Venturing into inhospitable wildernesses to collect data, today's scientific warriors are between a rock and a hard place. Actually they are usually in Antarctica. There's a research gold rush to the South Pole as record numbers of scientists (5,000 each year, from 27 different countries) head out to various stations. The prize? Essential research and their own data charting the effects of climate change at the front line. Lest we forget why this is important: if the ice melted in Antarctica, global sea levels would rise by 50m.
As a way of funding their expeditions, many programmes now "carry" a number of amateur scientists. This is not an easy jolly; participants must be fit. They occupy an uneasy space between scientist and tourist. The latter are habitually blamed for putting pressure on ecosystems everywhere. But while there will be those who want to gawp at penguins, most are very well-intentioned. A recent report by Professor Steven Chown on the dangers to Antarctica found that tourists are unfairly taking all the flak for damage. Embarrassingly his research shows that when it comes to the distribution of invasive plant seeds (a serious form of pollution), scientists are more to blame than tourists. Peter Convey, a terrestrial ecologist for the British Antarctic Survey, pulled up his first weed in Antarctica in January this year and was suitably horrified.