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PHCS teacher preparing for trip to Antartica

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PARISHVILLE - While it’s not unusual for people from the north country to travel south for the winter no one will be going as far south as Glenn W. Clark, who will be leaving in January to spend nearly two months in Antarctica.

Mr. Clark is one of 17 teachers selected from around the United States for the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States’ (ARCUS) PolarTREC program for the 2013-2014 research season.

He will be paired with Dr. Amy Leventer, a professor from Colgate University who has been traveling to Antarctica for research since 1984.

Mr. Clark said he heard about the PolarTREC program through Ms. Leventer, whom he met while leading a hiking trip three years ago.

“After a day of hiking, she popped the question and asked if I would ever consider going to Antarctica,” he said, adding that he applied for the program two times before being accepted this year on his third try.

“My first two applications resulted in making the final pool of applicants, but not making the final cut,” he said. “However, the third time was a charm.”

Mr. Clark’s trip is scheduled for Jan. 25 through March 12, but at this point, Mr. Clark said those are tentative dates.

“We may have to ship out a little bit early,” he said, adding his exact departure time may be adjusted because of the weather as the trip nears.

The trip, which will be by ship, will actually depart from Tanzania and is expected to take several weeks.

Specifically Mr. Clark said he’ll be part of a team headed to the Totten Glacier System in eastern Antarctica.

“It’s one of the most uncharted, misunderstood parts of the world,” he said. “Because it is so remote it’s going to take us weeks to get there.”

Even after arriving in Antarctica, Mr. Clark said most of his time there will be spent aboard the ship, working 12 hour shifts, seven days a week for the duration of his adventure.

“Basically I’ll be doing the rigging and working in the tail of the ship,” Mr. Clark said, adding he’ll also spend some shifts on the bridge of the ship or up in it’s crow’s nest serving as a marine mammal observer.

“I’m not only going to be helping them, but I’ve got to document it too,” he said, adding that is one of the main reasons for bringing teachers along on the trips.

“These research scientists are brilliant,” he said. “The whole mission of PolarTREC is to disseminate information back to classrooms and the general public. The reason they have teachers come is to have them explain that what’s happening there is real and that the polar region is in jeopardy.”

Mr. Clark explained the thinking is teachers would be better equipped to explain things in layman’s terms.

Should the Totten Glacier System ever melt, Mr. Clark said the results could be disastrous.

“If this ever does go it would raise the level of the ocean seven meters,” he said.

Those interested in following along with Mr. Clark’s adventure or any of the 16 other journeys, 11 of which will be to the Arctic rather than the Antarctic, can do so online.

When asked what he’s expecting, Mr. Clark said he’s expecting an experience like none other.

“I’m looking at this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said, adding this will also be the longest length of time he’s ever been away from his two children.

As for the weather, Mr. Clark said he’s expecting it to be cold.

“It’s going to be the Antarctic summer. That’s one of the reasons we’re going in January (south of the equator the seasons are reversed),” he said. “According to what I’ve been hearing it could be anywhere from 30 to -50 and that’s not including the windchill”

To help prepare for the trip, Mr. Clark recently spent six days in Fairbanks, Alaska for an orientation that also included teachers and scientists from the other trips, as well.

“That wasn’t just geared towards our trip,” he said. “The majority of that was tech training with a little bit of field science.”

Mr. Clark said prior to heading out on his trip, he is looking for other schools, organizations and even private individuals that would be interested in hearing about PolarTREC and participating in live events during the trip.

“We’re hoping to get as many people on board as possible, and not just at this school. We’re thinking about getting BOCES and NCPR (North Country Public Radio) involved too,” he said. “We want people to phone in and ask questions. We want to get the word out about PolarTREC and climate change. That’s what our mission is.”

Mr. Clark said an assembly at the school is planned for sometime in June, at which Ms. Leventer will also be in attendance.

“That will kind of kick it off,” he said, adding a lot of their gear and equipment will be available for the children to see.

The trip and even Mr. Clark’s substitute at the school for his time away are paid for in full by the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs, the agency which funds ARCUS. Without that funding and the support of his school, Mr. Clark said there is little chance of him being able to participate in an event like this.

“I am deeply grateful to Dr. Leventer, PolarTREC, ARCUS, and my school, Parishville-Hopkinton, for this opportunity. I believe education and legislation to be the best ways to make positive change. It is vital that the public and lawmakers have the facts,” he said. “I hope this adventure will help me provide those facts.”

On the web:

www.polartrec.com

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