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Expedition Ship Trapped In Antarctic Ice

December 26, 2013

By Paul Homewood




From the Guardian:

Explorers are stranded near Antarctica after their ship became wedged in by thick sheets of sea ice.

The Spirit of Mawson voyage, which includes scientists, explorers, tourists and the Guardian journalists Alok Jha and Laurence Topham, is trapped in Antarctic ice floes and awaiting rescue.

But with the nearest ship with ice-breaking abilities at least two days away, the crew will spend Christmas and Boxing Day stuck about 1500 nautical miles south of Hobart.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority received a distress call on Christmas morning, notifying the rescue co-ordination centre that the ship was trapped and would need help.

Akademik Shokalskiy

A view of the ice from the deck of the Akademik Shokalskiy.


A spokeswoman on Wednesday said three ships had been sent to assist but it would take at least two days to reach them.

"It’s in quite a remote part of the world," she said. "But we have everyone safe. The vessel isn’t in any immediate danger."

It is not known how long the ship has been unable to break free from the ice.

The Russian-built ship, the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, left New Zealand in late November and has about 50 passengers and 20 crew members.

Akademik Shokalskiy surrounded by ice A view of the ice from the boat.


The voyage is part of a research expedition to commemorate the centenary of Douglas Mawson’s exploration.

The Australasian Antarctic Expedition leader, Chris Turney, wrote on Twitter: "Heavy ice. Beautiful; light wind. Only -1degC. All well. Merry Xmas everyone from AAE."


More from the Sydney Morning Herald:


We woke on Christmas Day at Casey Station expecting to fly into Antarctica’s vast, white interior. Instead we found ourselves on the Aurora Australis icebreaker full steam ahead to rescue a distressed ship in Commonwealth Bay.

Early on Wednesday morning, MV Akademic Shokalskiy, a tourist ship recreating Sir Douglas Mawson’s 100-year-old Australasian Antarctic Expedition, signalled it was stuck in heavy pack ice.



While ships often get surrounded by pack ice around Antarctica, the Russian Shokalskiy, a medium-sized vessel with about 74 crew and passengers, was in danger of being hit by a large iceberg.

Just before 5am the Rescue Co-ordination Centre, part of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in Canberra, ordered three ships, a Chinese and French vessel and the Aurora Australis, to lend assistance.

Since Sunday the Aurora Australis has been anchored near Casey Station where six hundred thousand tonnes of cargo and fuel were transported from the ship to the mainland for the coming year.

While we miss out on a trip to the Aurora Basin ice core drilling site, the dramatic halt to resupply may have a significant effect on those we left behind at Casey. Science projects may be postponed or delayed. And those wintering at the station may not see their belongings for some time.

Whether the Aurora Australis returns to station or heads home to Hobart after this mission will depend on many factors, said the ship’s captain, Murray Doyle, and the voyage leader, Leanne Millhouse.

And while Christmas Day was far from what we were expecting, we doubt those aboard the Academic Shokalskiy are having a jolly time either. They are expecting blizzards and 50-knot winds from Thursday.



The Aurora Australis is the Australian icebreaker that was, herself, trapped in ice for 3 weeks last month. Her summer voyage schedule for resupplying Antarctic bases and facilitating scientific research has already been disrupted as a result, and this rescue will undoubtedly create further disruption.


The Mawson Centenary Trip

The Guardian have another article on the trip, which marks the centenary of Douglas Mawson’s expedition, along with a short video, well worth the watch.


In the early hours of Christmas Day 1912 the Antarctic explorer and scientist Douglas Mawson was trekking across the endless plateau of the frozen continent with his companion, Xavier Mertz. They were hundreds of miles from base camp and, 10 days earlier, they had been struck by tragedy when the third member of their team, the British officer Belgrave Ninnis, had fallen into a crevasse with his sledge and died.

"We wished each other merry Christmases in the future," Mawson wrote in his diary on 25 December. "I found two bits of biscuit in my bag so we had a piece each. We started at 2.30am, did 10 miles on a course WNW (general), rising for about 3 miles."

Antarctica Live: Alok Jha steps onto Antarctica

 Alok Jha steps onto Antarctica from the gangway of the Akademik Shokalskiy.


They had lost most of their food along with Ninnis and, to stay alive, Mawson and Mertz had started eating their sledging dogs. At 9.30am on Christmas morning, exhausted from their overnight trek, they set up camp and heated up their meagre Christmas dinner. "An ounce each of butter was served out from our small stock to give a festive touch to the dog-stew," wrote Mawson in his account of the original Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE).

This modern incarnation of the AAE, led by climate scientist Chris Turney of the University of New South Wales, has been following in Mawson’s scientific footsteps for just over a month.



Read the rest of the story here.




There are a few points worth picking up on.

1) There have been some references to “unusually warm weather”, and Chris Turney mentions “Beautiful; light wind. Only –1degC”. In reality, this is not warmer than usual, indeed it is actually colder.

It is reported that night time temperatures have been down to minus 10C, suggesting daily means of minus 5C.

According to GISS, December temperatures in this part of Antarctica average around minus 2C, but Commonwealth Bay, where the ship is trapped, can often suffer from strong, katabatic winds.

As Wiki point out though, “In the summer there are periods of relative calm but during winter storms are especially strong and long lasting, and can start and end unexpectedly.” It is one such calm period that they have experienced, rather than a warm one.


2) The scientists on the expedition have found that the many nearby colonies of Adelie penguins have suffered – these birds need access to the ocean to feed and the nearest shoreline is more than 60km away, because of the fast ice.

Douglas Mawson’s original diaries record very little sea ice, and thriving penguin colonies, which meant “meant there was always a potential source of fresh meat”.

The picture below, taken by Frank Hurley, on the Mawson expedition bears out how little sea ice there was.


3) I’ll leave the final comment to The Australian.


ONE hundred years after Douglas Mawson’s first Australian-led Antarctic expedition was almost defeated by thick pack ice, the same problem has stumped those seeking to follow in his wake.

Unusually dense ice floes off the coast of East Antarctica, and particularly Mawson’s landing spot of January 1912, Commonwealth Bay, have in recent days repelled private expeditions seeking to commemorate the centenary of the historic event.


Plus ca change!

  1. December 26, 2013 1:27 pm

    This made it onto the B.B.C. Radio 4 news yesterday as a very short news item.
    I haven’t noticed any reference to it on the B.B.C. t,v, news, although I may have missed it.

  2. December 26, 2013 5:52 pm

    December 26, 2013 1:27 pm

    Nothing on CBC the Canadian BBC ABC home of Dr. Fruitfly station . ;>)

  3. John F. Hultquist permalink
    December 26, 2013 5:57 pm

    At least they can be warm and dry. I think.
    That’s unlike the fools that keep doing stunts on the “rotting ice” floating on the Arctic Ocean.
    These folks are all well-to-do ($$) and the ship is well stocked with food and drink, or so we can assume. So no worries!

  4. December 26, 2013 7:50 pm

    “Explorers are stranded near Antarctica after their ship became wedged in by thick sheets of sea ice.”

    They don’t make explorers like the used to.

    More than a hundred years ago they would let their ships freeze in the ice for three years.

    Now they can’t wait for a ship to finish unloading fuel:

    It was a 7 hour operation to get the ship ready to get underway, as we were in the midst of our refuelling operations the pumping of fuel was ceased and the fuel hose recovered. This process can take several hours as there is a specific process to follow to ensure that no fuel is spilled and to protect the pristine environment.

    Mawson must be turning over in his grave.

  5. Derek Buxton permalink
    December 27, 2013 11:32 am

    I so love the irony of it, two Guardian journalists trapped by sea ice in the Antarctic in Summer. Almost the best laugh of the Christmas season, just beaten by the “Climate Poem”.

  6. Brian permalink
    December 27, 2013 1:27 pm

    A bunch of global warming scientists trapped in the ice in the Antarctic summer. Too funny.

  7. mitigatedsceptic permalink
    December 27, 2013 5:39 pm

    Why bother to rescue them? They know that in a few weeks CAGW will do all that is required! I suppose we are paying for this frivolity – while real science is being starved out, GW nuts get freebies on their Summer hols! Bully for them!
    Happy New Year when it comes!

    • December 27, 2013 5:57 pm

      I wonder who will foot the bill for the rescue.

      • mitigatedsceptic permalink
        December 27, 2013 7:33 pm

        Guess who!

  8. December 28, 2013 9:59 am

    Several reports on the BBC News Channel now, the latest of which said the Chinese ice breaker was also “stuck in the ice”.

    But it also said that it was the sea ice edge was 20km from the “Akademik Shokalskiy” , so it wasn’t clear whether the “Snow Dragon” was actually trapped or just couldn’t break through,

    With two other ice breakers on the way it will be interesting to see whether they have any more success. Who knows, we may have four ships stuck before long.

  9. mitigatedsceptic permalink
    December 28, 2013 10:14 am

    There must be something in the water that makes it freeze when its heated!

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