State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


At Home Floating Over Antarctica

Skimming over sea ice in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica
Skimming over sea ice in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica

Nick Frearson, Gravimeter Instrument Team, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory:

PUNTA ARENAS, Chile–Skimming across the Weddell Sea at 250 miles per hour I am finally on the way to Antarctica. Even though my visit to the white continent will be at a height of 1500 ft I still feel a sense of ‘homecoming’, as if I am back for a field season on the peninsula.

Sea ice is the target today, measuring sea ice thickness and cover. Peering out the plane window I am amazed at the beauty of the sea ice – large clean slabs of reflective white. I can feel the pull, the same magnetism that must have affected the early polar explorers bringing them back again and again.

The Weddell Sea and Antarctic exploration are linked in history. The image of Ernest Shackleton’s ship, The Endurance, caught in an ice pack in the Weddell Sea is perhaps the most iconic of this area. Shackleton’s 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition was intended to be a march across the continent from the Weddell Sea coast through the South Pole and ending at the Ross Sea. The Endurance was crushed by the Weddell Sea ice, never reaching the coast to launch Shackelton and his men on their intended journey. Would Shackleton face the same fate if he were to set out today? Would the ice pack in the Weddell Sea close in with the same ferocity capturing his ship?

Check this link to see how Columbia scientists have looked at the role weather played a century ago in both Shackleton and Nansen’s explorations in Antarctica.

Read: Polar Survival a Century Ago: Good Planning, or Just Good Weather?

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