Late last year, the increasingly innovative airline Air New Zealand commenced a competition that would afford one lucky (dedicated, crazy, brave, whatever you want to call it) environmentalist the opportunity to spend two weeks on a mission in Antarctica with globally renowned National Geographic photographer Jason Edwards. Beyond furthering the company’s reputation as an environmentally conscious airline, this competition sought to provide the trip of a lifetime and to heighten global awareness about how climate change is shaping our planet.

Marli, Michael and team gaining field experience on the Ross Ice Shelf
Marli, Michael and team gaining field experience on the Ross Ice Shelf (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)

Receiving nearly 2,000 applicants from across the globe, Air New Zealand ended up choosing not one, but two well-deserving winners: Australian student Marli Lopez-Hope and Kiwi-native Michael Armstrong. Together, they embarked on their journey to Scott Base, a cheerful cluster of green buildings set atop Antarctica’s Ross Island, surrounded by panoramic views of the expansive Ross Sea (stretching 487,000 square kilometers, this ice shelf is the largest in the world and comparable to the size of France).

There, temperatures during their stay averaged a balmy -11.6°c, ideal for their daily tasks, which ranged from coring deep into the shelf’s surface to collect data on the microscopic and biologically-significant algae there to cuddling (ahem, de-tagging) thousands of Adelie penguins.

Michael pulling up ice core samples
Michael pulling up ice core samples (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)

When all was said and done, the “No Ordinary Place, No Ordinary Assignment” winners offered enlightening and deeply moving reflections of their time spent on the ice. Armstrong exudes, “The place is an addiction, a way of life. The mix of untouched beauty, relentless extremes, cutting edge science and the people that are attracted to the place makes the whole experience like no other. It really was the trip of a lifetime.”

Equally affected, Lopez-Hope insists “Respect for science is more important than ever when the world is faced with an uncertain future. This research impacts not only those living in New Zealand or at Scott Base, but people from all across the globe.”

Marli sitting amongst the penguin colony at Cape Bird
Marli sitting amongst the penguin colony at Cape Bird (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)

The opportunity these two were afforded is just one aspect of Air New Zealand’s declared mission to increase global consciousness regarding climate change. The airline services over 13 million passengers annually, connecting them to 26 global destinations and constantly working to engage a wider client base. Here, their efforts to improve our planet are evidenced by their support of scientific research in Antarctica, their partnership with the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute, and the educational grants they provide to Antarctic scientists.

Cape Bird glacier
Cape Bird glacier (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)

In an effort to expand the reach that this competition has, Air New Zealand compiled a video (at top) and photos that allow viewers to experience the trip vicariously (and hopefully, more warmly) through footage of the mission. The video captures the spirit of the winners’ adventure and nature of their work, while lending insight into the beauty of a continent that very few people will get to experience in their lifetime (and also, it’s just pretty awesome).

Michael pulling up ice core samples (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)
Michael pulling up ice core samples (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)
Marli, Michael and team gaining field experience on the Ross Ice Shelf (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)
Marli, Michael and team gaining field experience on the Ross Ice Shelf (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)
A flock of Skuas (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)
A flock of Skuas (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)
Marli sitting amongst the penguin colony at Cape Bird (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)
Marli sitting amongst the penguin colony at Cape Bird (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)
Cape Bird glacier (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)
Cape Bird glacier (Credit: Jason Edwards National Geographic)
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