Leaving the Antarctic base Casey for Hobart: We are heading home!
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.
Sunset at Casey
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 Zealand and German colleagues into the origins of the sea ice breakout event that trapped the Shokalskiy. Kerry-Jayne has been looking at changes in sea bird data during our journey down to Antarctica and trying to make sense of it with Erik’s ocean observations. I’ve been working with Kerry-Jayne on the the census data collected at Cape Denison and the Hodgeman Islands to explore the possible role of changing climate on numbers. Alongside this, Eleanor has been mapping the glacial features she sampled around Commonwealth Bay with Chris while Graeme and Ziggy have been carefully analysing the film footage they made of life – or lack of it – on the sea bed around Cape Denison. And on top of all this, Tracey, Naysa and Alicia have been working hard on the seal observations and sounds they’ve made and what this means for changing diet and population over time. All diligently supported by the science volunteers. Excitingly several of these projects are already reaping results that we hope to submit to research journals in the next two weeks.
Yesterday was a good news day. We heard the Shokalskiy has safely reached Bluff and all the team are well; so much so they’re heading off south again – this time for the Ross Sea – in just a few days. But the other great news is the resupply at Casey is finished and we should be leaving today. Our estimated time of arrival in Hobart is not confirmed yet but everyone on board is excited by the prospect of getting home and seeing loved ones. And just to round off a great day, the weather cleared and we were treated to a stunning sunset; the Sun dropped below the horizon in the early hours and the result was the most brilliant light that lit up the few clouds in a range a spectacular pinks. I could not resist sharing an image with you.
A huge thank you to everyone who has helped support the team and we can’t wait to see 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…