This just on twitter from the UK Ministry of Defence about the recent magnificent voyage of HMS Protector.

The Tweet posted by MOD on 18th Jan 2016
The Tweet posted by MOD on 18th Jan 2016

On the web page in the link it says

By visiting this region Protector achieved a latitude of 77 Degrees 56 Minutes South – the very edge of the vast Ross Ice Shelf, named for James Clark Ross who led the exploration of the area.

No official British ship has been this far south since 1936 and it is believed not since James Clark Ross’s own expedition in 1842.

I don't think this is true. The British Antarctic Survey Ship RRS Bransfield reached likely a little further south. According to this note from the Second Officer Chris Elliot which is published on the website The LOFTSMAN which is about the shipyards of Leith.

Furthest South of the RRS Bransield was 77 56' 44''
Furthest South of the RRS Bransield was 77 56' 44''

RRS Bransfield reached 77°56' 44"S.

So 44 seconds further south than HMS Protector.

Which is what? 1.3 km?

I know it's not much further south and Protector likely matched it (they don't give their decimal). I just wanted to make the point that it is close. Very close.

The second officer in the note - Chris Elliot went on to become the Captain of the RRS John Biscoe, and then he was a member of the team that built the RRS James Clark Ross for many years, before becoming one of the Captains of that great ship.

UPDATE See comment below by Radio Officer of the RRS James Clark Ross Mike Gloistein.

Yet more beautiful MODIS imagery showing some wonderful patterns in a plankton bloom in the Barents Sea.

Plankton patterns in the Barents Sea
Plankton patterns in the Barents Sea

The screen grab is from the 250m resolution imagery, and the whole arctic panel shows just where the bloom is located.

The Arctic on 29 July 2015 in MODIS imagery
The Arctic on 29 July 2015 in MODIS imagery

This particular region seems to show plankton blooms regularly in the MODIS imagery and the Wikipedia page has a similar (but not as nice) image dated summer 2009.



There is a lot happening at the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet as summer progresses, and the MODIS sensor on the TERRA and AQUA satellites is a wonderful way to observe it.

I noticed the other day (8 July 2015) this beautiful image of fast ice breaking out of a Fjord on the east coast at 76N

Fast ice breaking out of an East Greenland fjord
Fast ice breaking out of an East Greenland fjord

The full image can get down to 250 m per pixel and it is amazing stuff. The image below (from Google Earth) shows the location.

Location of the enlargment
Location of the enlargement

And now in the 9 July MODIS image you can see very many large pools of water on the edge of the Greenland Ice sheet. Again, remember each pixel of this image is 250 m across - they look small but that are large pools.

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The MODIS sensor satellite imagery is showing a beautiful and evolving large plankton bloom in the Chukchi Sea at the moment.

Plankton bloom in the Chukchi Sea, as seen in the MODIS sensor on 23 June 2015.
Plankton bloom in the Chukchi Sea, as seen in the MODIS sensor on 23 June 2015. Alaska is on the LEFT and Russia the RIGHT. The image is looking SOUTH.

The plankton are the lighter green bands I've labelled and the full image is available at an astonishing 250m resolution.

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I was enjoying my polar books the other night and came across a quote attributed to everyone's  favourite humanitarian polar explorer and scientist, Fridtjof Nansen.

Fridtjof Nansen
Fridtjof Nansen, 1915, from the George Grantham Bain Collection

If I were not a Norwegian, I would be an Englishman rather than belong to any other nation

Nansen is quoted in Fridtjof Nansen, his life and explorations, by James Arthur Bain, 1897.

Fridtjof Nansen quoted by James Bain, 1897. Page 45

Fridtjof Nansen quoted by James Bain, 1897. Page 45

It's hard not to be in awe of Nansen.

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1 Comment

Mark Brandon, The Open University

You never forget the first time you see an iceberg. The horizon of a ship at sea is a two dimensional space and to see a three dimensional piece of ice appear in the ocean is quite something. But, in truth, the first iceberg you see is likely to be small. Most icebergs that make it far enough north from Antarctica to where they are danger to shipping are sometimes many years old and at the end of their lives. They are small fragments of what once left the continent.

Once in a while, however, a monster breaks free from the edge of Antarctica and drifts away. Tens of kilometres long these bergs can tower perhaps 100 metres above the sea and reach several hundred more below the surface. These are called tabular icebergs – and while it is rare for humans to see something on such a scale they are part of the normal cycle of glacial ice in Antarctica.

A tabular iceberg gets stuck in thin, seasonal sea ice.
Mark Brandon, CC BY-NC-SA

Everyone knows Antarctica is an ice-covered continent, but the ice is not static. To a scientist it is a dynamic environment – it’s just a question of the timescale you are looking at. Snow falls on the continent and over time it has built up layers of ice which flow in glaciers towards the coast.

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Last week I enjoyed an Inaugural lecture by Professor Martin Siegert of Imperial College. Inaugural Lectures are a big deal:

Imperial's Inaugural Lecture series provides a platform to showcase and celebrate the College's new professors. The inaugural lecture provides official recognition and celebration of the academic’s promotion to professor. A number of guests are invited to attend and students, other staff, and the general public may also attend the lecture. Inaugural lectures are preceded by tea and cakes for invited guests and often followed by a drinks reception, buffet or dinner again for invited guests.

Tea and cakes... I love being English.

Martin spoke brilliantly on how Antarctica is changing to an audience of about 150 people. For a crash course in "where we are now" I would say it is a must watch.

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1 Comment

I very much like looking at the AQUA and TERRA MODIS sensor images every now and then. Today I saw this beautiful image off the southern tip of Greenland which was captured on 23rd February 2015.

Sea ice off Cape Farewell
Sea ice off Cape Farewell, Greenland

What you are looking at are three different white things: snow on Greenland, clouds and my favorite of course, the sea ice. You may find it hard to pick out the different white features. This is because it is a true colour image.

But as the MODIS web site says:

[the] detectors measure 36 spectral bands between 0.405 and 14.385 µm, and it acquires data at three spatial resolutions -- 250m, 500m, and 1,000m.

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The South West Atlantic is a very productive part of the global ocean. This MODIS image from the Terra satellite shows the east coast of Argentina and the Falkland Islands. The ocean between is filled with swirls of lighter colour which are a plankton bloom along the continental shelf of South America.

NASA Modis Image of the South West Atlantic
Terra/MODIS Image captured 21 January 2015 14:00 UTC. FULL IMAGE LINK

The high plankton productivity means that there is food for the higher predators - and this region is famed as an extraordinarily rich squid fishing ground. In 2014 the fishery apparently took over 1/4 million tons of the squid Illex argentinus.

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Captain Robert Falcon Scott
Captain Robert Falcon Scott

"England knows Scott as a hero; she has little idea of him as a man. He was certainly the most dominating character in our not uninteresting community: indeed, there is no doubt that he would carry weight in any gathering of human beings. But few who knew him realized how shy and reserved the man was, and it was partly for this reason that he so often laid himself open to misunderstanding.

Add to this that he was sensitive, femininely sensitive, to a degree which might be considered a fault, and it will be clear that leadership to such a man may be almost a martyrdom, and that the confidence so necessary between leader and followers, which must of necessity be based upon mutual knowledge and trust, becomes in itself more difficult. It wanted an understanding man to appreciate Scott quickly; to others knowledge came with experience.

He was not a very strong man physically, and was in his youth a weakly child, at one time not expected to live. But he was well proportioned, with broad shoulders and a good chest, a stronger man than Wilson, weaker than Bowers or Seaman Evans. He suffered from indigestion, and told me at the top of the Beardmore that he never expected to go on during the first stage of the ascent.

Temperamentally he was a weak man, and might very easily have been an irritable autocrat. As it was he had moods and depressions which might last for weeks, and of these there is ample evidence in his diary. The man with the nerves gets things done, but sometimes he has a terrible time in doing them. He cried more easily than any man I have ever known.

What pulled Scott through was character, sheer good grain, which ran over and under and through his weaker self and clamped it together. It would be stupid to say he had all the virtues: he had, for instance, little sense of humour, and he was a bad judge of men. But you have only to read one page of what he wrote towards the end to see something of his sense of justice. For him justice was God. Indeed I think you must read all those pages; and if you have read them once, you will probably read them again. You will not need much imagination to see what manner of man he was.

And notwithstanding the immense fits of depression which attacked him, Scott was the strongest combination of a strong mind in a strong body that I have ever known. And this because he was so weak! Naturally so peevish, highly strung, irritable, depressed and moody. Practically such a conquest of himself, such vitality, such push and determination, and withal in himself such personal and magnetic charm. He was naturally an idle man, he has told us so;[134] he had been a poor man, and he had a horror of leaving those dependent upon him in difficulties. You may read it over and over again in his last letters and messages.[135]

He will go down to history as the Englishman who conquered the South Pole and who died as fine a death as any man has had the honour to die. His triumphs are many—but the Pole was not by any means the greatest of them. Surely the greatest was that by which he conquered his weaker self, and became the strong leader whom we went to follow and came to love."

Apsley Cherry Garrard wrote that in the Worst Journey in the World.

Captain Scott was a complex man.