Following our successful visit to Cape Denison, sea ice remained clear, allowing our science expedition to proceed to the Mertz Glacier and open water polynya on the other side of Commonwealth Bay. Good conditions allowed the team to reach the Hodgeman Islets to continue our science programme and make comparisons to our findings around Mawson’s Hut. We managed to collect a range of samples for three of the science teams on these rarely visited islands; a fantastic result. The distance from the land to the sea ice edge is only 5 kilometres, providing an excellent test of the impact of the large sea ice extent around Cape Denison. Supported by volunteers on board, our teams investigated marine mammals, ornithology, glaciology while oceanographic work continued on board. Kerry-Jayne Wilson of the Blue Penguin Trust found the penguin colony on the Hodgeman Islets is thriving, demonstrating the distance the Mawson Hut Adelie penguins have to travel is a major factor in the fall of numbers. Tracey Rogers of UNSW also obtained the largest number of seal blubber samples on the expedition while Eleanor Rainsley collected geological samples that will provide an invaluable insight into the history of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Returning to the Shokalskiy, conditions started to close in and we quickly loaded the vehicles on to the vessel.
Unfortunately proceeding north we found our path blocked by ice pushed in by an increasingly strong southeasterly wind. On Christmas Eve we realised we could not get through, in spite of being just 2 nautical miles from open water. We hoped the conditions would change but we have experienced several low pressure systems over the last few days which have held the ice fast. We just wanted to let all our family and friends know there is no risk to the vessel and everyone is well. Yesterday the team celebrated Christmas and morale is high. We have called for assistance due to the anticipated continuing southeasterly winds (with forecasts kindly provided by the Australian Antarctic Division at Casey Station and Meteoexploration).
Erik continuing the work
We have been informed a Chinese ice breaker called Snow Dragon (Xue Long) is currently en route from Freemantle to the Ross Sea and will be entering the pack near our location tomorrow. We have also learnt the French vessel Astrolabe is travelling to our position to provide support and will be arriving shortly after Xue Long; the Australian ship, the Aurora australis, has also been sent from Casey and will be arriving later. For regular updates we will be posting details on Twitter @profchristurney,+Intrepid Science at Google+, and the Guardian Antarctica Live website. The BBC World Service are also embedded in the team and broadcasting a weekly programme on the expedition (including updates on our work) on Discovery. We are using the Inmarsat satellite system to provide live communications while we are in the field.
We will be keeping this blog updated. Thanks to all our supporters and look forward to seeing you all soon.
Cape Denison holds a special place in the history of Antarctic exploration. A small outcrop of rocks on the remote East Antarctic coastline, Cape Denison is forever associated with one of the most spectacular and often forgotten tales of survival. A century ago it was the main base of operations for one of the great explorers of the south: the Australian scientist Sir Douglas Mawson. Privately funded, three bases and one research ship supported a science team that explored a region the size of the United States between 1911 and 1914. Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition, however, suffered terribly during their time at Cape Denison: a sudden turn of events led to tragedy on the ice, the death of two men, allegations of cannibalism and with the return of winter sea ice, an extended stay in Antarctica. But when they first came upon Cape Denison, Mawson was ecstatic. Greeted by squawking penguins: ‘We were soon inside a beautiful, miniature harbour completely land-locked. The sun sh…
There’s an old sailor’s expression: “Below 40 degrees south there is no law, below 50 degrees south there is no God.” Since the sixteenth century, sailors have spoken in awe of the violent westerly winds and seas they experienced fighting their way across the Southern Ocean. With few landmasses to slow them down, the winds found across 40 degrees latitude often reach speeds of twenty-five knots—about 40 percent stronger than their northern hemisphere counterparts—earning them the title the “roaring forties.” As shipping pushed farther south, explorers realized that these winds form part of a vast storm belt that includes the “furious fifties” and “screaming sixties,” names more reminiscent of terrible rock bands than a major part of our planet’s circulation system. The early hunters and traders didn’t understand it at the time, but these winds are created by a procession of low-pressure systems carried east by the jet stream, a river of cold air hurtling and twisting round the Antarct…
Commonwealth Bay in the
East Antarctic will be forever associated with Sir Douglas Mawson’s pioneering
scientific venture a century ago: the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. Mawson’s
team had only intended to spend one year south, but it was not to be. A sudden turn of events led to tragedy on the ice, the deaths of two men, allegations of cannibalism and, with the return of winter sea ice, an extended stay in Antarctica. While the efforts of Mawson and his men laid the foundations for modern
Antarctic science, the region has continued to experience dramatic change. And
it doesn’t get any more dramatic than the arrival of iceberg B09B in 2011. The
word ‘berg’ doesn’t really do it justice though – B09B is a monster. Weighing
in at an estimated 500 billion tonnes, this block of ice is 97 miles long and over
20 kilometres wide. There’s enough freshwater in B09B to provide all of New
York’s drinking needs for 300 years. And it started out even larger. In 1987,
an iceberg the size of Bal…