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Thick Ice Prevents Resupply At Mawson Station

March 1, 2014

By Paul Homewood


News from the Australian Antarctic Division, a week ago.


Changes to the Antarctic shipping schedule



Aerial view of the ship Aurora Australis surrounded by icy and water.

Aurora Australis



19th February 2014

Heavy sea ice conditions near Mawson research station have resulted in further changes to the Australian Antarctic Division’s shipping schedule.

Voyage 4, the current voyage, was due to resupply Mawson. However, as happened in 2011, the sea ice in the area is unseasonably thick. This has prevented the ship from entering the harbour at Mawson and doing the resupply.

Sea ice is affected by such things as sea temperature, wind patterns, ocean currents, freshwater melt from the ice cap and snow fall, and so patterns vary each year and are inconsistent between areas.

The Australian Antarctic Division had hoped that the sea ice would have broken out by the time Aurora Australis had completed the summer changeover at Davis research station.

Aurora Australis is now expected to arrive back in Hobart on 1 March, having visited both Casey and Davis research stations.

The ship will return 43 passengers from Davis, as well as valuable ice cores from a successful five-week ice coring project at the deep-field camp, Aurora Basin.

The ship will be reconfigured for the next voyage, with the loading of essential cargo and dedicated fly-off equipment for a limited Mawson resupply operation.

On the ship’s return to Mawson, four helicopters with longer range flying capability will be used to deliver up to 50 000 litres of fuel, as well as 24 tonnes of food and essential cargo. Fifteen expeditioners will be transferred to the station for the winter, while 20 expeditioners, who have spent the past year at Mawson, will return home.


It was, of course, the Aurora Australis that was trapped in ice for three weeks in November, and then had to waste another couple of weeks rescuing the Ship of Fools, which was also unnecessarily stuck in ice. Both events necessitated major rejigs of the Aurora’s shipping schedule for this season, and this latest episode will add further cost and disruption.


Mawson research station, named after Sir Douglas Mawson, the famous Antarctic explorer of the early 20thC, lies in East Antarctica.




  1. Gary Pearse permalink
    March 1, 2014 10:43 pm

    Don’t these expeditions prescribe to the satellite data? Surely a trip like that would know what to expect. It is an icebreaker so the ice must be sufficiently concentrated to “see” from satellite imagery.

  2. tty permalink
    March 1, 2014 11:22 pm

    A satellite can see the ice but not how thick it is. The only way to find that out for sure is to have a bash at it.
    If I was at the Macquarie Island base I would be getting worried about now. They are last in line, and the way things are developing the winter storms may have started before they get their resupply. There is no harbour at Macquarie, everything has to be landed over an open beach, which can be sticky even in summer (been there, done that),

  3. Gary Pearse permalink
    March 2, 2014 12:27 am

    Oops “subscribe” not prescribe!

  4. Streetcred permalink
    March 2, 2014 12:36 am

    … and all of this at the height of the Southern Summer !!

    • tty permalink
      March 2, 2014 9:35 pm

      Exactly. Antarctic sea ice reached the minimum on Feb 23, it will only get worse from now and for the next six months. The way conditions are changing in Antarctica I can understand why the AAD wants a real icebreaker, which the Aurora Borealis isn’t (it’s a cargo ship with some limited icebreaking capability).

  5. Joe Public permalink
    March 2, 2014 2:24 am

    Perhaps Auntie should send cub reporter Andrew Luck-Baker on another ‘jolly’ down there, to provide day-to-day reports.

  6. March 2, 2014 12:10 pm

    East Antarctica? It’s at and round a pole. Any place on it is ” east” of anywhere else on it (unless on same line of longitude).

    • March 2, 2014 5:28 pm

      That’s what its called!

    • westhoustongeo permalink
      December 31, 2014 10:40 pm

      Eastern Antarctica is considered to be that portion that is in the Eastern Hemisphere Longitude 0-180 East and Western Antarctica is in the Western Hemisphere. The graphic at the link below makes it clearer.
      It does not say (or I missed it) whether the division is strictly along the 0-180 Longitude line, or at the more natural division at the Transantarctic Mountains which are close to same – well, sorta.

  7. Laurence permalink
    March 2, 2014 1:12 pm

    “four helicopters…will be used to deliver up to 50,000 litres of fuel”

    The climate change scientists doing their bit for the penguins and polar bears.

  8. March 2, 2014 7:37 pm

    wulliejohn @March 2, 2014 12:10 pm

    East Antarctica? It’s at and round a pole. Any place on it is ” east” of anywhere else on it (unless on same line of longitude).

    If you remember from grade school the earth is divided into four hemispheres. North/ South by the equator and East/West by the prime meridian. In the Antarctica the prime meridian is north so it splits east and west Antarctica.

    • March 2, 2014 11:20 pm

      OK. Two hemispheres I will believe. But four hemispheres – that’s a whole new world. OK, OK. I also learned not to start a sentence with a conjunction.

      • M E permalink
        March 5, 2014 5:52 am

        Four hemispheres. Northern Hemisphere where N America is situated, with the polar bears, and Southern Hemisphere where S America and penguins are situated.
        Western hemisphere North America- Eastern Hemisphere Russia China. Just remember the Cold War.

    • March 2, 2014 11:36 pm

      Supplementary question. If I am standing on the prime meridian, and I walk east where do I reach west Antarctica? And if I continue to walk east ………….. Duh, my brain hurts. How long do New Year’s celebrations last at the South Pole?


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