Saturday, the Akademik Treshnikov, a Russian research vessel, left northern Germany for Cape Town, South Africa. On board, 50 students will expand their knowledge in the marine sciences. This transit voyage is called the ACE Maritime University. The ship will then embark on the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), a three-month scientific expedition around Antarctica starting at the end of December.

It all kicks off tomorrow, Saturday, 19 November. The Akademik Treshnikov, an impressive Russian research vessel, will set sail in the evening from Bremerhaven, in northern Germany. It will be carrying fifty students specially selected from universities around the world. They will participate in the ACE Maritime University, a 25-day voyage that will bring them to Cape Town, South Africa. The aim of this initiative, organized under the auspices of the Russian Geographical Society, is to give Master’s and early PhD students with an interest in the natural and marine sciences the opportunity to expand their knowledge and work on interdisciplinary projects.

Following this transit voyage, the ship will head off on the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE). This major expedition was organized by the EPFL-based Swiss Polar Institute, which is set to leave Cape Town on 20 December. Some 50 researchers from 30 different countries will take over from the students on a three-month circumnavigation of Antarctica. They will conduct 22 research projects during this voyage. The projects will touch on a wide range of fields, such as glaciology, climatology, biology and oceanography, and the overall aim is to measure and quantify the impact of climate change and pollution in the Southern Ocean.

The ACE Maritime University will be anything but a pleasure cruise. Every morning, the students will take intensive classes followed by practicals on deck in the afternoon. The students, grouped by area of interest, will become familiar with handling and calibrating basic instruments in oceanographic, atmospheric and biological analysis. They will also learn about trawling for samples and analyzing the data that they collect. In addition, each of the students will work on an individual project, choosing a topic related to the research being carried out on the ship. In the evening, the participants will gather to present and discuss their work.

A demanding program

All these activities will be run under the guidance of some 15 researchers, who will remain on board for the ACE expedition, and three coordinators. Manon Fruschti, a laboratory technician in EPFL’s Environmental Microbiology Laboratory, is one of the coordinators. “The program will be demanding and our schedule will be packed, but there will also be the challenge of being at sea, which means living in a compartmentalized space, far from loved ones, and in constant motion,” says Fruschti, who already has several marine expeditions under her belt. The coordinators will have to deal with whatever problems arise, including seasickness, which will affect many participants, and homesickness.

“For me, it’s really an extraordinary opportunity in terms of practical experience, contacts and multidisciplinary work.” Oriane Etter is one of six Swiss students who were selected for the Maritime University, and the only one from EPFL. Etter, a 25-year old from Fribourg, is studying environmental sciences and engineering and working on her Master’s project in limnology. “This trip will give me an opportunity to try out several possible paths for my future career and maybe help me make a decision.”

Keep up with the Maritime University and the subsequent ACE Expedition here: Updates will also be provided on Facebook and Twitter.