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Aussie ship returns home after 3 weeks stuck in Antarctic summer ice

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Antarctic ice coverage proved to be too much for “Australia’s Antarctic Flagship.”

After three freezing weeks stuck in pack ice off the Antarctic coast, an Australian icebreaker ship was finally able to return home in early December.

The supply ship Aurora Australis departed from the Davis Research Center on the Antarctic Coast on November 12th, but the vessel soon became stuck on pack ice about 180 miles off the Antarctic coast, reports the blog Not A Lot of People Know That. The ship was originally due back in Hobart, Australia on November 16th, but the planned four day voyage was extended to three weeks.

The Aurora has been described as “Australia’s Antarctic Flagship” by the country’s antarctic division, and has the capability of smashing through ice 1.23 meters thick (over 4 feet thick). However, the ship was beset by a thick ice pack that extended 60 miles in every direction surrounding the vessel, according to aerial reconnaissance. The boat was hammered by water and wind temperatures of about -1.8 degrees Celsius.

The three week delay has caused the Australian Antarctic Division to cancel one of the Aurora’s planned resupply voyages to the Antarctic.

“To ensure the Antarctic season can progress with minimal disruption, we have combined the next two voyages into one extended voyage visiting Macquarie Island before continuing on to resupply Casey station,” said Australian Antarctic Division Director, Dr. Tony Fleming

“This will preserve the work plans of the majority of projects scheduled for the Australian Antarctic program for the current season,” Fleming added.

It’s also important to note that while November is generally the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the beginning of summertime in Antarctica. Despite it being summer, the extent of the Antarctic ice sheet was “unusually high” in November, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

“While it is early winter in the Arctic, it is early summer in the Antarctic. Continuing patterns seen in recent years, Antarctic sea ice extent remains unusually high, near or above previous daily maximum values for each day in November,” reports the NSIDC.

“Sea ice extent averaged 17.16 million square kilometers (6.63 million square miles) for November,” the NSIDC notes. “The long-term 1981 to 2010 average extent for this month is 16.30 million square kilometers (6.29 million square miles).”

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