Lost Antarctica: Adventures in a Disappearing Land

Ian Thompson
October 2019

McClintock addressing crowd HOOVER HIGH SCHOOL - At first glance, it looked like a PowerPoint presentation in the cafeteria at Hoover High School (HHS).  But the massed students were about to be “transported away” to the vast and mystical continent of Antarctica, with explorer, researcher and UAB professor Dr. James McClintock as their very special guide.

Antarctica is the icy continent at the South Pole, often called “The Frozen Continent.”  Although scientific expeditions visit Antarctica, there are no permanent human residents.  McClintock noted it takes almost a week to reach it from Birmingham, flying to Chile and then taking five days by boat. He is typically based at Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula, previously at McMurdo Station, a U.S. research station, and will be gone for months on end.

Close to six months in the planning, the Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science classes at Hoover, Spain Park, Mountain Brook and Vestavia high schools came together at this lecture held in mid-October.

Titled Lost Antarctica: Adventures in a Disappearing Land, the Hoover High School cafeteria served as the setting for McClintock, the endowed university professor of Polar and Marine Biology at UAB, as he spoke about climate change and a myriad of related subjects.

Hosted by HHS BioBucs, Climate Change Club, Green Team and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Program, McClintock, the author of multiple books on the subject, engaged a captivated audience, that totaled 240 people, according to HHS AP Environmental Science teacher Janet Ort.

Moving along with an engaging presentation, McClintock presented data and stories for more than an hour, before breaking for questions.

Ort noted that she was brainstorming with her colleagues from other area schools and they all determined they wanted to bring in a speaker to light a fire within their students.

speaker standing “We all think Mr. McClintock is pretty cool and pretty fabulous. We wanted to shoot for the top when we asked him to speak and are thrilled that he agreed to do so. A teacher believed in him one day and we hope he inspires some of you in that same way,” Ort said in her introduction to the student audience.

“Plus, he even has a point of land (McClintock Point) named after him,” Ort added.

Seizing upon this introductory lead, a smiling McClintock strode to the mic and noted “....this meant he wasn’t dead yet -- and he would never be pointless!”

So began his lecture on his many, many visits to Antarctica over 30 plus years. Little did he know at the time of his first visit that he would spend many years of his life, and continue to do so, on this huge continent studying not only marine biology, but also branching out into areas of cutting-edge research into chemical ecology that shows promising signs of fighting various diseases and, of course, studying climate change.

He talked of hosting Bill Gates for a day on Antarctica and of Harrison Ford narrating “Ghost Rookeries” - a video based on McClintock’s research into the vastly declining numbers of the Adelie penguin, an iconic Antarctica flightless bird, due to climate change.

Climate change is only too real on Antarctica with six decades of data showing the air temperature has raised around two degrees Fahrenheit every decade for each of the last six decades.

“You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone and get hands-on,” he told the hundreds of high school students at his HHS lecture.

“I had a teacher that saw something in me and offered me a spot. I’ve never looked back and being in another setting, other than the classroom, is vital.”

It is McClintock’s passion and desire to tell this story - a story he hopes inspires the next generation of researchers. 

lost Antarctica slide