A Journey to the End of the Earth
by Tishani Doshi
Complete Explanation and Answers for the lesson ‘A Journey to the End of the Earth’ included in the class 12 CBSE/NCERT book vistas
Geoff Green, a Canadian climate activist has been sponsoring a programme named ‘Students on Ice’ for the last six years to trigger the imagination of the young students about the perils of climate change that looms so dangerously over the human race.
The trip described in this story relates to one such sojourn. Accompanied by a few students, Ms. Doshi set out for Antarctica on a sponsored trip to explore the vast swath of land. They were a part of a 52-member contingent that were on board the Russian research ship named Akademik Shokalskiy. The intent of the person who sponsored the voyage was to make the youngsters, the future citizens of the world, aware about the continent of Antarctica that appears so hostile and inhabitable to a commoner’s eyes, yet holds so much secret about the evolution of earth’s geography over millions of years, and plays a very vital role in holding the climatic balance of the planet.
The Antarctica, much as the rest of the Earth has fallen prey to the avarice of the human race whose spiraling rate of expansion show no sign of slowing down. Scramble for Earth’s resources has become fiercer with each passing day often leading to armed conflicts and myriad species of flora and fauna becoming extinct. Unbridled burning of fossil fuels have released humongous quantities of Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere that now has shrouded the earth with gaseous thermal blanket. The result is the worrisome ‘global warming’ that threatens to push the planet to the brink. With such a danger looming large on the world, only a coordinated and vigorous effort by the citizens of the world can arrest the slide to a cataclysmic disaster.
The Antarctica is the southernmost part of earth. With the mercury dipping well below minus 50 degrees in most of the year, the vast expanse of land is covered with ice. It looks as if a massive white blanket has covered the ghoulish wilderness of the continent. With no rivers, no lakes, no farm lands, no human habitations, the place looks so desolate, lifeless and un-interesting, but for the discerning observer, it’s so enigmatic, so baffling, and so full of priceless clues about earth, and the life on it.
The Antarctica is the remnant of a gigantic landmass named Gondwana that existed six hundred and fifty and million years ago. With climate a little warm and bereft of the humans, the Gondwana flourished with an abundance of flora and fauna of mind-boggling species. Some five hundred million years ago, the Gondwana land mass began to disintegrate. This was the time when the dinosaurs were wiped out from earth. Mammals arrived in the scene. The splintered land asses were identified as countries.
Delving into the geophysical history of the Antarctica opens the saga of the Cordilleran folds and the pre-Cambrian granite shields: ozone and carbon. Around this age, species evolved and disappeared from the face of earth. All these geological changes happened in a space of a million years. Thinking about such momentous changes leaves one gaping in wonder. For a traveler hailing from the tropics, a journey to the ice-clad, wind-swept Antarctica is a bewildering experience. The animals can be the monstrous whales or tiny living beings that can be seen only by a microscope. The deafening silence of the surroundings is sometimes broken by the sound of the collapse of the avalanches or the ripping apart of the ice sheets. The sun glows mildly round the clock, and the strangeness of the environment fuels spiritual emotions in the mind.
The advent of the humans just over a tiny span of time of 12000 years in a time scale of six to seven millenniums has proved to be quite ominous for the planet. The population and dexterity of human beings has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few centuries. The resources of earth are being plundered at ever greater rate by humans. It now looks a real possibility that some time in the not so distant future, the earth will see its last stock of coal, crude oil, fish, forests and minerals used up completely. It would be the doomsday for the human race. Species of flora and fauna will shrink both in numbers and variety. The earth’s atmosphere will heat up considerably to disrupt the weather pattern, farming practices, sea level etc. in an irreversible manner. The concentration the offending gas Carbon Dioxide will soar so much that ocean’s underwater currents that sustain marine life and stabilize evaporation of sea water will be completely in a shambles.
Venturing into the heart of the inaccessible Antarctica is not possible without the help of a specialized ship like the Akademik Shokalskiy. For an climate researcher, the Antarctica’s pristine surroundings, and its scanty presence of plant and animal species provide an ideal natural laboratory to study how intertwined the geo-climatic parameters are for the earth.
The voyage took an unexpected turn when the ship got stuck between two ice-covered sides and had to retreat from its designated path. The captain asked the 52 passengers to de-board and walk a certain distance. For the escorting teacher (the author) and her students, it was a quixotic stroll. Anyway, the outing made the author deeply thoughtful about the wondrous mother earth, and the destructive footprints the humans were leaving on it.
Q1. The world’s geological history is trapped in Antarctica. How is the study of the region useful to us?
Answer: The Antarctica remains one gigantic land mass that has remained unspoilt even after 12,000 long years of the appearance f human beings on the planet. Humans use their intelligence and adventurous spirit to explore, and inhabit new lands in far-off places. However, the remoteness and the extremely low temperature of the continent together with icy winds and feeble sunlight make the region unsuitable for human population. So, the environment of the region that was once the nerve center of the much larger Gondwana has remained virgin, and unchanged. With no predators around, the very limited species of Antarctica starting from the tiny single-cell plants to the massive whales have retained their original characteristics. The passage of time has had little effect on them. This is the reason why researchers find the Antarctica a storehouse of knowledge relating to the geological evolution of the planet.
Q2. What are Geoff Green’s reasons for including high school students in the ‘Students on Ice’ expedition?
Answer: Geoff Green is a passionate activist in the field of Earth’s conservation. He had earlier sponsored such trips that included senior scholars, scientists and political thinkers. To his dismay, he realized that these groups of people indulge in idle theorizing on earth’s present and future problems, but seldom do anything concrete to put their ideas into action. Geoff Green felt that young students would become the future citizens of the world. Seeding the environmental concerns in their brains at their impressionable age would mould their minds to do be proactive conservationists to secure the earth against man’s tendency to over-exploit and eventually drain the earth’s resources to the point of doom and gloom. So, he is sponsoring student expeditions now.
Q3. “Take care of the small things and the big things will take care of themselves.” What is the relevance of this statement in the context of the Antarctic environment?
Answer: The plants and animals thrive only if the environment provides them food, oxygen, and is free of toxicity. This statement holds good for tiny to gigantic plants and animals. If the environment allows the microscopic life forms to sustain themselves, the larger ones will flourish too. The presence of the tiniest life forms co-existing with the giant whales around the Antarctic proves this.
Q4. Why is the Antarctica the place to go to understand the earth’s past, present and future?
Answer: The Antarctica is the primary land mass of the now-disintegrated Gondwana from which at least a dozen countries and countless islands were formed. So, a study of Antarctica’s ice, land and life forms reveals its past. Similar studies when suitably calibrated would unravel its present and future. This makes the Antarctica the preferred place for researchers to visit.
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