Think Big: A Reflection on My U.S. Research Expedition to Antarctica

Think Big: A Reflection on My U.S. Research Expedition to Antarctica

The minute I stepped foot on the Antarctic Shelf, I felt the excitement and appreciation of God’s work.  There was nothing much to see in my surroundings, other than hard ice masses everywhere; and yet, there, I felt an environment that was chaste and uncorrupt by civilization.  It was delightful!  At the same time, I felt wary.  I felt that Antarctica, despite its remoteness, could feel the heartbeat of every continent on Earth, from the warmth of the flowing waters, to the depths of the different ocean basins (e.g., The Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans) — as if it mourned and shed tears (i.e., from the ice melts) each time we defile this very place we live (i.e., by contributing to the rapid increase of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere).

Can we attribute global warming to the rise of civilization?  Or, is this just a natural cyclical event that happens every thousands of years?  Several reports in scientific literatures and in the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, present clear evidence of the rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which, may have contributed to global warming and the frequency of other natural calamities (e.g., tsunami, typhoons, etc.).  However, the big question is:  Are we prepared to handle calamities that may arise as a consequence of the changing climate?  Shouldn’t the government heed warnings of what may come in the near future?  Shouldn’t measures be taken to assure that every citizen feels safe and secure from any disaster that may arise?  Although, skeptics abound on climate change upshots, preparedness is always key to saving hundreds, if not, thousands of lives.

While it is true that the dynamics of Earth’s processes can be quite complex, rigorous scientific studies, all over the globe, have been intensive in the pursuit towards understanding the Earth’s response to changing climate and to unravel mysteries on how Earth responds to climate change from anthropogenic activities.  Of global interest to many scientists is the deep ocean processes which act as a buffer in minimizing the effects of global warming.  The oceans have the capacity to absorb heat and carbon dioxide.  However, we are uncertain of this capacity.  Several questions still remain pertaining to unknown key controls of the geochemical, biological and physical processes that regulate global oceans dynamics and its effects on Earths’ climate.  Pools of scientists are needed to study these global biogeochemical changes.  Hence, I urge that those with curious and inquisitive minds and a strong aptitude for science, take this journey with me, a journey of scientific discovery.

So, how do we, Dumagueteños/Sillimanians, take part in this challenge, as proactive and concerned citizens of the environment?  First and foremost, we have to refrain from cutting down trees in our very mountains.  These trees are our lifeline.  They have been strategically placed in order for us to have safe havens in which to live.  We have seen the havoc our greed can cause when we do not value our lives, the lives of others, or our very existence.  Removing trees from mountains can even aggravate the effects of climate change in the near future.  We do not want to experience another “Sendong” tragedy in our midst.  Unfortunately, it has become typical, that we witness tragedy firsthand, before taking the necessary measures to put strategic preventative measures in place

Essentially, to be an effective citizen, one has to THINK BIG.  For me, this means one has to think beyond the four corners of a box.  Sometimes we are caught up in trivialities, beliefs and societal norms that shackle our mindsets and we begin to think that we have limited opportunities—take note “Life has no limitations, except that ones you make”- an adage by Les Brown.  One has to make an effort to plan ahead and reach a goal.  It is important to find what your heart desires, your innermost passion.  Remember that the road ahead will never be a smooth ride.  The road becomes less bumpy, if those goals are paired with compassion not just for yourself, but, also for your neighbors.  Virtues such as these are among the key factors of becoming an effective citizen, and I believe the very virtues possessed by the two Filipinos, honored as among the CNN Heroes of the Year, in separate occasions.

In addition, thinking big also means going beyond borders and making sacrifices.  My decision to participate in the lengthy research expedition to Antarctica, despite the constraints involved in my studies in the US, was easy, due to my goal to be able to help, contribute and leave a legacy to science.  Making decisions, as I see it, is an act similar to maneuvering the rudders of a boat to control your own destination.  At certain times, the waves can hinder the boat’s progress, thereby slowing down ones journey; but, one has to persevere and learn the basics of the controls.  Take note, that those waves are not enemies, but friends. They can teach you how to change your weaknesses into strengths, and how to face the next succeeding waves; just as we should take life’s everyday challenges.  And lastly, be a catalyst not a hindrance, and set aside interests that are for personal gain.  As my professor, Dr. Edgardo Gomez, at the Marine Science Institute (University of the Philippines-Diliman) would say, and I quote, “We are not just citizens of this country, but, of the world”.  In other words, each of us has the responsibility to take care of ourselves, our neighbors, our sisters and brothers overseas, and Mother Earth, herself, the only home planet we will ever have.  Hence, attending the research expedition in Antarctica/Southern Ocean, was for me, the initial step taken to fulfill such responsibility.  Now, the question is:  How do you fulfill your responsibility?  THINK BIG!


Wilson Mendoza

Bachelor of Science in Chemistry (1999);

Wilson Mendoza was the only Filipino in the recently concluded US expedition to Antarctica (read story: He graduated from Silliman in 1999 with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, cum laude. He is currently a doctoral candidate majoring in Marine and Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of Miami Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science Mendoza. In 2009, he received the Mary Roche Prize, in recognition of his outstanding research at sea and scientific excellence. He finished his master’s degree at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, where he received the Dean’s Medallion for Outstanding Master’s Graduate Student.