keeping Antarctica frigid, desolate, and at the bottom of the world.

  • Cordilleran folds- an extensive chain of mountains or mountain ranges
  • Precambrian granite shields- large areas of relatively low elevation that forms part of continental masses
  • Mind-boggling- overwhelming; startling
  • Frigid- very cold in temperature
  • Desolate- (of a place) uninhabited and giving an impression of bleak emptiness

According to the author, if one wants to see history and where we came from, as well as where we are going, Antarctica is the place to go. It is the best place to learn about mountain ranges and low-elevation continents, ozone and carbon, evolution and extinction, and so on. It is capable of providing foresight into the future, which can be quite startling.

For a sun-worshipping South Indian like myself, two weeks in a place where 90 percent of the Earth’s total ice volumes are stored is a chilling prospect (not just for circulatory and metabolic functions, but also for the imagination). It’s like walking into a giant ping-pong ball devoid of any human markers — no trees, billboards, buildings. You lose all earthly sense of perspective and time here. The visual scale ranges from the microscopic to the mighty: midges and mites to blue whales and icebergs as big as countries (the largest recorded was the size of Belgium). Days go on and on and on in surreal 24-hour austral summer light, and a ubiquitous silence, interrupted only by the occasional avalanche or calving ice sheet, consecrates the place. It’s an immersion that will force you to place yourself in the context of the earth’s geological history. And for humans, the prognosis isn’t good.

  • Surreal- unusual; bizarre
  • Austral- relating to the Southern Hemisphere
  • Ubiquitous- everywhere; pervasive
  • Avalanche- snowslide
  • Calving- split and shed
  • Consecrates- make or declare sacred
  • Immersion- submerge
  • Prognosis- a forecast of the likely outcome of a situation

It was a very different experience for the narrator because, as a sun-worshipping South Inidan, it was difficult for him or anyone else to imagine living in a place where 90 percent of the Earth's total ice volumes are stored. Not only is it difficult biologically or physically, but it is also difficult for the imagination. A place untouched by humans and their inventions, it provides an experience that makes you forget about everything else. Antarctica is home to everything from small creatures like midges and mites to massive creatures like blue whales and icebergs the size of countries. The days never end with the sun shining all the time in the Southern Hemisphere. It's a peaceful place, broken only by the rapid descent of a mountain of snow. It is a setting that forces you to think about the Earth's geological history and helps you predict the future, which for humans does not appear to be very pleasant.

Human Impact

Human civilisations have been around for a paltry 12,000 years — barely a few seconds on the geological clock. In that short amount of time, we’ve managed to create quite a ruckus, etching our dominance over Nature with our villages, towns, cities, megacities. The rapid increase of human populations has left us battling with other species for limited resources, and the unmitigated burning of fossil fuels has now created a blanket of carbon dioxide around the world, which is slowly but surely increasing the average global temperature.

  • Paltry- petty; insignificant
  • Ruckus- a row or commotion
  • Etching- engraved
  • Unmitigated- unconditional

Human life has existed on Earth for a mere 12,000 years, which equates to a few seconds on the geological clock. Humans have managed to exploit every resource in this short amount of time, causing chaos in nature. The ever-increasing human population is depriving other species of essential survival resources. Not to mention the unrestricted use of fossil fuels, which has resulted in a blanket of carbon dioxide surrounding our planet, raising the average global temperature and contributing to global warming.

Climate change is one of the most hotly contested environmental debates of our time. Will the West Antarctic ice sheet melt entirely? Will the Gulf Stream ocean current be disrupted? Will it be the end of the world as we know it? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, Antarctica is a crucial element in this debate — not just because it’s the only place in the world, which has never sustained a human population and therefore remains relatively ‘pristine’ in this respect; but more importantly, because it holds in its ice-cores half-million-year-old carbon records trapped in its layers of ice. If we want to study and examine the Earth’s past, present and future, Antarctica is the place to go.

  • Pristine- in its original condition; unspoilt

These days, global warming and climate change are top priorities. Questions such as the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, the disruption of the Gulf Stream, and how the world will end remain unanswered. Regardless, Antarctica remains an important part of the world, not only because it has remained untouched by humans, but also because of the ice-cores' half-million-year-old carbon records trapped in its ice layers. Antarctica, according to the author, is the place to go to study and analyse Earth's past, present, and future.

Students on Ice, the programme I was working with on the Shokaskiy, aims to do exactly this by taking high school students to the ends of the world and providing them with inspiring educational opportunities which will help them foster a new understanding and respect for our planet. It’s been in operation for six years now, headed by Canadian Geoff Green, who got tired of carting celebrities and retired, rich, curiosity-seekers who could only ‘give’ back in a limited way. With Students on Ice, he offers the future generation of policy-makers a life-changing experience at an age when they’re ready to absorb, learn, and most importantly, act.

The author was in Antarctica on an expedition with 'Students on Ice,' a programme that takes young minds to the far reaches of the globe in order to inspire them to work for our planet. It began with the goal of providing life-changing experiences for "the next generation of policymakers" to learn about the planet at a young age. Geoff Green initiated the initiative after becoming dissatisfied with his regular job and wanting to give something back in some way.

The reason the programme has been so successful is because it’s impossible to go anywhere near the South Pole and not be affected by it. It’s easy to be blasé about polar ice-caps melting while sitting in the comfort zone of our respective latitude and longitude, but when you can visibly see glaciers retreating and ice shelves collapsing, you begin to realise that the threat of global warming is very real.

  • Blasé- unimpressed with or indifferent to something because one has experienced or seen it so often before

Because it is very easy to sit at home and talk about real issues, seeing glaciers retreating and ice shelves collapsing gives you a glimpse into the future, the programme has been enormously successful in implementing its vision. It confirms that the threat of global warming is real.

Antarctica, because of her simple ecosystem and lack of biodiversity, is the perfect place to study how little changes in the environment can have big repercussions. Take the microscopic phytoplankton — those grasses of the sea that nourish and sustain the entire Southern Ocean’s food chain. These single-celled plants use the sun’s energy to assimilate carbon and synthesise organic compounds in that wondrous and most important of processes called photosynthesis. Scientists warn that a further depletion in the ozone layer will affect the activities of phytoplankton, which in turn will affect the lives of all the marine animals and birds of the region, and the global carbon cycle. In the parable of the phytoplankton, there is a great metaphor for existence: take care of the small things and the big things will fall into place.

It is one of those places with low biodiversity and, as a result, a simpler ecosystem. As a result, even minor changes in its environment can have far-reaching consequences. For example, microscopic phytoplankton are sea grasses that support the entire Southern Ocean food chain. Scientists have recently concluded that further ozone layer depletion can affect the activities of these single-celled plants as well as the marine life as a whole. As a result, the old saying "take care of the small things, and the big things will fall into place" comes true in this case.

Walk on the Ocean

My Antarctic experience was full of such epiphanies, but the best occurred just short of the Antarctic Circle at 65.55 degrees south. The Shokalskiy had managed to wedge herself into a thick white stretch of ice between the peninsula and Tadpole Island which was preventing us from going any further. The Captain decided we were going to turn around and head back north, but before we did, we were all instructed to climb down the gangplank and walk on the ocean. So there we were, all 52 of us, kitted out in Gore-Tex and glares, walking on a stark whiteness that seemed to spread out forever. Underneath our feet was a metre-thick ice pack, and underneath that, 180 metres of living, breathing, salt water. In the periphery Crabeater seals were stretching and sunning themselves on ice floes much like stray dogs will do under the shade of a banyan tree. It was nothing short of a revelation: everything does indeed connect.

Nine time zones, six checkpoints, three bodies of water and many ecospheres later, I was still wondering about the beauty of balance in play on our planet. How would it be if Antarctica were to become the warm place that it once used to be? Will we be around to see it, or would we have gone the way of the dinosaurs, mammoths and woolly rhinos? Who’s to say? But after spending two weeks with a bunch of teenagers who still have the idealism to save the world, all I can say is that a lot can happen in a million years, but what a difference a day makes!

For the nine time zones, checkpoints, and bodies of water it took him to travel from Madras to Antarctica, the author pondered nature's ability to maintain its balance. He imagined what it would be like if Antarctica, which holds over 90 percent of the world's ice, warmed up again. He wonders if we'll be there to witness it if it happens, but who knows! Thus, by observing the spirit of teenagers who still have the courage to save the world, he speaks about the uncertainty of events that can occur over a million years.

About the Author

Tishani Doshi is an Indian poet, journalist, and dancer who was born in Chennai on December 9, 1975. Her debut poetry collection, Countries of the Body, won the Forward Prize in 2006. Her poetry collection A God at the Door has been nominated for the 2021 Forward Forward Prize in the category of best poetry collection.