A couple weeks ago Dr. McWaine and I participated in one of my favorite annual events, the opening of the new Antarctic season. As usual, I spoke at the evening reception hosted by Antarctica NZ, sat with the Mayor and Mayoress at a diplomatic corps luncheon hosted by the Christchurch City Council, attended a wreath-laying at Scott’s statue, and read a passage from scripture at the traditional “South to Antarctica” church service.

Being greeted by Emperor penguins.

One of my most vivid memories from Antarctic adventures past.

I enjoyed catching up with my Antarctica NZ friends Lou Sanson, Ed Butler,and Rob Fenwick. I learned quite a lot talking with the departing scientists as well as the American air crews that ferry U.S. and N.Z. personnel, equipment, and supplies southward. I had fun with the verbal jousting with Mayor Bob Parker that defines our relationship (and sometimes startles innocent bystanders). And of course I was delighted to catch up again at the opening reception with Lady June Hillary, one of my favorite folks.

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The entrance to IceFest in Hagley Park.

There were a few differences from prior years. With the Cathedral so badly damaged by the earthquakes, the church service was held at Christ’s College Chapel. Rather than standing in its customary place of honor, Scott’s statue was lying in a glass case in Hagley Park awaiting restoration. And, in a positive and very exciting development, the Christchurch City Council launched a new biennial celebration of the City’ long history as the gateway to Antarctica.

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Useful reminder to slow down in the park.

Dubbed “IceFest,” the inaugural event spanned four weekends and included musical performances, fun activities for children and adults alike, more than 100 speakers participating in 65 different lectures and panel discussions, survival wear dress-up opportunities, and informational displays about the history, science, and challenges of Antarctica. All in, it was a monumental and highly successful effort.

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Among the most popular activities at IceFest was skating under the towering ice cliffs of the endangered Ross Sea …

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… artfully simulated in the more temperate Canterbury climate.

Although credit for IceFest’s success belongs squarely with IceFest Director Jo Blair and the intrepid Council staff, we at the Embassy were happy to assist. We designed a large “knowledge cube” that provided fascinating facts about the Antarctic, talked about Antarctic scientific research, highlighted the extraordinary efforts of the Office of Polar Programs of our National Science Foundation, and shared anecdotes about the U.S. role in exploring, preserving, and studying the continent.

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Knowledge cubes around the Geodome.

We of course featured iconic U.S. Navy Admiral Richard E. Byrd who led five successful Antarctic expeditions, achieved the first fly-over of the South Pole in history, established the permanent American stations at McMurdo and the South Pole, and was a moving force in rallying the international community to preserve Antartica as a peaceful, borderless environment for scientific research and ecological conservation.

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One surface of the American cube.

Since a good festival entertains as well as informs, I asked my friend Tom McFadden — a.k.a., the science rapping Rhymebosome — to do a concert on opening weekend. He debuted a few new Antarctic-themed raps and, as I knew he would, drew a large, enthusiastic audience. Take a look at a clip from his concert below:

 

Our friends from the U.S. Air Force also played a significant role in the festivities. They flew one of our C-17s low over the City to attract attention to IceFest and snapped a series of photos of school children who assembled to spell out “ICEFEST” in Hagley Park. We also opened the C-17 to public tours on the tarmac in front of the U.S. Antarctic Program hanger at the airport. Many thousands of Cantabrians turned out to tour the C-17 and other aircraft.

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The C-17 crew, ready to receive visitors.

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The first wave of visitors enters through the rear cargo door.

My last IceFest function before flying back to Wellington was a panel discussion on international cooperation in Antarctica. Moderated by Radio NZ’s Veronika Meduna, the panel included Lou Sanson, Dr. Clive Howard-Williams from NIWA, and Prof. Denzil Miller of Antarctic Tasmania (and former Executive Secretary of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources).

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On stage in the Geodome.

Each panelist talked about a particular aspect of cooperation on the Ice. I focused on the very generous American contribution — managed expertly through the superb work of the Office of Polar Programs of our National Science Foundation – to infrastructure, research, meteorological monitoring, communications, and transportation that facilitates our and other nations’ Antarctic research efforts. Leaving romance and adventure to other speakers, I also amused the audience with descriptions of the challenges of generating energy and processing waste, human and otherwise, in such a pristine environment.

In the old Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans. (Infrastructure is a bit different these days.)

The entire panel discussed candidly the challenges of continuing to preserve the historical legacy and essential character of Antarctica in the face of increasing commercial and political pressures, particularly with key treaty system protocols set to expire in the years ahead. The same strong leadership and sense of stewardship exhibited by the Byrds, Scotts, and Hillarys of earlier generations will be required today and in the days ahead to keep our planet’s last pristine environment intact for future generations.

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the energy, excitement, camaraderie, and sense of adventure that infuse the decades-long United States / New Zealand collaboration on things Antarctic, including our partnership in keeping Christchurch the most vibrant gateway to the Ice. The mechanics are not always sexy, but our cooperation is one of history’s great international success stories.

But you’ve heard me say that many times before. Since I know the real reason you read my Antarctica posts, I’ll leave you with a look back at these old friends from my trip to the Ice earlier this year, at the close of the last season:

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