The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) - Sixth Continent Initiative fellowship 2008 award has just been granted to the Hungarian Ramón Hegedüs. The marine environment around Antarctica offers unique possibilities for studying the adaptations of visually-based animal navigation systems and foraging techniques. Currently working on a PhD in statistical and biological physics, this 26-year-old intends to investigate 'The role of polarized skylight in animal navigation and foraging in the Antarctic'.
In his abstract research plan, Ramón explains that migration between habitats is a common feature among animals of the Arctic and Antarctic region. It is believed that these birds and other marine animals use their sensory systems to navigate across seemingly featureless terrains. However, a lot about how they actually manage to read the sun's position, related skylight polarization patterns, stars and geomagnetic field remains a mystery.
In his project, Ramón will study "the physical basis of visually based food detection and navigation in marine animals" on and around the Antarctic continent. He intends on paying special attention to the use and availability of visual cues based on the polarization patterns of the sky for compass orientation. The study will take into consideration the various cloud conditions found in the open ocean as well as those which prevail more inland, in icy locations.
Endorsed by the IPY Joint Committee, the Sixth Continent Initiative is a joint effort to open up research in the Antarctic to polar scientists of non-traditionally Antarctic countries. Lead by the International Polar Foundation (IPF) and the SCAR, the project creates an operational network of interested parties (research institutions, funding agencies, logistics providers, international organisations, and others) and scientists, in order to support the development of polar science within countries which do not traditionally have access to a polar program. Hopefully, the project's duration will be extended past the IPY 2007-09.
The first Sixth Continent Initiative award serves as an example of the Capacity building initiatives that the IPF supports in partnership with SCAR and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). More news will be posted on SciencePoles during the course of Ramón Hegedüs' scientific expedition.