BIOPOLE at Bluedot 2023

A team of around 20 plucky BAS scientists showcased our research, equipment, and facilities at bluedot, a family-oriented, science themed music festival held at Jodrell Bank telescope array in Manchester. Consistent rain throughout the long weekend turned the fields into a quagmire – I saw children sink past their knees in mud – but the conditions could not deter us nor 20,000 curious revellers keen to learn about polar science. Though perhaps some of them were more interested in sheltering under our big marquee! The fantastic BAS tent was a top attraction, giving headline act, Leftfield, a run for their money. Preparing our tent on arrival took a fair bit of work, but we all chipped and did it in jig time. The real work followed over the next three days speaking with the public about our exhibits, including models of Antarctic research stations and the Southern Ocean seabed; glacier ice containing bubbles from an ancient atmosphere; a large field tent and supplies for enduring Antarctic winter weather, with cosy clothing for children, their parents, and even some Galactic Empire stormtroopers to dress up in for photos; sophisticated gliders for autonomous sampling and an old-school net for hauling up zooplankton; and, at the polar ecology attraction where Laura and I presented the BIOPOLE project, seabird tracking tags and lots of preserved animals including krill and, the star of the show, a giant Antarctic sea spider.

There was lots of public interest in BIOPOLE, from children, parents, students, half-cut scallywags, and a few other marine scientists – everyone really. As BIOPOLE is such a wide-ranging project we could discuss many aspects of ocean science so, even though immediately grabbing people’s attention to a heavily diagrammatic poster wasn’t always easy, it never took long for our audience to discover something they were keen to learn about. The expeditions and in-situ sampling attracted some, while others were more enthused by ecosystem connections from nutrient inputs to the planktonic community, links to the larger animals that depend on them, and how environmental change modulates the whole system. A few people were most interested in how the project is funded – hmm, I don’t know why either. My stand-out memory from the three days of chatting about BIOPOLE, and ocean science in general, was getting schooled on marine zoology by a six-year-old boy! He knew it all and left me pretty much speechless. Each time I mentioned some animal or ocean process he leapt in to teach me a lesson about it. Well, after that humbling experience I was relieved to retreat into the music festival to dance in the rain late into the night. It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend of science communication and festival exploits, a great mix of work and play.

The author of the blog – Aidan Hunter (British Antarctic Survey)