Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kuwaiti Woman Braves Antarctic Extremes

Al-Joaan Returns Home.

KUWAIT CITY, April 18: “I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew what I wanted to do and what our plan was but I didn’t expect, for example, that we would encounter such a violent storm on our way back to Argentina along the Drake Passage,” said Kuwaiti oceanographer, Maryam Al-Joaan.

Al-Joaan is the first Kuwaiti woman to embark on the Canadian two-week Antarctica expedition, ‘Students on Ice’, as a representative of Kuwait Science Club. In partnership with VIVA Telecommunications Company, Al-Joaan held a press conference on Monday where she described what it was like to brave the extremities of a scientific expedition to the South Pole.

In attendance were also Al-Joaan’s proud parents, Hamed Ali Al-Joaan and Wasmiya Mohammed Al-Souwaifi and husband Alex Karl, who is a Space Engineer.


“Wind speed reached up to 60 knots (111 km/hour), and the waves reached 8-9 meter high. Literally the ship at some point was flying in the air and slamming into the waves,” said Al-Joaan, commenting on a heart-racing point in the journey.
As a student oceanographer, Al-Joaan was sponsored by VIVA as part of its strategy for supporting ambitious Kuwaiti youth and assisting them in fulfilling their dreams.

“VIVA is always keen on supporting ambitious Kuwaiti youth who seek to make unique and distinguished achievements,” said Omar Abdulwahab Al-Hoti, VIVA Corporate Communication and PR Manager, commenting on this sponsorship.

“VIVA’s CSR policies cover five essential aspects of society - safety, education, social welfare, entrepreneurship and health. This strategy is our duty to Kuwait and was placed so that VIVA is considered an active part of society,” added Fahad Al-Fahad, Corporate Communication Analyst at VIVA.

The expedition took off from Germany in early February 2011, passing Paris and Brazil and finally moving from Argentina to the Antarctic. Students on Ice’ students and scientists made frequent field trips to the Antarctic mainland via Zodiac inflatables from the main ship.

These landings were supplemented by lectures, seminars and lab exercises in dedicated space aboard the expedition vessel, the M/V Ushuaia. Approximately 70 participating university students, and 20 university faculty, scientists, experts, and educators were on the expedition from all over the world.


Al-Joaan said she embarked on the journey to understand the key role that the Southern Ocean plays in glacial-interglacial cycles in the past 2.5 million years. Understanding this mechanism will help the world understand the current climate change. The past is our key to understand our present and the future, she explained.

Al-Joaan even celebrated Kuwait’s national anniversaries in the South Pole, an experience she will always be proud of sharing in a “magical” part of the world very few had the opportunity to witness first-hand.

“I got the chance to represent my beloved country Kuwait on this scientific mission to Antarctica. Additionally, I learned more about the Southern Ocean and its role in climate change. I gained more experience in fieldwork and using oceanographic measurements. Besides that, I witnessed isolated wildlife such as sea birds, penguins, seals and whales,” she said.

Speaking on the expedition’s findings, Al-Joaan said that scientists for the last 20 years have been trying to understand the correlation between CO2 and global warming and which process comes first.

"Is CO2 driving the global warming or is the global warming occurring on its own. It’s like the chicken and egg dilemma. If know which comes first we can solve the problem of global warming,” said Al-Joaan.

According to the Kuwaiti oceanographer, CO2 concentration correlates with rises in temperature. The more CO2 there is, the higher the temperature. Less CO2 equals ice age, she added.

“The participants collected samples from the southern ocean and have complied the data. All what’s left now is to analyze the information and compare it with data gathered two years ago in order to get an overall picture,” said Al-Joaan.

Global warming

“Skeptics believe global warming is not occurring. But all we have to do is look at data analyzing thousands of years and we will discover that CO2 is very much correlated with temperature. The problem in this time and age, however, is that CO2 is not natural. We can tell from the isotopes in plants that the CO2 getting absorbed and released comes from fossil fuels and oil and gas,” she explained.

Apart from being Supervisor of the Department of Outer Space of the Astronomy & Space Sciences program at the Kuwait Science Club, Al-Joaan is currently a trainee at the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy in Brussels. Furthermore, she previously took part in a scientific expedition on board the ‘Heincke’, a research ship of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research to study the impact of the Ice Age on the layers of the Earth’s surface in the North Sea.

“I plan to undertake speaking opportunities at schools and universities around Kuwait to share my experience, and encourage young Kuwaitis to proceed in the field of science and investigations. I also want to shed light on climate change and our local environmental problems. Therefore, I am organizing a campaign under the slogan “Protect Earth, Go blue!” It is important to protect our ocean which is the basis of life,” she said.

On her journey, Al-Joaan regularly updated her blog http://www.maryamonice.com/  where she wrote about her daily experiences on the Antarctic Peninsula. She said that her most memorable moments were on Paradise Bay, where “it was so beautiful and the water was so flat that you could see mirror images of the mountains and glaciers that we were surrounded with.”

As for her future plans, Al-Joaan said she plans to visit another area of the Antarctic or go to the other side of the world and visit the Arctic in the North Pole.

“People didn’t believe in me and thought I was unrealistic about my dreams. I would like to tell every woman to believe in herself, show your family that you are passionate about your goal. Support will come with time. Set your goal and take one step at a time and then you will realize your dreams one day,” she concluded.

By: Nihal Sharaf, Arab Times.


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