Do it for the Data

They say many hands make light work, and that’s particularly true when it comes to studying nature. Take part in a citizen science project on board and help save the world.

SHANEY HUDSON

5 min read

Happywhale gives Antarctic travellers a chance to get to know their cetaceans a little bit better.

Whale, Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica. Photo: Andreas Kalvig Anderson

Watching for Whales

There are plenty of fish in the sea, but Happywhale gives Antarctic travellers a chance to get to know their cetaceans a little better. Established in 2015, the program allows citizen scientists to submit high-quality images of humpback whale tail flukes, the dorsal fins of other species of whales and the scars of other marine creatures to a database. Once a photo is submitted, an AI-based, state-of-the-art image processing algorithm sees if there’s a match in the existing 330,917 images.

The fun part? If the whale you saw is spotted a week, a month or even years later you’ll get an email update of its latest location. More than 51,260 whales have been identified, with scientists able to get a better understanding of their health, migration and environmental circumstances by tracking them across their migratory routes.

Ever wanted to be an astronaut? While it might not be possible to join a space shuttle mission you can still work with NASA aboard one of Hurtigruten’s ships by participating in the GLOBE Cloud Observations program. Sponsored by NASA, it involves guests observing and recording cloud cover timed to satellite fly-overs. At any given moment, more than 70 per cent of the earth is covered in clouds, heavily influencing global temperatures and climate by either cooling or heating our planet’s atmosphere.

While the satellites provide critical data on cloud coverage from above, little is known about what is happening beneath it. By heading out to record data at the precise moment satellites are overhead, guests can study the impact cloud cover has on surface and air temperatures in fragile polar regions, helping scientists get a stronger overall picture of how these masses of water drops influence global climate change.

Sparring Chinstrap penguins. Photo: oceanites.org

Sparring Chinstrap penguins. Photo: oceanites.org

Adélie penguin adult about to feed its chicks, Paulet Island. Photo: oceanites.org

Adélie penguin adult about to feed its chicks, Paulet Island. Photo: oceanites.org

See Birds, Track Birds

Eagle-eyed citizen scientists can take part in one of Antarctica’s oldest citizen science programs, the Antarctic Site Inventory (ASI). It’s the only non-government seabird science project in the world, and focuses on monitoring changes to penguin and seabird populations across Antarctica. Under the guidance and training of guides and crew, guests can take part in onboard surveys by learning to identify bird species and monitoring their conditions at various landing sites during a voyage.

Running for more than 25 summer seasons, this ship-based data collection project helps scientists understand seabird distribution and uses quantitative analysis of data sets to detail long-term changes taking place at more than 235 sites across the Antarctic peninsula. The work studies how seabirds use and adjust to different habitats, their feeding patterns, population numbers at rookeries and species migration, and is used to forecast future changes in population levels among seabird species.

Food for Thought

Phytoplankton are the drifters of the ocean, providing the bottom link of Antarctica’s food chain. Invisible to the human eye, they’re the primary source of food for krill and, because they draw in carbon dioxide, are responsible for more than 50 per cent of the earth’s oxygen. One of Hurtigruten’s most hands-on citizen science projects is Fjord Phyto. Guests take seawater samples and use nets and a CTD (a device oceanographers use to measure conductivity, temperature and depth) to collect data from one of 16 glacier-fed fjords.

The second part of the project takes place back on board, when filtered seawater samples are placed under a microscope at the science centre so guests can observe these tiny organisms up close and record their findings. Using data collected by citizen scientists, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are trying to determine the impact of fresh glacial meltwater on phytoplankton in the fjords where they thrive.

Hurtigruten offers citizen science projects as part of its onboard science program on expeditions to Antarctica and other destinations around the world. It not only helps increase the curiosity, knowledge and interests of the company’s guests, but also provides important data to scientific organisations around the world.