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GEOTRACES Expedition Reporting Fellowship: Frequently Asked Questions

The U.S. Antarctic Programs’ research ship Nathaniel B. Palmer docked in Punta Arenas, Chile. (Photo by Rémi Jouan, Wikimedia Commons, CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

The application deadline for the fellowship has passed.

What is the purpose and nature of this fellowship?

CASW and the scientists leading the GEOTRACES cruise to Antarctica seek to support high-quality coverage of research investigating the effects that the melting of glacial ice shelves is having on the world’s oceans. The GEOTRACES project is a long-term study that is determining the global distribution of key trace elements and isotopes in the ocean so that they can be used to understand marine ecosystems, the global carbon cycle, contaminants, and to quantify the rates of key ocean processes. CASW is managing this fellowship to provide the support and editorial independence necessary for an early-career journalist to accompany the GEOTRACES team as they sample water, air, and sediments in the Amundsen Sea and to report and produce stories.

The expedition journalist will receive travel support (see details under “What is provided?”) and a stipend and mentoring arranged by CASW.

Why is the fellowship limited to “early-career” journalists, and how is that defined?

A major benefit for the expedition journalist will be foundational knowledge of biogeochemistry, the challenges of field research, and how data about ocean fluxes are collected, authenticated, shared, and incorporated into large-scale models. Whatever publishable stories the journalist develops during the cruise, the educational payoff of participation will come as the results of GEOTRACES are published and contribute to the longer-term story of climate and environmental change. In addition, the fellowship’s mentoring component is intended to help an early-career journalist grow through the experience of field reporting. We therefore believe that the fellowship will be of greatest value to a science/environment journalist who is in the early years of a career reporting on these topics.

You are eligible to apply if you have been working as a science journalist for no more than 10 years, including work done as a student.

What are the expectations of CASW and the project leaders?

Your application will include a reporting plan. CASW will expect you to carry out that plan to the best of your ability, subject to the constraints of the environment you will be working in and the market for your stories, file a final report on the experience, and acknowledge support from CASW in published stories. Your obligations to the project leaders consist of (a) following the same program rules (for example, safety and conduct rules and U.S. Antarctic Program requirements for medical and dental clearance) that apply to everyone aboard the cruise; and (b) occasional help with sampling and sample processing.

How is CASW managing the conflicts of interest that can arise with sponsored reporting?

Funds for this fellowship have been provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation. Under a subcontract with the University of California at Santa Cruz, CASW takes responsibility for ensuring that the fellowship is awarded and managed such that the journalist has no obligations to the research team, can report independently, and can meet the COI requirements of major media. There is no quid pro quo between CASW and the U.S. Antarctic Program, the GEOTRACES team, or UCSC. Additional COI protections may be added to the fellowship agreement if needed.

Who is eligible?

CASW is accepting applications from journalists in all media whose work appears in regional, national, international or online outlets. Specifically:

  • Freelancers? Yes
  • Staff journalists? Yes
  • Science/environment writers who do substantial work for institutional or corporate clients? Generally no, given media COI rules, but please inquire.
  • Photojournalists/video journalists? Yes
  • International journalists? Yes. US citizenship/residency is not required. However, the U.S. Antarctic Program covers travel only from U.S. origination points. English language fluency is required.

Who will make the selection?

The judging panel will be made up of science journalists selected by CASW and the UCSC Science Communication Program and chaired by a CASW board member.

What is provided?

Travel

The following travel will be covered from U.S. departure points:

  1. March 13-14, 2023: cruise planning meeting in Norfolk, VA. Virtual attendance may be possible. (The journalist will book travel to Norfolk and be reimbursed.)
  2. Travel to Punta Arenas, Chile, the departure point for the cruise. Departure is scheduled for November 24, 2023. A quarantine of 1-3 weeks in Punta Arenas before departure (room and board covered by the program) may be required by COVID-19 safety rules.
  3. Return from Lyttelton, New Zealand, after the cruise ends on January 28, 2024.

The international travel (2 and 3) will be arranged by the U.S. Antarctic Program. Travel support includes baggage fees for equipment and cold-weather gear.

The selected journalist will need to purchase travel to and from Norfolk for the planning meeting. The U.S. GEOTRACES Project Office will reimburse this cost.

Applicants living outside the U.S., please note that the U.S. Antarctic Program only arranges and pays for travel from U.S. origins, so that you may need to travel at your own expense to and from a U.S. departure point. If an international applicant is chosen, cruise leaders will ask USAP if the equivalent of a U.S.-based airfare can be covered so that the journalist can fly directly to and from the cruise ports. However, this cannot be assured in advance.

Reporting grant

The reporting grant is intended to provide some support for forgone income during the time away and time spent researching and pitching stories. In addition, the journalist is responsible for:

  • any medical/dental exams needed to meet the clearance requirements of the U.S. Antarctic Program here: https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-45/subtitle-B/chapter-VI/part-675 (Please consult with a physician if you are unsure that you will be able to safely participate.)
  • cold-weather personal gear for the marine environment
  • tools of the trade: any equipment and supplies for recording, photography, writing and communicating

Stipend amount: US $15,000, payable in three installments. The first one-third will be paid after the journalist has been cleared by the USAP.

Mentoring

A senior journalist who has reported on oceans and climate and has experience reporting from the field in remote environments will be recruited to provide the expedition journalist advice on planning, pitching, reporting, and writing, depending on the expedition journalists’ needs. The application will provide an opportunity to describe mentoring needs. Most mentoring is expected to take place before and after the cruise, since communication from the research environment will likely be limited.

Will I be able to communicate with colleagues and family while onboard? Will the ship dock? Will there be any time on land?

Communication will be extremely limited while at sea, and the ship will not dock during the voyage. Satellite coverage in the Antarctic is poor and may drop to zero once the ship reaches the Amundsen Sea, with little to no internet access for most of the voyage. Communication with the outside world will be generally limited to text-only e-mails from an assigned ship-based e-mail address while in the Amundsen Sea. A computer terminal with internet searching is available for work needs with permission from shipboard IT, and limited use of a shared satellite phone may be possible. Requests for work-related video or photo transmissions must be made ahead of time and are subject to NSF approval.

The following details on communication have been provided by the U.S. Antarctic Program:
“On the way there, we will have good connectivity but at the study site it will be hard.  People are limited to 80MB/day, and most things don’t work well.  This is based on our current capabilities.”
Category A: No (or few) restrictions:
  • text-only emails from ship email address (i.e. [email protected]) (sent every 10 minutes or so)
  • small photos sent by email
  • access to home email account (but might not work at times of heavy satellite use)
  • texting via WhatsApp or similar (but may not work when satellite under heavy use)
  • shipboard Iridium satellite phone (“morale phone”) for voice calls with editors, interviews, family (there is one phone for everyone on board)
Category B: Only with prior arrangement:
  • large photos sent by email
  • audio recordings (depends on size) sent by email
  • audio calling via WhatsApp or similar (would need to cut off others for this to work —it will be a 2-5 second delay)
  • ability to post to social media, like Twitter, Instagram, etc (would be best to have someone shoreside do this)
  • ability to post a blog on a website (would be best to have someone shoreside do this)
Category C: Not possible
  • ability to email video recordings
  • ability to search the internet (e.g., context research for writing a news piece)
  • video streaming

The cruise involves about a week of steaming to the Amundsen Sea from Punta Arenas, with stops to test equipment, then six weeks of intense sampling, followed by two weeks transit to the end port at Lyttleton. There is a chance that a few people will leave the ship to sample sea ice. The expedition journalist should expect to spend 65 days onboard the icebreaker with approximately 45 hard-working researchers and 25 crew members. Although the R/V Palmer is comfortably outfitted, shipboard life requires consideration, tolerance, and accommodation from all.

How will I know whether I’m mentally suited for this challenge?

Oceanographer Phoebe Lam notes that a cruise of this length, to one of the most remote places on Earth, presents two special challenges: 1) isolation from the outside world and your normal professional and personal support networks, and 2) needing to spend all of one’s waking hours in the company of strangers and maintain good relations throughout, including with people who will sometimes be sleep-deprived and not always at their best.

If you have done or accompanied scientific fieldwork, crewed a sailboat on an extended voyage, or traveled with a sports team, you may have a sense of your ability to work in close quarters with people over extended periods of time. If you have through-hiked a long trail or summited a major mountain, you may have a sense of your self-reliance and ability to handle time away from friends and family and the comforts of home in the company of diverse strangers. We encourage you to mention relevant experiences in your application.

How can I learn more about the GEOTRACES project and the Antarctic cruise plan?

What kind of reporting should I expect to be able to do?

The unique access to researchers and their tools, to the painstaking realities of doing fieldwork at sea, and to the changing Antarctic environment will provide vivid detail and context for reporting on the research and allow the expedition journalist to infuse climate stories with a better understanding of the challenges facing the planet and the efforts of scientists seeking answers. You will have the opportunity to capture audio, video, and photography of a remote and fast-changing region of the Earth and experience every phase of the research.

Shorter news stories can be filed from the ship by e-mail, but owing to the limits on communication, features will likely have to wait to be filed after getting back to land. Anything involving significant bandwidth from sea will require prior arrangement and approval from NSF.

Can you provide some examples of coverage of GEOTRACES cruises or other expedition journalism?

Certainly.  Here is some coverage from those who have traveled on earlier cruises to the Amundsen Sea, covering topics including glacial collapse and sea-level rise:

Articles by Elizabeth Rush:

Here’s what Antarctica’s calving glaciers look like up close (National Geographic)
These women are changing the landscape of Antarctic research at Thwaites Glacier (National Geographic)
Opinion | What Antarctica’s Disintegration Asks of Us – The New York Times

Rolling Stone articles by Jeff Goodell:

The Doomsday Glacier
‘The Fuse Has Been Blown,’ and the Doomsday Glacier Is Coming for Us All

Blog posts by Katlin Bowman in the Huffington Post, reporting on a similar GEOTRACES cruise to the Arctic:

Katlin Bowman

Written and audio reports from Carolyn Beeler PRX’s The World on an expedition to the Amundsen Sea in 2019, recognized with two Edward R. Murrow Awards:

Into the Thaw: Decoding Thwaites Glacier

2018 GEOTRACES cruise blog and twitter account by a recent UCSC Sci Comm graduate, Alex Fox:

GEOTRACES GP15

Many other GEOTRACES cruise blogs on private sites, written by graduate students and postdocs here:

https://www.geotraces.org/geotraces-blogs/

Shannon Hall filed first-person accounts from the massive MOSAiC expedition to the Arctic:

Marooned: Researchers Will Freeze Their Ship into Arctic Ocean Ice for a Year – Scientific American
Searching for a Rectangular Sun Above the Arctic Circle – The New York Times
The Voyage to the End of Ice | Quanta Magazine
Coronavirus shutdown forces research ship to break out of Arctic ice – Nature

When will I find out whether I was selected?

CASW will conduct a rolling review of applications with a goal of notifying candidates by February 17, 2023. All candidates should make sure before applying that they will be available to attend the March 13-14 planning meeting and should hold those dates open until notified.

I’ve got more questions!

Many questions were answered during a Zoom info session on Jan. 17. Click to watch the video. You may email your questions to the CASW staff at [email protected]. Follow @ScienceWriting for updates.