Antarctic Science News - archive from 2008
(Most recent first)
MV Ushuaia refloated on 8 December, and heading under her own steam to Paradise Bay for a hull inspection. The previous minor oil leaks are being minimized by transferring oil from damaged to undamaged tanks. The passengers are en route home.
The Argentinian Navy reported that a cruise ship, the Ushuaia, carrying 89 passengers and 33 crew, had run aground in Wilhelmina Bay off the Antarctic Peninsula; nobody was hurt and the ship is not in danger of sinking. For details, see the full news report.
Recruitment is now taking place for the first university expedition to Antarctica, organised by Students on Ice Expeditions, from 13-28 February 2009. It is hoped that this will be the first of a multi-year series of university expeditions to Antarctica and the Arctic, providing students from around the world with inspiring educational opportunities at the ends of the Earth and helping them foster a new understanding and respect for the planet. Officially endorsed by the IPY (project 343), Students on Ice is committed to engaging a select group of universities from around the world to help deliver the expedition's education programme. So far, the universities of Ottawa, Alberta and Northern British Columbia are involved as partner universities and the organisers are actively seeking further potential partner universities from around the world. Interested professors, researchers and students from other countries are encouraged to take part in the initiative. For more information on the expedition, visit the expedition website.
One of the largest mountain ranges on Earth lies hidden beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. How old are the Gamburtsev Mountains? What are they made of? How did they get there? What effect did they have on the development of the ice sheet? These and other fundamental questions will be addressed through an International Polar Year programme involving the UK, USA, Germany, Australia and China in one of the most technically and physically ambitious projects yet attempted in the Antarctic. See the BAS website for more information on the project.
Samples from a frozen lake bed suggest profound differences between west and east Antarctic climates over the past 14 million years. Read the full article from Science magazine.
As the term of the current Executive Secretary expires in September 2009, the 31st Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Kyiv has started the procedures to select his successor. The ATCM has agreed a draft advertisement for the position of Executive Secretary of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat, which will be vacant upon the expiry of the term of the current Executive Secretary Johannes Huber on 1 September 2009. Do not send applications to the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat! Applications can only be made to the national authorities. Please check with your national authorities for the deadline for applications in your country. For more information, please see the ATS web site.
In the latest issue of Science (12 September 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5895, p. 1443) Blight and Ainley point out that the recent paper on "A global map of human impact on marine ecosystems" (B. S. Halpern et al., 15 February, p. 948), which suggests that there has been little anthropogenic effect on waters south of the Antarctic Polar Frontal Zone, is somewhat misleading. In fact, the northern portion of the Southern Ocean saw virtually all cetacean populations removed long ago, and in subsequent years (1960s to 1980s) the largest stocks of demersal fish in the Indian Ocean and Scotia Sea/Atlantic Ocean sectors were also fished to commercial extinction. Historically exploited fish species and cetaceans show little signs of recovery there, and recent legal commercial fishing activity has been correspondingly low. That is why Halpern's model shows little anthropogenic impact in these sectors apart from that of climate change. More consideration of historical data is needed in these models before we can accept that "large areas of relatively little human impact remain, particularly near the poles."
The Wilkins Ice Shelf continues to disintegrate despite peak winter conditions.
See more details and view a slide show of the break up.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announces the availability of the spring issue of "National Snow and Ice Data Center Notes, #63". Selected articles in this issue include:
- Antarctic Ice Shelf Disintegration
- Year-Round Sea Ice Website
- Updates to Existing Data Sets
- New Products
View an electronic version of the newsletter.
In recent decades, the westerly winds of the southern hemispheric jet stream have accelerated on the poleward side of the jet; this acceleration has been attributed to a combination of effects from increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and decreasing amounts of stratospheric ozone, and this strengthening has been predicted to continue. Son et al. in a recent article in Science (p. 1486) find differently. A recent set of models, which include fully interactive stratospheric chemistry, project that the summer tropospheric westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere will decrease on the poleward side of the jet, owing to the gradual diminution of the ozone hole through the year 2050. This would have important consequences for climate in the Southern Hemisphere, and highlights the importance of stratospheric ozone recovery as an agent of climate change.
The Tinker Foundation, based in the USA, is designing a prestigious award, the Martha Muse Award, to support an exemplary Antarctic researcher, in any field of Antarctic science or policy, to be presented annually by the Tinker Foundation in honor of its Chairman, Martha Twitchell Muse. The Muse Fellowship will be targeted to help develop and grow the ranks of Antarctic researchers by providing support to a researcher with clear leadership potential at the critical early stages of his/her academic career. A committee will:
- define the purpose and scope of the award,
- establish selection criteria and application materials, and
- develop a strategy for announcing the inaugural competition during the International Polar Year 2007-2008.
The committee will provide a written plan to guide the award process; administration of the award will be done by an independent, international body such as ICSU's Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.
The project will begin in Aril 2008.
For more information, read the final report on the National Academies website.
A thin strip of ice is all that now prevents the Wilkins Shelf from disintegrating and breaking away from the landmass of the Antarctic peninsula. The Antarctic Peninsula has experienced unprecedented warming over the last 50 years and several ice shelves on the peninsula have retreated in recent years and six of them – the Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen A and Larsen B, the Wordie, Muller and the Jones ice shelves – have collapsed completely.
"Wilkins is the largest ice shelf yet on the Antarctic peninsula to be threatened, said David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey. "I didn't expect to see things happen this quickly. The ice shelf is hanging by a thread – we'll know in the next few days or weeks what its fate will be.
Ice shelves form along the coasts and, because the ice is already floating on water, their disintegration does not affect sea levels. However their rapid disappearance could lead to the faster movement into the ocean of the massive, land-based ice sheets and glaciers – which do raise sea levels.
The research project EPICA (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica), one of the European Science Foundation's most successful and longest running Research Networking Programmes, is one of this year's winners of the Descartes Prize for Research. The Descartes Prize for Research was awarded to three European teams for outstanding transnational projects in natural sciences and humanities by the European Union on 12 March in Brussels.
Antarctic krill have been caught on camera at the bottom of the Southern Ocean, far deeper than they are usually found. Krill were thought to live in the top 150 metres of Antarctica's waters, feeding on the phytoplankton that live in illuminated waters. However, the remotely operated vehicle, Isis, captured video of krill swimming just above the sea bed at some 3,500 metres depth.
View the full article in Nature News.
BBC science producer Martin Redfern is spending a month in the Antarctic reporting on International Polar Year. Follow his exploits in his Antarctic Diary on the BBC News website.
The new Belgian Antarctic Station, Princess Elisabeth Antarctic (the first zero emission research station) has now opened in Dronning Maud Land, Antarctic. For details, see the Princess Elisabeth Station website.
ScienceNOW (19th Feb 2008) reports how researchers studying the effects of ancient climate patterns on Antarctic waters have reached an alarming conclusion: The inhabitants of those seas were able to cling to life by the thinnest of margins during past ice ages, but they might not be able to weather the temperature increases predicted for the next century. In particular danger are the birds and mammals occupying the top of the food chain, such as emperor penguins and sea lions.
View the full Science article.
BBC news reports recent scientists' claim that climate change alone did not cause the collapse of an Antarctic ice shelf. The shelf was already under stress, and global warming tipped it over the edge.
For details see the full BBC News item.
January 11 - Australian scientists landed the Airbus A319 on an ice runway in Antarctica, officially opening a new air link between Australia and the white continent.
Read more in the msnbc article.
Nature News reports that scientists have found an active volcano beneath Antarctic ice that last erupted just 2,000 years ago. The hotspot lies beneath the Pine Island region of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, where glaciers are retreating more quickly than elsewhere on the continent. The dramatic find might help to explain this particularly rapid loss of ice.
For details see the full Nature News article.
Nature News (13 January) reports that Antarctica is losing ice faster now than it was a decade ago. The rate of loss was 75% higher in 2006 that in 1996, according to records from satellite observations. Much of the loss occurs around the edge because glaciers are speeding up. It was once thought that such losses would be balanced by gains from precipitation in the interior. Not so, say the latest studies. 152 billion cubic kilometres were lost per year from 2002 to 2005. These new data reinforce concerns about the IPCC's initial (February 2007) suggestion that sea level would rise no more than 58 cm by the year 2100, a prediction they backed away from last fall.
For details see the full Nature News article.
Cretaceous climates were significantly warmer than those of today, most likely due to a higher content of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, it has been suggested from the record of sea level change that there must have been some ice on Antarctica even then. New oxygen isotopic evidence reported in the 11 January issue of the journal Science (V. 319, No. 5860, pp 189-192) shows that both the the surface and deep tropical Atlantic experienced synchronous shifts 91.2 million years ago (in the Turonian) consistent with an approximately 200,000-year period of glaciation, with ice sheets reaching about half the size of the modern Antarctic ice cap. So even though this was one of the warmest periods of the Phanerozoic eon, with tropical sea surface temperatures over 35°C, the prevailing supergreenhouse climate was not a barrier to the formation of large ice sheets.