Tag Archives: antarctica

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Project MIDAS publicised on Friday that a huge iceberg is going to calve from the Larsen C Ice Shelf. This was written up a a great story on the BBC news website Huge Antarctic iceberg poised to break away.  I understand a little about this stuff so got drawn into the media around it. Here is a BBC News interview on 6 January 2017.

It was great to see Antarctica in the news and it was brilliant to see so many high quality interviews from so many colleagues to different outlets. I may try and collate some of these in the next few days.

Today is 105 years since Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, Oscar Wisting and  Olav Bjaaland reached the South Pole. And Google have celebrated that fact with a google Doodle:

Amundsen expedition South Pole Google Doodle
Amundsen expedition South Pole Google Doodle

I love the doodle. It's beautiful art.

But it falls on me to be a bit of a bore...

The doodle shows mountains, and south pole is on an extremely flat plateau. Amundsen named it the King Haakon VII's Plateau.

The doodle shows it's snowing quite heavily. Actually South Pole is technically a desert, and almost no snow falls. The snow does drift in the winds though.

The doodle shows it's dark... The sun comes above the horizon at South Pole in September and it doesn't set until March. When Amundsen and the team arrived it would have been 24 hour daylight.

...continue reading

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RRS James Clark Ross is on route to Rothera, the largest British Antarctic Survey research Station. In the next few hours to get to the base she will have to pass what looks like a continuous sea ice band about 15 km wide, before she enters some looser pack. To get their she will have to do some icebreaking. The band of ice has been stationary for over a week.

If you want to follow the action the ship has a webcam, or you can check the Radio Office Mike Gloistein's update page. The web cam is as I write this but I'm sure it will be switched on soon.

The MODIS satellite image off Adelaide Island 25 Nov 2016, with the location of the RRS James Clark Ross 0000 28 November 2016.
The MODIS satellite image off Adelaide Island 25 Nov 2016, with the location of the RRS James Clark Ross 0000 28 November 2016.

The satellite image is from 25 November 2016, but the sea ice doesn't look like it has changed significantly since then. I chose that date simply because it is relatively cloud free.

The ship has about 130 km to run so could dock later today - but it could be tomorrow given the sea ice.  The path I have shown in red looks quite a long way south of the Island - but close in it gets quite shallow. If your interested in your polar history the ship RRS John Biscoe was actually abandoned in this region for a while before being rescued by the German ship Polarstern.

This is as The Antarctic Report points out, quite early for the ship to reach the base.

The track of the ship is online along with the weather conditions it is experiencing. At at about 0°C it is currently warmer than a lot of the UK.

Dr Helen Jones is the doctor on the James Clark Ross and she is writing a blog Baby it's cold down here.

--UPDATE 1050z --

You can see James Clark Ross is now in the ice and heading for the band of relatively open water at the southern tip of Adelaide Island.

This is an image from the webcam.

I wrote about what a water sky is a while ago.

--UPDATE 0650z 29 November --

It was too early and the RRS James Clark Ross didn't make Rothera.

To quote the radio officer Mike Gloistein:

The sea-ice around the bottom of Adelaide Island has been heavy and whilst (for those of you who look at the satellite pictures) there are some leads and areas of open water,  they are close to land and if we took that route (which also includes shallow water and rocks) and the weather then pushed the ice inland,  the ship could easily become stuck between a rock and a hard place.

And get stuck just like the John Biscoe...



The seasonal cycle of sea ice extent in Antarctica has been fairly stable over the length of the satellite record.  There is a slow growth of sea ice from a minimum of ~3x106 km2 in February to a maximum of ~19 x106km2 in September, before there is a relatively rapid fall in the Antarctic spring.

But this year something different is happening.

Below is Tamino's image for the Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent, the red line is 2016 up to 16 November 2016.

The annotated seasonal extent of sea ice in the Southern hemisphere. From Tamino's post Sea Ice, North and South.
The annotated seasonal extent of sea ice in the Southern hemisphere. From Tamino's post Sea Ice, North and South.

From January up to September the sea ice extent in 2016 follows all previous data.

But what happened in September?

...continue reading


I was interested in how long the polynya I blogged about yesterday had existed.

I made a gif of the previous months sea ice data.

The sea ice extent in Pine Island Bay 11 September to 10 October 2016. Data from DMSP SSMI. The development of the polynya can be seen in the development of the dark regions.
The sea ice extent in Pine Island Bay 11 September to 10 October 2016. Data from DMSP SSMI. The development of the polynya can be seen in the growth of the dark regions.

You can see that the polynya in the centre of the picture can be seen from the very beginning. This is forming in front of the Dotson Ice Shelf  - and from the scale bar you can see it is big. This polynya really starts to develop as open water around 5 October 2016.

The coastal polynya on the northern land boundary appear in mid September - and develop throughout the record.

The image below was in my previous post and it shows the three polynya from a MODIS image on 9 October 2016.

The MODIS imagery 9 October 2016 from the TERRA satellite overlain in Google Earth
The MODIS imagery 9 October 2016 from the TERRA satellite overlain in Google Earth

Next diversion will be a area of open water / time plot.


The Amundsen Sea currently has some very large polynya. In front of the Dotson, Getz and Pine Island ice shelves they are clear in the satellite data.

The sea ice extent along the Antarctic Peninsula 2 October 2016. Data from DMSP SSMI
The sea ice extent along the Antarctic Peninsula 9 October 2016. Data from DMSP SSMI.

polynya is an area of open water in the winter pack ice.

These are likely latent heat polynya, and strong winds are pushing the sea ice away from the coasts to make the open water.  In the open water there will be a lot of sea ice generation. I wouldn't be surprised if the weather that is keeping the sea ice compressed against the Antarctic Peninsula is also responsible for opening them.

Taking the MODIS data from the TERRA satellite and importing that into google earth, the open water shows up as black. At the top of the image in front of Pine Island Glacier the polynya are partially obscured by cloud.

In Google Earth you can measure the area quite easily.

...continue reading

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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.

...continue reading

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.

...continue reading

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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.

I do like Google streetview and often use it if I am going somewhere new to see where I am supposed to be heading. So it's really nice to see it at South Georgia in the South Atlantic.

The landing page has links to various locations, but I particularly like this one of the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

It is a bit clunky as the poor person doing it had to cope with poor weather and moving tourists.

So the gravestone?

Shackletons Gravestone

From the street view you can see that it is quite close to white fence and behind that there is a rocky grass bank. The interesting thing is what is on the back of the gravestone and not in plain view...

The reverse of Shackletons graveA beautiful quote from the poet Robert Browning.

You can see how hard it is to see the quote in this picture.

Shackleton's grave

The cemetery also has a grave from the Falklands War: Petty Officer Felix Artuso. The submarine Sante Fe was attacked and damaged at South Georgia, and it ended up along side at the Whaling Station. Unfortunately PO Artuso was killed after the submarine had been captured. His grave is being photographed in this picture.

Artuso grave

If you look on my photos you will find lots of South Georgia pictures.

It is a truly beautiful and special place.