An international scientific voyage, comprising 60 researchers from 30 different countries (including Argentina), has set off from South Africa on a three-month tour of the Antarctic to study the extreme environment and impact of climate change on the Southern Ocean.

The Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI), an initiative by the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and Zurich (ETHZ), the Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research (WSL), Bern University and Editions Paulsen.

The Southern Ocean is a key player in regulating global climate, temperatures and carbon cycles by exchanging heat with tropical regions near the equator.

The poles are essential for climate balance, but they are also the regions where changes are most apparent: that's where the largest temperature differences have been recorded, said Philippe Gillet, vice president of EPFL and interim director of the SPI, in a statement.

The researchers will be traveling on board a Russian research vessel, the Akademik Treshnikov, along with about 60 crew members. Their journey will not only take them around the world's southernmost continent, but also to some dozen nearby islands.

The ACE includes 22 different research projects in fields ranging from glaciology and climatology to biology and oceanography, which will gather data on plankton, island biodiversity, ocean carbon dioxide storage, pollution, and even whale songs.

The expedition is a joint project by the SPI, the Swiss foreign ministry, and Presence Switzerland, a government organization responsible for promoting Switzerland's image abroad. Logistical support is also being provided by Swedish businessman and philanthropist Frederik Paulsen, Jr., chairman of Ferring Pharmaceuticals based in Switzerland.

On the occasion of the expedition's departure, the SPI also instated its newest chair, the Ingvar Kamprad Chair of Extreme Environments, which will be supported by Ferring Pharmaceuticals and based at EPFL's Valais-Wallis campus.

The Akademik Treshnikov is expected to return to Cape Town on March 19, 2017, and an initial review of results will be presented in September.