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Thai team to explore North Pole to better protect ecosystem

A THAI TEAM will be the first from Asia to explore the North Pole on a mission to conduct underwater exploration and the impact of microplastics on marine life.

The exploration trip will run from July 24 to August 12.


Key researchers for the team are Voranop Viyakarn and Suchana Chavanich, who teach at Chulalaongkorn University’s (CU) Faculty of Science.

“The team comprises 13 members, including PhD candidates and diving experts,” CU vice president Pomthong Malakul Na Ayudhaya said yesterday.

The study trip has been organised as an initiative of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. The princess has previously visited both the North Pole and the South Pole.

Voranop Viyakarn, who heads the research team, said what happened at the North Pole in the distant past would be an indicator of what could happen to the rest of the world. Although the North Pole is thousands of kilometres away from Thailand, the two places are closely linked from an ecological viewpoint, he said.

Vegard Holmelid, the Norwegian Embassy’s charge d’affaires, said: “It is important for Thai people to explore the North Pole because one place affects other places.”

He explained that Norway’s Svalbard is like a “natural lab” and “the place to be” to “measure, create the data, earn more knowledge and find a solution” to environmental problems.

Voranop said researchers around the world closely watched the poles to see the effects of climate change.

“It is difficult to measure the effects of climate change at home because of all the ongoing activities,” he said. “ The greenhouse gases are being released to the atmosphere and microplastics are being washed down into the ocean every day.

“However, at the poles, there are few activities and the lands are pure, but these lands are greatly affected by climate change,” he explained.

“A 1 degree Celsius drop in temperature may not affect us in Thailand but in the Arctic it can lead to more ice melting and some of the vulnerable marine life seeking cold water deeper in the ocean.”

Researchers said climate change affected the North Pole and the South Pole in different ways. So to gain comprehensive data about the effects of climate change and microplastics, researchers must look at both places.

Suchana said her team used to work at the South Pole and would apply their experiences there to the upcoming trip.

The team will have to deal with multiple challenges, including the extremely low temperatures and the high level of skill required to dive wearing dry suits. And then there are the wild animals, such as polar bears.

“For that reason, we need all 13 people to watch out for each other,” said Voranop.

In addition to gathering information, Voranop’s team will shoot videos during the trip. “We will publish a book and produce a short documentary about the exploration later on,” he said.

This expedition to the North Pole will pave the way for Thailand’s researchers to better understand the place and the changes it is undergoing. That knowledge can also be applied to improving the environment of Thailand and the rest of the world.

Their work could help raise awareness about the impacts of pollution and microplastics on marine life ecosystems, which are essential for sustaining life on the planet, including the Thai fishing industry. And it could inspire a new generation of Thai scientists to explore the North Pole.

Pomthong said the research trip to the North Pole would also boost CU’s research strengths.

“It will be useful to international programmes on the environment and North Pole.

“It will also spur marine-ecological conservation,” he added.


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