Category Archives: Alumni Programming

Amazon River Expedition

Author: Anthony DeCurtis, Distinguished Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program & Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone

I’m not a specialist on South America to any degree whatsoever, so I was surprised – and delighted! — to be invited to be a faculty host on a Penn Alumni cruise along the Peruvian Amazon. I’m a distinguished lecturer in the creative writing program at Penn and my writing for Rolling Stone (where I’m a contributing editor) over the years about the likes of the Rolling Stones, U2 and Billy Joel has made me no stranger to wild life, though not the sort I was likely to find in one of the world’s most remote jungles. The advantage of my non-expert status, however, was that I fully shared the sense of wonder and adventure that characterized the redoubtable Penn alums on board. As soon as everyone understood that such questions as “How deep is the Amazon in this inlet?” were better addressed to our fearless and profoundly knowledgeable guides, Robinson and Juan Carlos, than to me, we all settled in to our journey and had an unforgettable time.

So what exactly was I doing on the La Amatista, the beautifully appointed small expedition river vessel that was our home on the Amazon? February 2014, the month of our cruise, marked the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Beatles in the United States, so one of my lectures focused on that peerless band and the ongoing impact and significance of its music. A second lecture recounted the equally long and riotous career of the Beatles’ great rivals, the Rolling Stones. Of course, this being a Penn cruise, the alums aboard requested a third lecture about writing strategies, which I was happy to provide – and I got a few tips myself! On the evening after my Beatles talk in the afternoon, our guides and other crew members performed a selection of Beatles classics on the top deck to a wildly appreciative audience. Any footage or photos that might conceivably emerge of me singing “A Hard Day’s Night” and “From Me to You” while holding a glass of tequila have been fabricated, I swear!

But before all of that transpired, we first flew into Lima on a Friday and stayed at the Casa Andina Private Collection, a superb hotel. After breakfast there on Saturday morning, we toured Lima’s colonial section, including Casa Aliaga, which was built in 1535 by a family who came to Peru with the Spanish conquistador Pizarro. That setting prompted a discussion with our local guide about the complexities of honoring the country’s colonial past. The Convent and Museum of St. Francisco, meanwhile, included a stroll through the site’s catacombs, which are filled with the bones of tens of thousands of local residents.

The following day we flew to Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, which can only be reached by airplane or boat. Iquitos grew enormously during the rubber boom in Peru a century ago, and the downtown area features a two-story building that was used as a warehouse by Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald, the rubber baron who is the subject of German director Werner Herzog’s gripping 1982 film, Fitzcarraldo. On Monday we visited the thriving Belen market, which, among its many herbs, foods and native wares included aphrodisiacs that tempted some of the more daring members of the Penn crowd. On the bus ride afterwards to Nauta, where we would board La Amatista, we stopped to visit a manatee rescue center, one of the many sites attempting to preserve the hugely important ecosystem of the Amazon. We were able to feed some of the manatees, which was fun and quite moving.

Once we boarded La Amatista later that Monday, it seemed as if our journey had finally begun, despite all that we’d seen and done already. Each of the next four days we rose early and set out in two small skiffs that each held about twelve of us. Juan Carlos and Robinson were compelling guides – smart, funny, insightful and deeply appreciative of all the glories the Amazon contains. They spoke excellent English and shared personal stories of their upbringing with us in casual presentations during dinner on the ship – one of the absolute highlights of the trip. They taught us how to fish for red-bellied piranha – okay, they fished and aided us in the illusion that we were fishing, gently helping us to reel in our catch – and pointed out the endless appearances of squirrel monkeys, toucans, vultures and macaws. One lazy afternoon a group of pink river dolphins frolicked near our skiffs, and an ordinary day suddenly turned magical. Every sunrise and sunset was just breathtaking, the sky seeming the only possible sight that could draw your attention away from the magnificent river and trees.

The residents, called riberenos [Please note: tilde over the n], of the many villages we visited were uniformly friendly and welcoming. We would hike through the jungle and then sit with them to hear their stories and purchase their strikingly colorful goods. In one village a female shaman spoke to us about the mystical and medicinal qualities of many of the plants in the region. She then performed a cleansing ritual, which was riveting.

By the time we reversed our trip – back to Nauta, then Iquitos, on to Lima, and then, finally, home – we had received an invaluable education in one of our planet’s ecological treasures. As I’m sure you know, the Amazon is under siege by the demands of our modern world. Our last night on La Amatista was the occasion of a spirited discussion about the future of the rainforest and of the Earth itself. Problems abound, of course, but the conversation was inspiring, a vivid reminder that we are all custodians of the world’s treasures, whether we are at home in our houses and apartments or sailing on a river that runs deep into the very heart of our entire human history. The connections felt palpable, and still do.

 

Amazon Group

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My 25 Year Penn Reunion: Living an “As Is” life in a world that only wants “So Perfect!”

Author:  Lisa Niver Rajna, C’89

Wandering on Madison Ave in Manhattan last week, I noticed paparazzi everywhere. After asking, a woman told us, with tears in her eyes, that JLo was eating lunch. I would have missed her. She did not look “So Perfect” but she is stunning. As I left New York City for Philadelphia for my twenty-five year college reunion, I have been thinking about what have I done and what do I want for the next twenty-five years!

In a life filled with product placement where JLo is lifting her Coca-Cola glass so many times per hour on American Idol, our lives have been given a structure that we might not purchase if it were not so insidious.

In As Is by Rachel Michael Arends, the story is told through several narrators and Arends is able to share deep perspectives about how people with different lifestyles lock themselves into their own cage about money, sexuality, and professions of what they think that want and should own and should do.

Through Arends’ intriguing characters, we are able to wonder and wander. Is it a good choice to be an artist? Is it okay to defer your dream to care for your father? Most of the interactions and characters would have accepted the decisions of their friend or family member if they had only been told. Fear made nearly every character in this book withhold their personal truth.

Hiding themselves made them seem like a cheap imitation of what they could have brought to the table. Choosing to be courageous and wish for what they really wanted and reach out to receive it often only comes after tragedy and hardship but hopefully Rachel Michael Arends’ novel gives you the hope to share your story and live a life painted fully without regrets.

Early in the novel, Gwendolyn says: “On television it can look glamorous, and perhaps some people would love this lifestyle. But I don’t,” I wondered what didn’t she like? And who was she really?

Wandering the parade and picnic at the University of Pennsylvania, I thought what would life be like if we did not pretend. Gwendolyn believes that Armand “actually enjoys being So Perfect all the time,” it gave me pause to think about who do I know who resembles that remark and do they feel like Gwendolyn that “it just seems wrong, incongruous, and unnatural,” and more of a cage than a life.

There were many buttons to wear at Reunion: “I met my wife at Penn,” “<3 Penn,” and “Don’t worry, I don’t remember you either!” Maybe several alums felt like Gwendolyn: “I find it scary and unnerving when strangers approach me as if we’re old friends. I don’t like to worry about what I wear, if my hair and makeup look good enough (according to Armand they never do), what I say, or how I say it. I prefer to stay at home behind our high fences, inside our security system.”

w/ Joyce Lim Twomey

w/ Joyce Lim Twomey

 

She has been told by Trey, her producer, “I’m lucky to have this job, that anyone in her right mind would want it.” At an Ivy League institution, in marriage or in many other settings, we are sold that line about being lucky. I went to medical school because I was smart in science. Like Gwendolyn I felt, “I don’t want to let anyone down…[but] I’m beginning to fear that I’ll be trapped in this mansion forever.” We sometimes become embroiled in a labyrinth or career and we seem to be stuck. Breaking out of the mold and consciously taking a different path can be a struggle but isn’t the freedom, to be who we really are, worth it?

When we become lost from our selves, we often need someone like Gwendolyn’s sister, Megan, to ask us: “What’s your plan? Are you going back there?” We all want to have someone in our life that we can tell as Gwendolyn does, “You’re like an island of sanity in the craziest day I’ve ever had.” It is possible we have those people already if we would only be honest with them about how we feel and what we need. Most of us keep our wounds and concerns a secret only sharing what we think looks “So Perfect” to the constant measuring up on Instagram and Pinterest.

When one character with a cane walks on a floor above Gwendolyn with a sliding sound, she muses, “It’s strange to think of carrying your damage on the outside where everyone can see it.” What if we shared our fears and foibles on Facebook and not just our fairytales that come true? Carrie, a character who is a fan of Gwendolyn on television but becomes a true friend in the story, shares, “The biggest thing I’ve learned over the course of this year is that life is one big surprise after another, and maybe I should loosen up and try my best to roll with it.” As I walked the parade on Saturday standing in between the two wonderful women who were my college roommates, I realized that I am so lucky in both an “as is” and “so perfect” way to have walked this road surrounded by people who know what I look life in real life and want to be friends anyway! Whether there are tears of joy or sadness, they have always run to my side, whenever I am ready to share this rollercoaster of life.

Arends’ character, Armand, realizes that “As Is,” could be his “motto for acceptance. Not an excuse to settle necessarily, but a reminder that at a certain point, you just need to say, OK, enough is enough! I’m sick of chasing the dream of perfection and that’s not a failure.”

Gwendolyn does believe in fate, as she says, “You have to. I just saw a falling star out the window and I wished for you. When I looked up, there you were!” In some ways like the movies, we want to say, “I wished for you” and for the person to appear. What if you are really wishing for yourself to stand up, take up space and live your dreams? I wish for you that you are inspired to pause and think about your own parade and find a path that leads you to yourself and the fulfillment of your best dreams.

w/Barbara Yorke

w/Barbara Yorke

About the Author: Lisa Niver Rajna (CAS 1989) was honored to walk in graduation on May 19, 2014 with her classmates from twenty-five years ago! Learn more about her journeys at WeSaidGoTravel.com and ScienceisntScary.net.

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Filed under 25th Reunion, Alumni Perspective, Alumni Programming, Alumni Weekend, Campus Life, Commencement, Lisa N.R., Memories of Penn, Penn Alumni Travel, Penn Park, Reunions, Traditions

I’m Interviewing Because…

Author: Liz PinnieLiz Blog

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Alumni Programming, Interview Program, Liz P., Volunteering

Congratulations to the Class of 2014

Author: Janell Wiseley

 

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Filed under Academics, Alumni Programming, Alumni Weekend, Alumnni Education, Campus Life, Commencement, Janell W., Leaving Penn, Locust Walk Talk, Memories of Penn, Reunions, Sweeten Alumni House, Traditions, Uncategorized, View from Sweeten

Fight On Penn Lacrosse!

By Kiera Reilly, C’93  @KieraReilly

TODAY

Womens Lacrosse for 5.9.14

Penn Women’s Lacrosse vs Canisius

4:00 PM EST

The Women’s Lacrosse team, Ivy League Champions for eight straight years, plays today at 4 pm EST in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Canisius.

Penn is the Ivy League’s automatic entrant into the NCAA Tournament via a 9-6 win over Princeton in the Ivy League Tournament championship game last Sunday, their eighth consecutive NCAA tournament – the sixth-longest active streak among Division I schools. The Quakers (11-4) will play the Golden Griffins of Canisius at the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex at the University of Maryland. The Terrapins are the tournament’s top seed, and the winner of Friday’s game will advance to play the Terps on May 11.

To read more about the Women’s Lacrosse team, click here and in an article from The Daily Pennsylvanian.

SUNDAY

Mens Lacrosse for 5.9.14

GAME 15 – #9 PENN (11-3) vs. #12 DREXEL (12-4)

NCAA Championship first round

Sunday, May 11, 2014,  3 p.m. EST

Franklin Field (Philadelphia)

TV: ESPNU (Mike Corey, Matt Ward)

The University of Pennsylvania men’s lacrosse team makes history this Sunday, when the Quakers host neighborhood rival Drexel in the first NCAA Championship game played by Penn at Franklin Field since 1988 (a 12-9 win over Loyola). The Red and Blue is looking for its first NCAA win since that same year (a 12-9 win over Loyola), and just the third in program history.

Read more about the team here and in an article from The Daily Pennsylvanian.

If you’re in Philly, come to Franklin Field on Sunday to cheer for our Quakers!

Follow both teams via their twitter handles @PennWomensLax and @PennMensLax, and look to www.pennathletics.com or Facebook for game updates.

#FightOnPenn

 

 

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Destinations 2015

Destinations 2015 header

Penn Alumni Travel’s 2015 schedule is now available online.

This year Penn Alumni Travel is excited about Africa! We have three unique departures to Africa in 2015, and weexcited africa hope you will join us for one of them: Tunisia,Tanzania, and a cruise down the Zambezi River. As Tunisia continues to transition towards democracy, now is the time to discover its ancient past and learn about its hopeful future with a Penn Alumni faculty expert at your side. Ready for a dramatic safari adventure? Float down the Zambezi River by luxury river boat this spring or experience a classic Serengeti safari this fall.

Of course we continue to offer a range of tours throughout the world with faculty-led trips to France, Italy, Brazil, China, Scandinavia, and many more. In fact, Penn alumni and friends will visit nearly forty countries in 2015. On every voyage your Penn faculty host will provide exclusive lectures and tours as you visit ancient monuments, talk to native peoples, and soak up beautiful landscapes and wildlife. Click here to find which trip is right for you! (Our tours often fill fast. Email emiliek@upenn.edu or jwiseley@upenn.edu to be added to a priority reservation list for any of our 2015 trips.)

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Filed under Alumni Programming, Alumnni Education, Family Programming, Janell W., Travel

Antarctica The Beautiful

Author: Irina Marinov, Assistant Professor, Earth and Environmental Science Dept.

The first thing you notice on an Antarctic expedition is that the Antarctic continent is very far away from everywhere else. For example, from Philadelphia you first take a 4+ hour flight south to Miami or somewhere like that, then you embark on a 10 hour flight to BuenosAires. Once in Buenos Aires, you need to get on another 4+ hour flight that takes you to Ushuaia (Argentina), the Southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia. In Ushuaia, you embark on your ship and spend almost two days at sea crossing the Drake Passage (sometimes a very bumpy ride) before finally seeing the Antarctic coast. And then, after you spend a few days along the Antarctic coastline you must follow the entire lengthy procedure again in reverse order to get back home. But the rewards are incredible. Even that first sighting of Antarctica is so spectacular, that it is well worth the 4-day trip to get there. Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation (around 1900m or 1.2 mi) of all the continents, with spectacular glaciers and snow-covered mountains emerging straight out of water.

But let me start this blog from the beginning. Our expedition actually started with one great (though rainy) day visiting Buenos Aires, including a visit to the balcony where Evita (or was it Madonna?) sang her heart out to the world, the Plaza de Mayo and the colorful and happy La Boca neighborhood where historically Genovese immigrants have arrived to Argentina. We also had time to mingle for one evening with newly made Penn and non-Penn friends, and taste some amazing Argentinian steaks downtown. The next early morning we took a very early flight to Ushuaia, Patagonia, the Southernmost town of the world. On our arrival we were guided on a bus tour of the nearby National Park. We were secretly told by our very funny local guide that a nearby – but far less known – town in Chile actually is technically even further south than Ushuaia. However, as advised, we promptly forgot the name of the Chilean town and proceeded to take hundreds of pictures of the world’s southernmost National Park, southernmost continental post office, southernmost lake and town, the southern tip of the Route 3 (a road that crosses all the Americas from Alaska southward) and many other southernmost such treasures.

 

Street sign in Ushuaia, Argentina

Street sign in Ushuaia, Argentina

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, near Ushuaia, Argentina

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, near Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia (Argentina), the Southernmost town of the world, as seen from our Antarctic-bound ship “L’Austral”.

Ushuaia (Argentina), the Southernmost town of the world, as seen from our Antarctic-bound ship “L’Austral”.

I have a great distrust of tour guides. Or rather, after a few disastrous experiences in various parts of the world, I had completely sworn off tour guides and decided to travel to new places with a Lonely Planet guidebook companion instead. To my complete surprise, our local guides in Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, and on the ship, were extremely knowledgeable, professional and thoroughly pleasant and fun. The naturalist crew on the ship was also top notch, and composed of 6-7 young naturalists with extensive real-life and scientific experience at sea in the Artic and Antarctic environments. I will have to credit Gohagen, our organizing tourist agency that specializes in educational alumni travel, for their choice of naturalists and guides and a flawless organization of the trip.

My first talk on the ship (on Southern Ocean oceanography) was scheduled on our first day at sea, as we were passing through the Drake channel, the opening that separates South America from the West Antarctic Peninsula. As an oceanographer, nothing compares to the thrills of talking oceanography while cruising through the Drake Passage. This place is particularly exciting for oceanographers because here we cruise through a series of steep temperature fronts (e.g., the Antarctic Convergence and the Polar Front), a series of large drops in temperature that each occur within 30-50 km and are all related to important sub-surface ocean currents. The presence of the Drake Passage makes this the only place in the world where the Ocean can circumnavigate the globe, allowing for the presence of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current or ACC, the strongest ocean current on Earth, which moves Eastward following the powerful Westerlies winds. Luckily for us, the two-day crossing of the Drake channel was wonderfully and unusually calm, hence we all enjoyed during this time great science talks by faculty and by our naturalists on penguins, whales, stars, how the Arctic is different from Antarctica, ice-ages, or Antarctic geology. Impressively, I can report back to Penn that the Penn alumni were there bravely through all the talks (ok, almost all the talks …) and asked the most intelligent questions, naturally much more intelligent than either the Duke or Harvard alumni questions.

Then came the first sighting of Antarctic small icebergs, the first sighting of the Antarctic continent (what a thrill!) and then the first landings. Once close to the West Antarctic Peninsula, we spent the next few days driving back and forth to the continent and the surrounding islands in Zodiac boats, disembarking on shore and doing a few daily walks and hikes.

First landing on the Antarctic continent. Feb 4th, 2014. Penguins and our ship, the gorgeous “L’Austral”.

First landing on the Antarctic continent. Feb 4th, 2014. Penguins and our ship, the gorgeous “L’Austral”.

Antarctica the Beautiful. Notice the bloom of grey (from up close pink)- colored algae living on the glacier surface.

Antarctica the Beautiful. Notice the bloom of grey (from up close pink)- colored algae living on the glacier surface.

 

Glaciers on land form from snow that accumulates for tens of thousands of years and slowly move toward the ocean. Icebergs are large pieces of freshwater ice that have broken off a glacier or an ice shelf and are floating freely in open seawater because of their lower density. Icebergs come in many incredible colors (white, light blue, aqua-green), and in many sizes (smaller icebergs are called bergy bits and growlers). Ice is full of air bubbles that scatter all color wavelengths, giving ice its white appearance. If the ice is highly compressed, the bubbles are squeezed out and the blue light is scattered much more than other colors – making the ice appear blue. Algae often grow on the bottom of sea ice and icebergs, producing green stripes that can be seen when the ice rolls over and exposes the previously underwater sections.

Getting close to the icebergs in our little zodiacs can be scary, as some alumni observed whales a bit too close for comfort, while a few of us watched one day in amazement – and completely unexpectedly – an iceberg flipping over and wobbling for a long time, producing rows of waves that rocked our little boats. The flipping over started when pieces of ice from the top of the iceberg melted and destabilized the iceberg, which flipped over completely to find its new equilibrium, with the denser, smoother portion of under-water ice now on top. This flipping and wobbling creates deep striations that are visible on glaciers.

Here are some glorious glaciers of different colors and shapes that we saw on our trip.

glacier1 glacier2 glacier3

 

Below: assortment of icebergs next to the West Antarctic peninsula (photos by Irina Marinov and Dan Marks). Icebergs break off the continental shelf, and then float at sea and move with the currents, breaking into small pieces and melting as they move into warmer waters. Sliding on the continent before entering the ocean, followed by flipping and wobbling in water results in striations that we see on these icebergs.

iceberg1 Iceberg2 iceberg3

Other highlights of our week on the West Antarctic peninsula include mailing Antarctic postcards from Port Lockroy, a UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and British Antarctic Survey site currently inhabited year-round (population: two). This small base, established as part of a secret mission to report on enemy activities and provide weather reports during World War two, currently only reports penguin activities. Gentoo penguins and birdlife (blue-eyed shags and kelp gulls) like it here, as larger predators keep away from the occupied bases. We also passed a few Argentinian science bases, such as base Brown, and hiked in a beautiful harbor overlooking a large Antarctic “iceberg cemetery”.

Antarctic Treatytreaty2

British Base A, Port Lockroy, and penguins feeling at home at Port Lockroy. Below, Argentinian Base Brown, West Antarctic Peninsula. Can you imagine living here year-round? Note the grey dust on the ice to the left of Base Brown; natural weathering of rocks by wind and water on the Antarctic continent dissolves rock minerals in rocks; wind blows these around. Note a bloom of pink-colored algae on the ice to the right of Base Brown.

British Base A, Port Lockroy, and penguins feeling at home at Port Lockroy. Below, Argentinian Base Brown, West Antarctic Peninsula. Can you imagine living here year-round? Note the grey dust on the ice to the left of Base Brown; natural weathering of rocks by wind and water on the Antarctic continent dissolves rock minerals in rocks; wind blows these around. Note a bloom of pink-colored algae on the ice to the right of Base Brown.

“iceberg cemetery”.

“iceberg cemetery”.

Penn alumni Marsha and Mark Kozinn with me (pink hat).

Penn alumni Marsha and Mark Kozinn with me (pink hat).

 

On a few occasions we explored glaciers (soon to be icebergs) up close. Note the opening in the glacier in the picture above; this is how ocean waters penetrate below the glaciers, lubricating them from below. With climate warming, currents of warm waters will go beneath the glacier, melting the Antarctic glaciers from underneath, as recently measured by scientists in West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier. This process can result in a global sea-level rise in the future, though projections of Antarctic contributions to sea level increase are very uncertain at this point.

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With Penn alumni and one of the naturalists (standing) in a Zodiac, preparing to disembark in Neko Harbor.

With Penn alumni and one of the naturalists (standing) in a Zodiac, preparing to disembark in Neko Harbor.

Happy Penn alumns and friends on the Antarctic continent (check out the penguins in the back).

Happy Penn alumns and friends on the Antarctic continent (check out the penguins in the back).

Happy hour on L’Austral with the Penn group.

Happy hour on L’Austral with the Penn group.

During the entire Antarctic trip we had a great time as a Penn group, had dinners all together and lunches in smaller groups, connected with each other and took many – sometimes awkward – pictures with the Penn banner. In the group picture # 2 below, I had to photoshop in the penguins behind us (just kidding, they really live there … J). My only disappointing moment was during the “swimming contest” in Neko Harbor, when no one from Penn dared to step up and go swimming (and mind you, it was a very warm day and the temperature of water was above zero! 0.7C, to be precise). I truly begged some of our alumni to jump in but got no response. So we deserve the shame: about ten Texas and Duke alumni jumped in, while (undisclosed) Penn alumni simply watched from the sides and took pictures. I have decided to not put these very cool pictures up here, to spare Penn alumni any further embarrassment…

re we are navigating the spectacular Lemaire channel in the evening (photo: Dan Marks)

Here we are navigating the spectacular Lemaire channel in the evening (photo: Dan Marks)

 

Somewhere on the Antarctic coast. Let’s hope at least we will get home safe, it looks like someone else did not …

Somewhere on the Antarctic coast. Let’s hope at least we will get home safe, it looks like someone else did not …

Usually ships try to stare clear of sea-ice, which can be quite dangerous. So imagine the thrill when instead, during our cruise in the Weddell Sea, we actually went searching for sea-ice! An absolute highlight of the trip for me, as an oceanographer, was (once the ship approached the sea-ice enough) getting in the zodiacs to see up close the sea-ice in the Weddell Sea, and disembarking on sea-ice. What a unique moment! This is particularly thrilling because most Antarctic sea-ice is not very thick as it is annual and seasonal, meaning that it forms each winter and then it melts each summer, in a continuous natural cycle. The Weddell Sea is the only place in the Southern Ocean where sea-ice can actually last through the summer, so the ice we are standing on here (see picture below) might be 2, even 3 years old. This is different from the Arctic sea-ice, which lasts through many consecutive summers. On average, sea-ice next to the Antarctic coast has been increasing on average over the past few decades (a consequence of the stronger Southern Annular Mode, a natural climate mode of variability). However, our climate models predict that sea-ice around Antarctica will decrease significantly over the next century as a consequence of global warming. This will have repercussions for and life (penguins and seals like to live on this sea-ice), ocean-atmosphere heat exchange and oceanic circulation.

Sea ice affects the movement of ocean water; in the freezing process of sea ice during fall and winter, most salt is left behind. The resulting very dense waters known as Antarctic Bottom waters sink to the bottom of the ocean and then along the ocean floor towards the equator feeding all ocean basins as part of the global “conveyor belt” circulation. The Weddell Sea is the main place where Antarctic Bottom Water is formed during winter. Current research (from work we have done with close collaborators at McGill) shows that future climate warming here will decrease this important pathway of global ocean circulation, with global consequences.

Standing on sea-ice in the Weddell Sea, with our ship “L’Austral” in the background.

Standing on sea-ice in the Weddell Sea, with our ship “L’Austral” in the background.

Sea-ice in the Weddell Sea, penguins and seals on sea-ice or going for a dip…. Penguins must swim quite far from the continent to get here. Sea ice is dynamic, is formed during fall and winter, melts in the summer, but also moves and is deformed by the winds. Blooms of pink ice-algae were sometimes visible. Photos courtesy of Dan Marks.

Sea ice 2 Sea ice 1 Penguin2 penguin1 seal1

Navigating out of the Weddell Sea we saw an enormous tabular iceberg calved from the Ice Shelf, at least a few km long and around 100 m above water. While we know that about 90% of the iceberg volume is usually under water, the shape of the underwater portion is impossible to guess, which is what makes glaciers dangerous for navigation (think the Titanic). The breaking of icebergs from the continent is a natural phenomenon, with pieces of ice from the Antarctic shelf breaking and entering the ocean, and moving with the ocean currents. Climate warming can increase the disintegration of the Antarctic ice shelf. For example, while the rest of Antarctica hasn’t changed much its temperature, the West Antarctic Peninsula has been warming over the past few decades, and the sea ice surrounding it has been steadily retreating. This is where the famous Lars Shelf-B collapsed a few years ago; this shelf disintegrated into many icebergs, which followed the ACC current eastward breaking into smaller and smaller pieces.

Tabular iceberg calved from the Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea. Some of these icebergs originate from the recent, climate-warming induced disintegration of the West Antarctic peninsula.

Tabular iceberg calved from the Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea. Some of these icebergs originate from the recent, climate-warming induced disintegration of the West Antarctic peninsula.

One other highlight of this trip was a spectacular hike on the Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago. The island is the caldera of an active volcano that has erupted at irregular intervals (the last few times in ’67, ’69 and ’70). What is visible now is the top of a much larger active volcano that collapsed below sea level in prehistoric times and is mostly submerged now. Once in the vicinity of the island, we got on our Zodiacs and managed to land under rather strong waves on Baily Head, a black sand volcanic beach, where we observed several hundred penguins marching to and from the sea. We then started up the mountain in a rather long, and very cold and windy hike, which felt like a true Antarctic adventure. The hike went up and down the caldera, through one of the largest colonies of chinstrap penguins (about 200,000 pairs of penguins). The penguins live in families, make a lot of noise, and are only mildly interested in people (a few times I had to watch not to step on them, they are truly unafraid of us). We braved the strong winds and hiked up and down the mountain, took in spectacular views of the ocean at Neptune’s Bellows, and finally arrive onto the black sand beaches at Whaler’s Bay, where we got picked up again by our ship.

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Above: A very windy hike through a huge colony of chinstrap penguins (about 200,000 pairs) at Baily Head, on the volcanic Deception Island.

Above: A very windy hike through a huge colony of chinstrap penguins (about 200,000 pairs) at Baily Head, on the volcanic Deception Island.

On our way back, the crossing of the Drake passage was extremely turbulent, with huge waves for about 24 hours (ok, the captain was not impressed, but the rest of us were …). As an oceanographer, it is very embarrassing to be sea-sick, and I did my best to hide it from the far braver Penn alumni, but was finally forced by circumstances to move my science talk by one day. Luckily, Prof. Abbott from the Smithsonian stepped in and gave an engaging talk, all while holding onto a moving desk, and pointing to a moving screen, with half of us in the auditorium fascinated but barely alive … Later on in the day, tons of people were either hiding in their rooms or spending all their time in the restaurant on the lowest level, were the swell felt more manageable. By the next day the sea was much calmer, people were suddenly more joyful and present and my talk on “Climate change and the Southern tip of the world” went well. At least I think it went well, based on the many questions and conversations I had after the talk and the following day, including a few interesting ones from climate skeptics (whom I hope to bring to the climate-science discussion table). Iceberg sightings, bird watching, whale watching, chatting with our naturalists, science talks and talking to very interesting alumni kept us all very busy during this crossing, and made the sea-sickness more manageable.

In the evening of Feb 11th we returned to Ushuaia and slept on the boat, preparing for our flights back to Buenos Aires the next day. On our way back, some alumni opted to go on an extension to the impressive Iguazu falls, a beautiful tropical destination and Unesco heritage site at the border between Argentina and Brazil. Some stayed on to explore further South America. I ended up spending 3 days in nearby Uruguay on my way back to the US, crossing – during an awful 2 hour cruise that turned out to be far worse than crossing the Drake passage – the Rio de la Plata river separating Argentina and Uruguay, and exploring the towns of Colonia and Montevideo. I then flew back to Philadelphia via Miami, and had to report on the same day to my department. Full of excitement from my trip, I talked to students in my “Ocean-Atmosphere dynamics” class for hours about the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. While Antarctica is our least explored continent, the Southern Ocean is the least understood region of the world ocean because of its remoteness, sparcity of observations and our incomplete understanding of high latitude processes such as sea ice and glacier dynamics. I hope that some of my Penn students will grow up to be scientists and help preserve and understand our beautiful oceans. I hope that they will be all environmentally educated world citizens, who will get to travel in turn and appreciate our amazing natural world.

Expedition Map.

Expedition Map.

In conclusion: a thrilling adventure to a continent of unparalleled silence and beauty in great, great company! An expedition to remember a lifetime.

 

 

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Filed under Alumni Programming, Alumnni Education, Faculty perspective, Janell W., Penn Alumni Travel, Travel

Penn Club of Utah Fifth Annual Day of Service

By Kiera Reilly, C’93 @KieraReilly

Art Warsoff, W’83, and his wife Diane Warsoff, W’83, submitted this note about the Penn Club of Utah’s Fifth Annual Day of Service:

On April 5th, the Penn Alumni Club of Utah held our 5th annual day of service. This year we volunteered with Tree Utah and followed it up with lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Red Iguana.

We are glad that the weather cooperated and we were able to get all four large columnar oaks and an apple tree planted at Wheeler Historical Farm. We were also able to cheer runners participating in a 5k run which went right past us.

As in prior years, we invited alumni from Princeton, MIT, Franklin & Marshall and University of Virginia to join us. All twenty-five alumni, friends and family that participated are looking forward to next year’s activity.

Planting trees in Utah.

Planting trees in Utah.

You can see more photos from the day’s event here.

Many Penn Clubs around the world contribute to their communities through service activities. Some recent examples are from the Penn Club of Northern California, Penn Club of Philadelphia, and a group in Los Angeles, Penn Serves LA, that includes members of both PennClubLA and the Wharton Club of Southern California. You can also read about the Penn Club of Utah’s 4th Day of Service here.

We hope that many other clubs will plan events to serve their communities – and share your story with us. Please contact Kiera Reilly, C’93, from the regional clubs team, or your regional clubs liaison, if you would like to plan an event or you organized an event you would like to share on our blog.

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Filed under Alumni Programming, Clubs, GAN, Kiera R., Penn Club of Philadelphia, Penn Clubs, Photos, Volunteering, West Coast Regional Office

And The Winners Are…

Author: Janell Wiseley

The fourth annual Penn Alumni Travel photo contest has come to a close. The votes are in and the winners have been notified!

The contest was open to all participants who have taken a Penn Alumni Travel trip. Photos were judged on creativity and quality, as well as relevance to the specific category.  All photos were judged by Alumni Relations staff, Penn Alumni Travel faculty hosts, and our 2013 passengers.

You can view all photo contest submissions here.

Penn Alumni would like to congratulate the following winners

Grand Prize Winner &1st Place in the Culture Category: Women Dying Alpaca Wool, Sacred Valley, Peru by Barbara Holland, L’86

Grand Prize Winner &1st Place in the Culture Category: Women Dying Alpaca Wool, Sacred Valley, Peru by Barbara Holland, L’86

1st Place People Category: Two Gentlemen of Trinidad, Cuba by Barry Keller, C’60

1st Place People Category: Two Gentlemen of Trinidad, Cuba by Barry Keller, C’60

1st Place Places Category: Machu Picchu just before Close by Margaux Viola

1st Place Places Category: Machu Picchu just before Close by Margaux Viola

1st Place Nature Category: Zebras in Tanzania by Sydnee Alenier, Penn Spouse

1st Place Nature Category: Zebras in Tanzania by Sydnee Alenier, Penn Spouse

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Filed under Alumni Programming, Alumnni Education, Awards, Janell W., Penn Alumni Travel, Photos, Travel, Uncategorized

Q&A with Mark Alan Hughes, Penn Design Professor and Coursera Instructor

Author: Lauren Owens, Associate Director Open Learning

Mark Alan Hughes and Leslie Billhymer have created“Sustainability in Practice,” a massive open online course (MOOC) that begins on September 15th. I sat down with Mark Alan Hughes to learn about the course development process from the instructor’s perspective.

owens1

Lauren Owens: Let’s begin with the basics. What made you want to teach a MOOC?

Mark Alan Hughes: It was a number of factors. First, I wasn’t in the first mover generation. I knew who was doing it before I knew what it was, and that indicated how cool and timely the Coursera thing was. Second, it was clear the university was committed to engaging with faculty from as many schools as possible, so when Dean Taylor enthusiastically proposed it to the Design faculty, that was another signal. And third, after learning more about the platform, it was abundantly clear it was the next big thing, and experimentation [on the platform] was not only allowed but encouraged.

I think a lot of that encouragement reflects Penn’s Open Learning Initiative at least as much as Coursera. Every time we would lob an idea about a different kind of content or video, you were always so encouraging and enthusiastic it led us to invent as much as we could.

LO: That’s great to hear. Please share a little bit about your course – what makes it different?

MH: There are many courses that talk about sustainability, what is it, where does it come from, but Leslie and I call our course “Sustainability in Practice” because we’re fascinated by the traction sustainability clearly has in the real world of government and private enterprise as an organizing device for decision making and management. We use practice and practitioners to present a series of ideas about sustainability, rather than vice versa.

LO: What kinds of surprises did you encounter while creating the course?

MH: The production and the post-production have taken more time than I expected. Partly that is because we are trying to use some presentation technology that hadn’t been used before by Penn, and it’s a labor-intensive approach.  A more pleasant surprise has been the ease of recruiting guests for panel discussions. There’s a lot of buzz off-campus about online learning as well. Thirdly, I’m surprised how much I miss students in front of me, and it makes me realize just how conversational and Socratic my teaching style has become over the years. The Coursera experience has made me eager to be in the classroom with my Penn students.

LO: Do you have any tips for instructors who are considering teaching on Coursera?

MH: Coursera forces an instructor to think about the preparation and interests and circumstances of students in a way that students registering for your class on campus need not happen. So for the first time in decades I was thinking about who my students were going to be, because they weren’t going to be Penn students. That makes you rethink the level of the teaching. It reminds me of writing my weekly opinion column for the Philadelphia Daily News, which I did for about six years. Writing a weekly column for a major metropolitan tabloid newspaper was, for me, like holding the world’s largest Urban Studies seminar each week. It reminds me a little bit of that. Coursera is more organized and pedagogical, but at the same time it has that open enrollment that makes it more like reading a newspaper than taking a traditional course.

LO: We receive a lot of questions about recording videos, do you have any advice for those who might be camera shy?

MH: It seems to work best precisely when you are the same as you are in your classroom. So for people who spend a fair amount of time conveying material in the classroom, in lecture, the transition should actually be pretty easy. If it’s not working you probably want to modify your content more than your style. Then the trick becomes remembering that there are students on the other side of the camera. If you can do that, you’re going to be okay.

LO: Last but not least, how did you get Mayor Nutter to make a cameo in your promo video?

MH: I called him up. I was his Chief Policy Adviser and Director of Sustainability. He was happy to do it.

To see the promo video and learn more about Sustainability in Practice on Coursera, click here. For more information on Penn’s Open Learning Initiative, please see our website.

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Filed under Academics, Alumni Programming, Alumnni Education, Lauren O, Uncategorized