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Who are we? Christel and Ian: Part 2

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Previously we wrote about publishing weekly biographies on new and veteran team members. This is the seventh edition of these bios (Part 2). This also marks the end of our interview series. In Part 1 of this week we wrote about Christel and here, in our last interview, we spoke with Ian. Professor Ian Meiklejohn of  Rhodes University is the true veteran of this interview series. He is not only the Principal Investigator of our project but has also been to Antarctica many times before.

If you have missed any of our previous posts you can read about them following the links below:

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Biography # 7 of the ‘Newbie’ (or in this case not-so-newbie-but-rather-true-veteran) Participants: Ian Meiklejohn

1. What is your name?

Ian Meiklejohn

2. Where are you from?

I now live in Grahamstown but am originally from KwaZulu-Natal.

3. Tell us a bit more about yourself?

I grew up in the game reserves of KZN (Giants Castle, Hluhluwe and iSimangaliso), so developed an appreciation for our planet’s natural wonders. My passion for the Antarctic developed after discovering that a distant relative was Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a privateer on Robert Scott’s fatal expedition and author of the Antarctic classic “The Worst Journey in the World”. Ian F Meiklejohn in John Rymill’s British Graham Land expedition had the Meiklejohn Glacier on the Antarctic Peninsula named after him. It is not clear if he is a relative, but the coincidence makes a great story.  After teaching Science in Richards Bay to complete my commitments for a bursary that paid for my undergraduate studies, I returned to complete my PhD at, the then, University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg investigating the deterioration of San paintings in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, under the supervision of Professor Kevin Hall. Kevin, at the time, was also working in the Maritime Antarctic and through his research, I was amazingly fortunate to realise a childhood dream and take part in the British Antarctic Survey Mars Glacier Party in 1992/3. Our contribution was recognised in the naming of Natal Ridge on Alexander Island, by the British Antarctic Survey.  After entering Academe in 1995 at the University of Pretoria, my involvement in Antarctic research started with projects on Sub-Antarctic Marion Island (1996), which were later extended to Western Dronning Maud Land through the South African National Antarctic Programme in the 2006/7 Austral Summer.  At Rhodes University, I have continued the Antarctic work and a thrill is passing on his love of the continent to the next generation of scientists and I have been fortunate to be part of several students fulfilling their Antarctic dreams.  The Marion Island part of the project is now run, and has been extended by Prof Werner Nel at Fort Hare University.   Five Rhodes Geography students have received MSc’s for their work in Antarctica (3 with distinction), with two more finishing their Masters and two are submitting their PhD’s at the end of 2016.  This summer three more MSc students will be making the trek South.  I have also been fortunate to work in the Swedish Arctic through an association with colleague Prof Jan Boelhouwers at Uppsala University. 

The immense scale of landscapes and icescapes, indescribable beauty, and silence of Antarctica have become an addiction.  The Antarctic and Arctic are our global early-warning systems and the interactions of Geomorphology with the climate and biota are my fascination.  Many of the answers to the vexing questions around global environmental change are most likely to be found in the Polar Regions.   My only regret is that my wife and children are not able to experience Antarctica with me.

4. Why are you going to Antarctica?

I am the Principal Investigator of our project. (For more on our project have a look at our ‘About‘ page.)

5. What is your research focus there?

Everything to do with the project! We do active layer and permafrost monitoring, periglacial geomorphology, and also investigate the interaction between geomorphology and biodiversity.

6. Have you been on the S.A. Agulhas II before?

Yes, many times. I’ve spent just under a year at sea in total. 

7. Have you been to Antarctica before?

Yes, on five previous occasions and to the sub-Antarctic on seven previous occasions. The first time I went to Antarctica was with the British Antarctic Survey.

8. Have you ever had a white Christmas before?

Yes.

9. Do you have special plans for Christmas?

Not really. I will be missing my family though.

10. What are you looking forward to or are most excited about?

I don’t know. I’m looking forward to the stunning scenery, the ‘deafening’ silence and just being back in Antarctica. 

11. Are you worried about anything or does something about the trip scare you?

We’ll be doing more Ski-Doo travel than usual so crevasses are a concern. It will be quite challenging since I am field safety operator for not only our team but also the microbiology team that is being led by Dr Gwynneth Matcher.

12. How have you prepared for the trip?

As a team we’ve had regular discussions about the trip. We will be doing climbing training soon and the members of my team were lucky enough to be part of the recent SEAmester cruise. This allowed them to prepare for the sea voyage. We’ve also checked out equipment and started with logistical requirements.  Personally I’ve been walking regularly to increase my fitness level. I’ve also started making lists of what I need.

13. Are you taking a luxury item with you, like something you won’t have access to once you’ve left?

I am taking good coffee beans and a grinder with me. This is so I can have freshly ground coffee in the field. I am also taking a bottle of single malt (‘Laphroaig‘) whiskey me – for that special occasion or when I just feel the moment is right. 

14. What do you think you will miss the most during the trip?

My family.

15. Do you have anything specific you want to do while you are there? Something you can only do on a trip like this? Or something that you have repeatedly done when visiting Antarctica? 

The whole trip is so special to me so it’s hard to pick something. The thing I enjoy most is getting out into the landscape and just absorbing the beauty around me.

16. Are you leaving family behind? Have you prepared them for your being away for three months?

I am leaving my wife and two sons behind. I’ve been so many times though that they are probably used to it by now. I am not – being away for so long is hard.

17. Are you doing anything nice before you go, e.g. a weekend away or a holiday?

Not really but we’ll probably go away as a family just before I leave.

18. Do you have any advice for those going down for the first time? 

This is an opportunity of a life time so enjoy and make the most of every second you’ve got down there. Also, nothing will ever prepare you for the scale and majesty of Antarctica so go with an open mind.

#2016fieldpreparations #Antarctica #landscapeprocessesinantarcticecosystems #LPiAE

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