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A helicopter from the Xue Long (Snow Dragon) Chinese icebreaker unloads rescued passengers from the ice-bound Russian ship, Akademik Shokalskiy, in East Antarctica, some 100 nautical miles (185 km) east of French Antarctic station Dumont D A helicopter from the Xue Long (Snow Dragon) Chinese icebreaker unloads rescued passengers from the ice-bound Russian ship, Akademik Shokalskiy, in East Antarctica, some 100 nautical miles (185 km) east of French Antarctic station Dumont D'Urville and about 1,500 nautical miles (2,800 km) south of Hobart, Tasmania, January 2, 2014, in this handout courtesy of Fairfax's Australian Antarctic Division. REUTERS/Fairfax/Australian Antarctic Division/Handout via Reuters  

Global warming Antarctic expedition rescue to cost millions

It wasn’t cheap to rescue the botched expedition by climate scientists that got stuck in the ice over the holidays. The rescue of the Akademik Shokalskiy from the south pole’s icy grip could cost up to $2.4 million.

The Australian reports that the rescue could cost Australia up to $2.4 million (in Aussie dollars), and that negotiations between the country’s Antarctic Division and the insurers for the failed polar voyage are now underway. The cost of the rescue includes “fuel, supplies, staff and the charter of the Aurora Australis,” the Australian reports. Though the costs to Australia of delaying scientific research and studies is harder to calculate.

“We will be seeking full cost recovery through insurers for the up to $2.4 million costs incurred by the Australian government,” said Australia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt. “We have a duty to protect life at sea and we do that willingly.”

“However, what we see here is that there are some questions as to whether or not the ship was detained by the action of those on board within an area the captain had identified as potentially being subject to being frozen in,” Hunt added. “I think we have a duty on behalf of taxpayers to seek full cost recovery.”

The Russian research vessel set out with 52 passengers to the south pole last year. Climate scientists aboard wanted to use the voyage to document the effects of global warming on the arctic. But the ship ironically got stuck in the ice on Christmas Eve, at the peak of summer in the southern hemisphere.

After one week of being stuck in the ice, the expedition was air-lifted off their Russian vessel by a Chinese helicopter and brought to the Aurora Australis, an Aussie ice-breaker. Accounts indicate that the ship became stuck after passengers were too slow to return from day trips.

“It was an extreme event and it caught us,” said climate scientist and expedition leader Chris Turney. “We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who’s come out to help us.

“We are terribly sorry for any impact that it might have had on fellow colleagues whose work has been delayed. Any experienced Antarctic scientist knows that’s an inherent risk,” he added.

The botched expedition made world headlines and sparked a debate about the effects of global warming on the poles. Despite being stuck in ice pack, Turney and his expedition remained adamant that the Antarctic was still melting due to global warming.

“Sea ice is disappearing due to climate change, but here ice is building up,” the expedition said in a statement. “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.”

Antarctic sea ice coverage, however, reached record levels last year and is well above the sea ice extent throughout the 1990s according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Antarctic sea ice coverage was also reported to be unusually high last November — the beginning of Antarctica’s summer.

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