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Image: Gelareh Kiazand

These Stunning Photos Document a Changing Climate in Antarctica

Gelareh Kiazand

An expedition brought women from the Middle East and South Asia to Antarctica.

Image: Gelareh Kiazand

In March, I joined the 2041 expedition to Antarctica on a two-week mission, led by polar explorer Robert Swan, to learn about climate change and to see the continent firsthand. Antarctica is currently protected by an environmental protocol which is set to expire in 2041, potentially opening up the least-inhabited continent in the world to exploitation.

Our journey aboard the Ocean Endeavour embarked in Ushuaia, at the southernmost tip of Argentina, and included 140 people from 30 nations. Considering the costs of the expedition are quite substantial ($15,000 USD for the trip) many of those who joined had raised the money through crowdfunding methods, or sponsorship.

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Myself and three other women were sponsored through an American company, Calvert Investments. Swan wanted to bring more women on board, particularly from the Middle East and South Asia, as he believes that it's important to make people in those regions more aware of climate change.

I was born in Iran and have lived across three continents, in Iran, UAE, London, Canada, Afghanistan, and now Turkey. (I am now mostly based in Istanbul.) In my experience, the environment was never a part of the conversation until it affected people's lives personally: For example, when people experienced constant water shortages, or stomach disease due to dirty water, its then that you would begin questioning why and how can it be fixed.

Even at those moments, I thought that it was someone else's responsibility.

I freelance now as a photographer and a videographer, which has allowed me to appreciate the little beauties we have left on our planet. This was my first time faced with climate change. Seeing Antarctica in front of me, it became clear that moving towards a "cleaner" world will be harder than I thought, as global warming is having a huge impact already. We all have a responsibility to address it.

All photos by Gelareh Kiazand

An abandoned whaling station on Whalers Bay, on Deception Island off the Antarctic peninsula. It holds an active volcano that last erupted in 1970. In the early 1900s, whalers used this site as a base for their activities. Now, the seals have taken back their land, living amongst the rubble that still speaks to the carnage that once was. This was our first landing point on our expedition to Antarctica in March 2016.

The view from my room onboard the ship, Ocean Endeavour. Tabular ice shelves seen in the distance had broken off from the Larsen-B ice shelf in 2002, which has been retreating due to the effects of global warming.

Adela Wahdat, in blue, is said to be one of the first women from Afghanistan to set foot in Antarctica. She stands next to expedition leader Robert Swan, while being interviewed by filmmaker Mark Leisher's team from the US. Wahdat is a jewelry maker for Aayenda Jewelry, based in Afghanistan. (When I lived in Kabul, in 2012, I had the opportunity to film many of its female artisans.) Adela plans to create her next line around what she saw in Antarctica.

An afternoon zodiac cruise through the iceberg graveyard, drifting through and around a sculpture exhibition formed by nature. The ice, in shades of blue and purple, seemed to change colours based on its density and how the sun reflected on its surface. The sea was so still that I could vividly hear the sound of water rolling on the sides of the ice.

Cliff on the west side of Deception Island. It was the one view, for me, that suddenly made Antarctica feel familiar. It was the only place I saw that had no snow, with the sea losing its blue to an Aegean green, creating white waves by the rock side. It took me back to Turkey's seas in that cold moment, a view I saw at times both in Istanbul and Iran.

A penguin running to join its group as to take shelter from the strong winds and snow. The weather can change within a five-minute span, going from a calm sunny day to a dark storm with winds blowing 50 knots or more. Climate change has had a big effect on the penguin population, putting the Emperor penguins under threat due to a sudden shift in weather and lack of krill (a main source of their food).

Last day of the expedition. The aftermath of a glacier calving in to the sea at Neko Harbour. You could hear the ice cracking for about 10 minutes before it actually broke away, and caused huge ripples in the water. The weather was sunny, with light gusts of wind, 20 minutes before this picture was taken.