Science Faces

Going to Antarctica for the cold truth

The international expedition to Antarctica (above) is organised by the California-based 2041 Foundation, and Ms Sandra Marichal (below) is joining 150 other representatives on this month's trip. She hopes to be able to share her experience with Singa
The international expedition to Antarctica (above) is organised by the California-based 2041 Foundation, and Ms Sandra Marichal is joining 150 other representatives on this month's trip. She hopes to be able to share her experience with Singaporeans on how global warming is affecting Antarctica or as she calls it, the "air-con of the world".PHOTOS: 2041 FOUNDATION, LAU FOOK KONG
The international expedition to Antarctica (above) is organised by the California-based 2041 Foundation, and Ms Sandra Marichal (below) is joining 150 other representatives on this month's trip. She hopes to be able to share her experience with Singa
The international expedition to Antarctica is organised by the California-based 2041 Foundation, and Ms Sandra Marichal (above) is joining 150 other representatives on this month's trip. She hopes to be able to share her experience with Singaporeans on how global warming is affecting Antarctica or as she calls it, the "air-con of the world".PHOTOS: 2041 FOUNDATION, LAU FOOK KONG

After her expedition, French expat hopes to encourage people to up air-con temperatures

When Ms Sandra Marichal arrived in Singapore four years ago, what struck her most was the temperature extremes here.

The French national, who relocated here with her partner, often found it too cold indoors.

"I was so shocked. It's so hot outside but when you go to shopping centres and cinemas, it's freezing. I wasn't an environmentalist or activist but that got me thinking," said the 28-year-old brand strategy director and consultant.

Hoping to get people here to do their part to fight global warming by turning their air-conditioner temperatures up, she is heading to one of the coldest places on earth.

The idea to go on an Antarctic expedition was seeded a few years ago when she met explorer Robert Swan - the first person to walk to both North and South poles - at the Global Green Economic Forum in Singapore. He had asked her to join him on the expedition.

INSPIRING CHANGE

To protect Antarctica and the rest of our planet, we must inspire leaders to return home and create change.

MS SANDRA MARICHAL

So, Ms Marichal is setting off to Antarctica on March 13.

During her 13-day trip, she hopes to find out more about how global warming has impacted Antarctica, the southernmost continent.

Her goal is to return and encourage Singaporeans to turn their air- con temperatures up by 2 deg C. She has already started a social media movement called #up2degrees to encourage this.

The international expedition to Antarctica is organised by the 2041 Foundation based in California and she will join 150 other representatives from all over the world.

The organisation, founded by Mr Swan, aims to create ambassadors for education, the environment and sustainability through such expeditions.

"The mission of the Antarctic expedition is ultimately the preservation of Antarctica," said the foundation's CEO, Ms Anne Kershaw.

Activities for Ms Marichal on her her trip include exploring ice shelves on inflatable rubber boats and whale watching. She could also go to Cuverville Island - a 250m tall dome-shaped island hosting more than 40,000 Gentoo penguins.

To prepare for the trip, she said she had to keep fit and read up on environmental conservation and business sustainability.

"It was a requirement to be able to hike and engage in physical activities. I had to take a thorough medical examination," she said.

Through her experience, she hopes to be able to share with Singaporeans how global warming is affecting Antarctica or as she calls it, the "air-con of the world".

Its surrounding waters in the Southern (Antarctic) Ocean play a major role in locking away carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, caused by man- made activities. The Southern Ocean absorbs about 40 per cent of all human-made carbon dioxide taken up by the world's oceans.

"Most Singaporeans don't really know where that is or what it does for our planet," she said.

She has raised more than half of the US$30,000 (about S$42,000) needed for the trip through sponsors such as ice cream manufacturer Ben and Jerry's, and contributions from friends and family. She will dip into her savings to pay the rest.

Antarctica, which is also called the Earth's last wilderness, is 98 per cent covered in ice.

In 2014, researchers at the University of California at Irvine and Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory showed that the melt-rate of glaciers in the fastest-melting part of Antarctica has tripled over the past decade.

In 2002, the collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf there sent a strong signal that warm summers were having an effect.

According to the Nasa Earth Observatory's website, scientists saw almost the entire ice shelf - or 3,250 sq km, collapse in just over a month. This was unprecedented.

Apart from Ms Marichal, graduate student Quang Nu Tuong Nhan from the Master of Science Environmental Management Programme at the National University of Singapore's School of Design and Environment will also be joining the expedition.

The Vietnamese will be talking about her experience at a sustainability and business conference later this year.

Ms Marichal said she will keep an online diary once in Antarctica. She hopes that, through her blog, Singaporeans will see for themselves what Antarctica is like and why it is important to protect it.

She wants to work with the authorities once she is back to make it a requirement for schools, shopping malls and offices to keep air-conditioning temperatures between 23 and 25 deg C.

"To protect Antarctica and the rest of our planet, we must inspire leaders to return home and create change... The International Antarctic Expedition 2016 is not a two-week vacation, but rather a commitment for life," she said.

"Singapore is my host country. I feel really welcome here. Every day, I think about how I can contribute and make things better."

But for now, she is looking forward to spending her birthday in Antarctic waters. Asked what she will be doing that day - March 25 - she said: "I don't know yet, but it will be something really cool."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2016, with the headline 'Going to Antarctica for the cold truth'. Print Edition | Subscribe