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Showing posts from 2014

The New Zealand Subantarctic Islands Expedition of 2014

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Just a century ago a voyage to the subantarctic islands was a journey into the unknown. Tales of archipelagos home to thriving seal and penguin colonies and surrounded by vast numbers of whales promised riches to those who dared head south. But getting there was an entirely different matter. Ships literally sailed off the edge off the map in their quest for profit. The ‘Roaring Forties’ and ‘Furious Fifty’ winds made the Southern Ocean a dangerous place to venture in small wooden craft, while the islands were often poorly mapped or non-existent. Today the region offers wealth of a different sort to scientists.
Yesterday, a team of five of us returned from a three week voyage to the Southern Ocean. Building on the scientific findings of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014, we set out from the University of New South Wales to explore the changing climate and environment of the New Zealand subantarctic islands Campbell and Auckland. These biological hotspots straddle 50 to 52˚…

Carbonscape and The Snowball Effect

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It’s hard to imagine a world without steel. Steel has built some of the world’s most iconic skylines and fuelled industrial growth. The Empire State Building, Auckland’s Sky Tower, the Trans-Siberian Express…all made possible by steel.
But there is an environmental cost. Carbon is a key ingredient and coking coal the go to source. It’s used to fuel the furnaces and added to iron to give steel its great strength. When the world started making steel half a millennia ago, the nascent technology produced a thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide for every tonne of steel that rolled out of the forge. Today, thanks to developments in technology, emissions have fallen but remain high. Around 1.6 billion tonnes of steel is produced globally, releasing just over 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the world’s atmosphere. A major stumbling block to getting these emissions down is the cost of replacing fossil fuels.
Six years ago I helped set up a green tech company called Carbonscape, based in Marl…

Return to the Home of the Blizzard

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In January 1910, the great scientist and explorer Douglas Mawson wrote in his diary ‘Arrival in London. Interview with Captain Scott. He is surprised I am not just coming to enlist with him. I ask him has he thought of the coast W. of C. Adare. He said that he had not.’
As an Antarctic veteran only 27 years of age, Mawson was dubious of the scientific value of reaching the Pole. Turning the British leader Scott down, Mawson was determined to explore the region south of Australia. There were so many questions, so little data. Most atlases had the bottom third of the Southern Hemisphere as a blank, white space, with ‘Unexplored’ stamped all over it. But the explorers, scientists and cartographers of the early twentieth century did not battle sub-zero temperatures and ice-scarred landscapes just to conquer land, bag a pole or grow an impressive beard. These expeditionary teams—even those intent on scoring a geographical first—went south to scientifically explore a new continent.
Although o…

Leaving the Antarctic base Casey for Hobart: We are heading home!

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The last few days we have been staying on the icebreaker Aurora australis just off the the Antarctic coast near the Australian base of Casey. For the operations team on the vessel, it has been a busy time, resupplying the station, bringing gear and waste offshore, balancing logistical needs against the ever changing weather. For those on the AAE, it has been a time for rest, work and reflection. Everyone seems to have slept – a lot. Afternoon naps are a common occurrence, and during lectures, no matter how interesting the content, many team members – including myself – have been known to doze off. No one seems to get upset by this; it’s just seems to be the natural way of things. Alongside the daily programme of talks, the team have been working hard on the analysis of the scientific data we have collected. Erik and Chris have been working on the salinity and temperature analyses made during the voyage south and around Commonwealth Bay. Chris Fogwill has been drilling down with New Z…

On board the wonderful Australian icebreaker Aurora australis

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After the first decent night’s sleep in a fortnight, the team are starting to familarise themselves with their new home, on board the Australian icebreaker Aurora australis, a remarkable red giant that stands proud in the heavy pack ice. It has been an intense last 24 hours. Yesterday we woke to brilliant sunshine and calm on the Akademik Shokalskiy with no immediate news of evacuation. Indeed, we even had the Inaugural Mertz Writer’s Festival on the ice, in anticipation of another day locked in. But by 1800, we were in evacuation mode. The Russian crew opted to remain with their vessel until either conditions improve or they are broken out by another vessel capable of reaching them. Captain Igor and his crew were completely unflappable and provided a wonderfully calming influence for everyone else. By midnight we were all safely on board the Aurora thanks to some impressive helicopter sorties by the Chinese from their icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon); round trips between the Shokal…