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Measured by carbon footprint, travel to Antarctica has tons of impact

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Getting to Antarctica is not easy. Neither is calculating the carbon footprint created by going to and from the continent.

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Sustainable Travel International and the National Science Foundation assisted me in tallying the carbon dioxide emissions from my two-week trip: 25 metric tons.

By comparison, an individual's footprint for a one-way commercial flight from Washington to Los Angeles is less than one ton, and an average individual's annual carbon load is 16.82 tons, according to STI.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, 25 tons is comparable to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 4.8 passenger vehicles traveling an average of 11,720 miles per year or the electricity use of three average-size single-family American homes for one year.

Travel is necessary for Antarctic science to take place. Hundreds of flights during the Southern Hemisphere summer carry scientists, support staff, fuel, food, scientific samples and other essential cargo.

As a guest of the U.S. Antarctic Program, I traveled on military jets, helicopters and snow tractors. The first attempt by our media expedition to reach McMurdo Station returned to Christchurch, New Zealand, because of bad weather -- an 11-hour flight.

Once we arrived in Antarctica, we toured remote areas that few have had a chance to visit.

Ted Martens, director of outreach and development for STI, specializes in determining carbon footprints for individual and business travelers. The nonprofit organization works with several airlines to help customers offset their emissions.

"The first thing one should do is look at ways to minimize consumption," he said. As a second step, "carbon offsetting allows you to mitigate unavoidable emissions by funding the development of projects that reduce or prevent the future release of carbon emissions into the atmosphere."

According to the EPA calculator, 25 metric tons of carbon dioxide can be sequestered by 639 tree seedlings grown for 10 years. This amount can also be offset by recycling 8.4 tons of waste instead of sending it to a landfill.

Faced with a hefty footprint, I decided to consume less, recycle for the rest of my life and donate some money for carbon offsets. According to STI, it would take $300 to $700 to offset the carbon impact of my trip.

-- Ann Posegate


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