Botched global warming expedition finally rescued from polar ice

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

Climate scientists and tourists traveling on the Akademik Shokalskiy research vessel may want to make a New Year’s resolution never to go to Antarctica again after being stuck in the ice for over a week.

The Shokalskiy voyage was being used by climate scientists to document the effects of global warming on the Antarctic while following the path that explorer Douglas Mawson took into the area. Ironically, the ship became stuck in sea ice about 1,500 miles south of Tasmania on December 24.

The BBC reports today that all 52 passengers aboard the Shokalskiy were all safely transferred to the Aurora Australis icebreaker after being flown in groups by helicopter from a Chinese icebreaker. But the ship’s 22 crew members are expected to stay put until the Shokalskiy is free from the ice.

The expeditionary group, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, is still adamant that the sea ice surrounding Antarctica is melting despite having their vessel being trapped in in ice for more than one week.

“We’re stuck in our own experiment,” the expedition said in a statement. “We came to Antarctica to study how one of the biggest icebergs in the world has altered the system by trapping ice. We followed Sir Douglas Mawson’s footsteps into Commonwealth Bay, and are now ourselves trapped by ice surrounding our ship.”

“Sea ice is disappearing due to climate change, but here ice is building up,” the group added. “We have found this has changed the system on many levels. The increase in sea ice has freshened the seawater below, so much so that you can almost drink it. This change will have impacts on the deep ocean circulation.”

Climate scientist Chris Turney, who led the expedition, was hoping to reach the Antarctic base camp of Sir Douglas Mawson to use modern technology to make observations there a little over one hundred years after Mawson made his in 1912.

Antarctic sea ice reached record levels in September of last year, reaching 19.51 million square kilometers, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Sea ice coverage was also reported to be “unusually high” in November — the beginning of Antarctica’s summer.

In fact, the Aurora Australis ice breaker that rescued the botched expedition was stuck in Antarctic sea ice for three weeks in November and December. During the rescue of the Shokalskiy expedition, the Aurora was unable to get close enough to the ship during rescue attempts because the ice was too thick for the vessel to break through.

The climate scientists and tourists on board were rescued by a helicopter from a Chinese icebreaker and the ferried to the Aurora in groups.

“We’ve made it to the Aurora australis safe & sound. A huge thanks to the Chinese & @AusAntarctic for all their hard work!,” Turney tweeted.

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