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Antarctica expedition leads women scientists to tackle climate change

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Two researchers from Curtin University have witnessed the effects of climate change up close as part of the inaugural Homeward Bound women-in-science leadership expedition − the biggest-ever female expedition to Antarctica.

The three-week long expedition brought together 76 women, each with a background in science, to develop their leadership capacity and to discuss effective ways to fight for the future of the planet.

Geographer and social demographer Dr Amanda Davies, of Curtin’s School of Built Environment, and built environment researcher Dr Samantha Hall, of the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, joined participants from all over the world for the expedition, which departed for Antarctica from Ushuaia in Argentina on 2 December.

Dr Davies said the Australian-led expedition was designed both to promote women in science and highlight the impact of climate change on the planet.

“Despite major advancements in gender equity, women still only make up 28 per cent of the world’s science researchers and occupy less than 10 per cent of senior leadership positions,” Dr Davies said.

“As we face the pressing challenges presented by climate change, we need to find ways to ensure we use all the talent we have.

“We need to ensure that we have a diversity at the leadership table.”

Dr Davies said during the expedition she saw for herself the impacts of climate change, with colonies of penguins moving further towards the South Pole each year.

“While some species of penguins have been able to adapt to the warming climate, this is not an option for all species,” Dr Davies said.

Dr Davies also visited the USA’s Palmer Research Station and discussed with the scientists the results of their nearly three decades of monitoring of the Antarctic environment.

“The impact of global warming is very real and plain to see − in an environment like that it is hard to ignore that climate change is a massive problem,” she said.

While in Antarctica the women worked collaboratively on a number of projects that brought together researchers from scientific and social science disciplines.

Dr Davies said the interdisciplinary projects had seen the emergence of exciting new ideas for addressing global climate change and improving female representation in senior leadership.

“Homeward Bound brought together 76 leading scientists from around the world who will now work together on joint research projects and find innovative and appropriate strategies for addressing climate change and gender equity in leadership,” Dr Davies said.

The expedition to Antarctica was led by Australian mountaineer Greg Mortimer OAM and ‘unsurprisingly involved lots of mountain climbing’, according to Dr Davies.

Homeward Bound, conceived by leadership activist Fabian Dattner and Antarctic marine ecological modeler Jess Melbourne Thomas, is a leadership, strategic and science initiative for women that has turned into a global movement. It aims to heighten the influence and impact of women with a science background on policy and decision-making which affects the planet.

The program has gained global media attention and was included in Fortune’s list of things women could celebrate in 2016.

Women who participated in the inaugural expedition included astronomers, engineers, physicists, science communicators, Antarctic and Arctic specialists, doctors and social scientists.

More information about the Homeward Bound project and participants in the recent expedition can be found on the organisation’s website.

Applications for the next Homeward Bound program, to depart in 2018, open on 17 January 2017.

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