Mankato teacher joining international experts in Antarctica

The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is seen in this undated NASA image
The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is seen in this undated NASA image. Mankato East High School biology and wildlife ecology teacher Julia Battern will embark in mid-March on a learning expedition to Antarctica.
Courtesy of NASA via Reuters

Mankato East High School biology and wildlife ecology teacher Julia Battern will embark in mid-March on a learning expedition to Antarctica.

During her two-week experience at the icy continent, she will be brainstorming with an international group of teachers, scientists and representatives of energy companies.

The opportunity is exactly what is needed for her to effectively share her passion for environmental education, Battern said.

Much of her time will be spent attending seminars aboard a ship docked in a peninsula’s waters. The group will venture out from its decks for short research tours, the Mankato Free Press reported.

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Her love of outdoors adventure has often taken her to the Boundary Waters wilderness area in northern Minnesota, but until now, never to a remote place thousands of miles from home.

“I know I have to pack things to help me stay warm — and to stay dry. Being a Minnesotan, I have most of the basics,” Battern said.

Her trip is sponsored by Onward Energy. She was a winner in the energy company’s 2021 contest that selected one Mankato-based community educator and one Mankato-based Onward employee to participate in an Antarctica experience.

Host of the expedition, 2041 Foundation, has a mission to engage businesses and communities in climate science, personal leadership and the promotion of sustainable practices.

In 1959, a treaty was signed that included a moratorium on mining or exploitation in Antarctica. That treaty is up for review in 2041.

Onward Energy’s Michael Innes, a manager for the company’s local plant operations, also will be on the March trip. He sees the expedition as a chance to transfer information and will share how his company is working to lower emissions and provide clean energy.

“My part will be to collaborate with the others. We are going to be communicating about what we can do together to slow down that change,” Innes said, referring to the warming planet.

A Navy veteran, he may prove to be the most seaworthy of the participants; however, he’s never sailed near icebergs.

“My time was spent in the Persian Gulf,” Innes said.

Innes recently received notice of changes in the trip’s itinerary, brought on by the announcement of a new strain of coronavirus.

“The foundation had to make a few changes,” he said. “We will have to be sequestered in Argentina for a time before we go to Antarctica.”

His company plans to provide expedition updates on its website throughout the trip. Onward Energy also will handle expenses for the substitute teacher who will fill in for Battern during her absence.

The teacher and girls basketball coach not only will be out of her classroom, but she will be spending time away from her husband and their 3-year-old, who knows what a penguin is but has no concept of how far her mother is traveling.

“We are trying to explain it by showing her a three-dimensional globe,” Battern said.

Before leaving on her trip, Battern also has plans to offer a basic physics lesson to a 5-year-old neighbor who’s shared his concerns.

“He thinks I am going to be spending too much time upside-down.”

Battern described in emails how she is looking forward to forming new relationships with the other participants in the expedition and is eager to gain a more global perspective on climate change impacts and solutions.

After she returns home, she will share her experiences with the Mankato community.

“The ultimate goal of this trip and the 2041 Foundation is the preservation of Antarctica,” Battern wrote.

The 2041 Foundation’s founder, polar explorer Robert Swan, was the first person to walk unassisted to both the North and South poles.

“My role in all of this is to bring this story of Antarctica to the Mankato community, while also igniting conversations about what sustainability and conservation looks like in our own lives and in southern Minnesota,” Battern stated. “It might seem surprising that the decisions we are making in Minnesota could be having significant impacts thousands of miles away, but that’s exactly the story and the science that we are trying to bring to light.”

She said the timing for this opportunity is perfect. “... We are currently in the process of implementing new Minnesota Science Standards (K-12). These standards place a heavy emphasis on understanding earth systems and promote environmental literacy ... My goal is to build some interdisciplinary units around this experience that can become a part of our science curriculum.”

Kris Sack, of St. Peter, also will be on the job in Antarctica in March. She recently began her third year as an air ops specialist at McMurdo Research Station. Although she and Battern have not met, they undoubtedly share an interest in fighting climate change’s effect on Antarctica.

“As a teacher, Ms. Battern is an ideal ambassador. Her experiences will help foster a sense of global responsibility and adventure in generations who are set to be most affected by the expiration of the Antarctic Treaty. This may be her first adventure to ‘The Ice’ but I doubt it will be her last,” Sack said in an email message from McMurdo.