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After meeting Pope Francis in Cuba, the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, flew to Antarctica to walk with penguins.

Patriarch Kirill held prayers at a research station before taking a walk with the animals.

A picture of the 69-year-old kneeling eye-to-eye with one went viral.

Russia has 10 research stations in the Antarctic, able to accommodate up to 120 people. Patriarch Kirill visited one, the Bellingshausen research station on the island of Waterloo.

Photo RT

Photo RT

The Russian Orthodox church near the Bellingshausen station, which opened in 2004, is the only church on the continent to hold services all year round, with priests spending the winter there.

Church officials said Patriarch Kirill prayed for polar researchers, including 64 Russians who have died on polar expeditions.

The patriarch’s visit was the first ever by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to Antarctica. It followed the first encounter between a head of Russian Orthodox Church and a pope in nearly 1,000 years.

Since becoming Pope in 2013, Pope Francis has called for better relations between the different branches of Christianity.

According to a new assessment from ESA’s CryoSat spacecraft, Antarctica is now losing 159 billion tonnes of ice a year to the ocean – twice as much as when the continent was last surveyed.

The CryoSat spacecraft has a radar instrument specifically designed to measure the shape of the ice sheet.

The melt loss from the White Continent is sufficient to push up global sea levels by around 0.43 mm per year.

Antarctica is now losing 159 billion tonnes of ice a year to the ocean

Antarctica is now losing 159 billion tonnes of ice a year to the ocean

Scientists report the data in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The new study incorporates three years of measurements from 2010 to 2013, and updates a synthesis of observations made by other satellites over the period 2005 to 2010.

CryoSat has been using its altimeter to trace changes in the height of the ice sheet – as it gains mass through snowfall, and loses mass through melting.

The study authors divide the continent into three sectors – the West Antarctic, the East Antarctic, and the Antarctic Peninsula, which is the long finger of land reaching up to South America.

Overall, CryoSat finds all three regions to be losing ice, with the average elevation of the full ice sheet falling annually by almost 2cm.

In the three sectors, this equates to losses of 134 billion tonnes, 3 billion tonnes, and 23 billion tonnes of ice per year, respectively.

The East had been gaining ice in the previous study period, boosted by some exceptional snowfall, but it is now seen as broadly static in the new survey.

As expected, it is the western ice sheet that dominates the reductions.

Scientists have long considered it to be the most vulnerable to melting.

It has an area, called the Amundsen Sea Embayment, where six huge glaciers are currently undergoing a rapid retreat – all of them being eroded by the influx of warm ocean waters that scientists say are being drawn towards the continent by stronger winds whipped up by a changing climate.

About 90% of the mass loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is going from just these few ice streams.

At one of them – Smith Glacier – CrysoSat sees the surface lowering by 9 m per year.

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The Akademik Shokalskiy and Chinese icebreaker Xue Long have broken free from Antarctic ice where they had been stranded for several days.

The Russian scientific mission ship’s captain said a crack had appeared in the ice after a change in wind direction.

The Akademik Shokalskiy got stuck on December 25. It has a Russian crew of 22.

On Thursday, the Xue Long’s helicopter ferried 52 passengers from the stranded Russian ship to an Australian vessel.

The Xue Long then became stuck itself on Friday.

 The Akademik Shokalskiy got stuck in the Antarctic on December 25

The Akademik Shokalskiy got stuck in the Antarctic on December 25

“We’re going slowly and zig-zagging, we’ve already moved more than 20 [nautical] miles,” Captain Igor Kiselyov of the Russian ship told ITAR-TASS news agency.

“It’s tough going so far, a lot of mist, visibility is no more than 500 metres,” he said.

Captain Igor Kiselyov confirmed that the Chinese ship was also moving and that Akademik Shokalskiy was just north of it.

“It may catch up with us – in that case, we’ll follow in its wake. But if not, we’ll get out together, independently,” he said.

US Coastguard icebreaker Polar Star is heading towards the two ships, responding to an earlier request for help. It left Sydney, Australia, on Sunday and will take a week to get there.

The Akademik Shokalskiy got trapped by thick floes of ice driven by strong winds about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart in Tasmania.

Chinese ice-breaker Xue Long that helped rescue passengers stranded on the Akademik Shokalskiy vessel in Antarctica is now stuck itself.

An Australian ice-breaker carrying the rescued passengers is no longer on standby and is returning to shore.

On Thursday, a helicopter from the Xue Long transferred 52 passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy to the Aurora Australis.

Russian scientific mission Akademik Shokalskiy has been trapped by thick floes of ice since 24 December.

“Xue Long’s attempt to manoeuvre through the ice… was unsuccessful. Xue Long has confirmed to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) [that] it is beset by ice,” AMSA said in a statement on Saturday.

“The master of Xue Long has confirmed to AMSA that the ship is safe, it is not in distress and does not require assistance at this time,” AMSA said, adding that there was no immediate danger to the ice-breaker’s crew.

Chinese ice-breaker Xue Long that helped rescue passengers stranded on the Akademik Shokalskiy vessel in Antarctica is now stuck itself

Chinese ice-breaker Xue Long that helped rescue passengers stranded on the Akademik Shokalskiy vessel in Antarctica is now stuck itself

It is the latest twist in what has become a complicated rescue operation in the Antarctic.

The Australian Aurora Australis had been asked to remain in open water nearby in case the Xue Long needed help – but AMSA said this was no longer needed and it had been released from its search and rescue mission.

The authority added that the Australian vessel was travelling to the Casey research base on the Windmill Islands, just outside the Antarctic Circle, to complete a re-supply task before continuing to Hobart – the capital of the Australian state of Tasmania.

Andrew Peacock, an Australian doctor and photographer who was rescued from the Russian ship, spoke of his fellow passengers’ frustration aboard the Aurora over the latest delay in their journey home, according to the Associated Press.

“So our time down south is not over yet and we are going to be delayed in our return to friends and family by some time yet, which is frustrating,” Andrew Peacock said before the Aurora was given permission to continue.

The Akademik Shokalskiy became trapped by thick floes of ice driven by strong winds, about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart.

The Akademik Shokalskiy was being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) 2013 to follow the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.

Passengers from the ice-bound research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy are to be rescued in Antarctica.

A helicopter from a Chinese ship set down nearby, bringing in a crew to assess the landing situation.

The aircraft left but then returned to begin ferrying the first passengers out to an Australian ice-breaker.

Akademik Shokalskiy has been trapped since Christmas Eve. Its 22 crew are expected to remain on board once the 52 scientists and tourists have left.

Akademik Shokalskiy first group of passengers to be airlifted out

Akademik Shokalskiy first group of passengers to be airlifted out

The scientific mission ship was trapped by thick sheets of ice driven by strong winds, about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart – the capital of the Australian state of Tasmania.

The vessel is being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition to follow the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.

“The Chinese helicopter has arrived at the Shokalskiy. It’s 100% we’re off! A huge thanks to all,” expedition leader Chris Turney tweeted.

Chris Turney’s post showed a video of a red helicopter touching down on a site that had been marked out by the Akademik’s crew.

Members of the helicopter crew checked the site and the aircraft took off again.

Three hours later, Chris Turney tweeted: “The first of the helicopters to take us home. Thanks everyone!”

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s (AMSA) Rescue Co-ordination Centre, which is overseeing the operation, had earlier said it was unlikely the rescue would go ahead on Thursday as hoped because of the sea-ice conditions.

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Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy stranded in East Antarctica since Christmas Day remained stuck as the latest rescue efforts were thwarted by fierce winds and poor visibility.

An Australian icebreaker trying to reach the Russian scientific mission ship was forced to turn back.

Earlier attempts by Chinese and French icebreakers to reach the Akademik Shokalskiy were also foiled by the thick ice.

Seventy-four scientists, tourists and crew are on the ship.

The vessel is being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition to follow the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.

Scientists on board thought the ice was much thicker than usual for this time of year.

Akademik Shokalskiy stranded in East Antarctica since Christmas Day remained stuck as the latest rescue efforts were thwarted by fierce winds and poor visibility

Akademik Shokalskiy stranded in East Antarctica since Christmas Day remained stuck as the latest rescue efforts were thwarted by fierce winds and poor visibility

The Aurora Australis icebreaker had been forced to turn back to clear water and was repositioning to try to find another route towards the Shokalskiy.

In a statement, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said: “The area where the MV Akademik Shokalskiy is beset by ice is currently experiencing winds of up to 30 knots and snow showers.”

“These weather conditions have resulted in poor visibility and made it difficult and unsafe for the Aurora Australis to continue today’s attempt to assist the MV Akademik Shokalskiy.”

Earlier, it was thought that passengers could be winched to safety by a helicopter on board the Chinese icebreaker, which had to abort its rescue mission on Saturday.

However, AMSA spokeswoman Lisa Martin told Reuters news agency: “We can’t fly a helicopter in these conditions either. There is essentially nothing we can do at this point of time.”

The Aurora Australis would have to wait for the weather to improve before making a second rescue attempt, she added.

Despite being trapped, the scientists on board have continued their experiments, measuring temperature and salinity through cracks in the surrounding ice.

Akademik Shokalskiy was trapped on Christmas Day by thick sheets of ice, driven by strong winds, about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart – the capital of the Australian state of Tasmania.

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An Australian vessel is en route to East Antarctica in a renewed bid to free Akademik Shokalskiy scientific mission ship trapped in dense pack ice since Christmas.

Earlier rescue attempts by Chinese and French icebreakers were foiled by the thick ice.

Seventy-four scientists, tourists and crew are on the Akademik Shokalskiy.

The vessel is being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition to follow the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.

The Shokalskiy remains well stocked with food and is in no danger, according to the team.

An Australian vessel is en route to East Antarctica in a renewed bid to free Akademik Shokalskiy

An Australian vessel is en route to East Antarctica in a renewed bid to free Akademik Shokalskiy

Despite being trapped, the scientists have continued their experiments, measuring temperature and salinity through cracks in the surrounding ice.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the rescue, said the Aurora Australis was expected to reach the trapped research ship on Sunday around 12:00 GMT.

The powerful icebreaker can cut ice up to 5.2 ft thick – potentially still enough to plough through the estimated three-metre wall surrounding the Shokalskiy.

If this latest relief operation fails, passengers could be winched to safety by a helicopter on board the Chinese icebreaker, which had to abort its rescue mission on Saturday.

The Snow Dragon came within seven nautical miles of the Russian ship before stalling and being forced to return to the open sea.

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The coldest place on Earth has been identified in the heart of Antarctica.

The lowest temperature was recorded on August 10, 2010, and has been measured by satellite to be a bitter minus 93.2 Celsius (-135.8F).

Researchers say it is a preliminary figure, and as they refine data from various space-borne thermal sensors it is quite likely they will determine an even colder figure by a degree or so.

The previous record low of minus 89.2C was also measured in Antarctica.

This occurred at the Russian Vostok base on July 21, 1983.

It should be stated this was an air temperature taken a couple of metres above the surface, and the satellite figure is the “skin” temperature of the ice surface itself. But the corresponding air temperature would almost certainly beat the Vostok mark.

The coldest place on Earth has been identified in the heart of Antarctica

The coldest place on Earth has been identified in the heart of Antarctica

“These very low temperatures are hard to imagine, I know,” said Ted Scambos from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Dr. Ted Scambos was speaking in San Francisco at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.

He and colleagues have been examining the data records from polar orbiting satellites stretching back some 30 years.

They find the coldest moments in Antarctica occur in the dark winter months at high elevations, where the extremely dry and clear air allows heat to be radiated very efficiently out into space.

It is evident that many super-cold spots are “strung out like pearls” along the ridges that link the high points, or domes, in the interior of the continent.

They are not quite at the ridge crests, but set slightly back down the slope.

The cold pockets run in a line for hundreds of kilometres between Dome Argus [Dome A] and Dome Fuji [Dome F]. They all achieve more or less the same low temperature between minus 92C and minus 94C. The minus 93.2C figure is the temperature event in which the team has most confidence. It was recorded at a latitude of 81.8 degrees South and a longitude of 59.3 degrees East, at an elevation of about 3,900m.

One of the spacecraft instruments being used in the study is the Thermal Infrared Sensor on the recently launched Landsat-8.

By way of comparison, the hottest recorded spot on Earth – again by satellite sensor – is the Dasht-e Lut salt desert in southeast Iran, where it reached 70.7C in 2005.

The coldest place in the Solar System will likely be in some dark crater on a planetary body with no appreciable atmosphere. On Earth’s Moon, temperatures of minus 238C have been detected.

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Scientists drilling deep into the edge of modern Antarctica have pulled up proof that palm trees once grew there.

Analyses of pollen and spores and the remains of tiny creatures have given a climatic picture of the early Eocene period, about 53 million years ago.

The study, published in Nature, suggests Antarctic winter temperatures exceeded 10C, while summers may have reached 25C.

Better knowledge of past “greenhouse” conditions will enhance guesses about the effects of increasing CO2 today.

The early Eocene – often referred to as the Eocene greenhouse – has been a subject of increasing interest in recent years as a “warm analogue” of the current Earth.

“There are two ways of looking at where we’re going in the future,” said a co-author of the study, James Bendle of the University of Glasgow.

“One is using physics-based climate models; but increasingly we’re using this <<back to the future>> approach where we look through periods in the geological past that are similar to where we may be going in 10 years, or 20, or several hundred,” James Bendle said.

The early Eocene was a period of atmospheric CO2 concentrations higher than the current 390 parts per million (ppm ) – reaching at least 600 ppm and possibly far higher.

Global temperatures were on the order of 5C higher, and there was no sharp divide in temperature between the poles and the equator.

Scientists drilling deep into the edge of modern Antarctica have pulled up proof that palm trees once grew there

Scientists drilling deep into the edge of modern Antarctica have pulled up proof that palm trees once grew there

Drilling research carried out in recent years showed that the Arctic must have had a subtropical climate.

But the Antarctic presents a difficult challenge. Glaciation 34 million years ago wiped out much of the sediment that would give clues to past climate, and left kilometres of ice on top of what remains.

Now, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) has literally got to the bottom of what the Eocene Antarctic was like, dropping a drilling rig through 4 km of water off Wilkes Land on Antarctica’s eastern coast.

The rig then drilled through 1 km of sediment to return samples from the Eocene. With the sediment came pollen grains from palm trees and relatives of the modern baobab and macadamia.

Crucially, they contained also the remnants of tiny single-celled organisms called Archaea.

The creatures’ cell walls show subtle molecular changes that depend on the temperature of the soil surrounding them when they were alive. The structures are faithfully preserved after they die.

They are, in essence, tiny buried thermometers from 53 million years ago

Together, the data suggest that even in the darkest period of Antarctic winter, the temperature did not drop below 10C; and summer daytime temperatures were in the 20Cs.

The lowland coastal region sported palm trees, while slightly inland, hills were populated with beech trees and conifers.

Dr. James Bendle said that as an analogue of modern Earth, the Eocene represents heightened levels of CO2 that will not be reached any time soon, and may not be reached at all if CO2 emissions abate.

However, he said the results from the Eocene could help to shore up the computer models that are being used to estimate how sensitive climate is to the emissions that will certainly rise in the nearer term.

“It’s a clearer picture we get of warm analogues through geological time,” he said.

“The more we get that information, the more it seems that the models we’re using now are not overestimating the [climatic] change over the next few centuries, and they may be underestimating it. That’s the essential message.”

 

Explorer Felicity Aston from UK has reached Antarctica’s Hercules Inlet, becoming the first woman to cross the continent alone.

Felicity Aston, 33, tweeted late on Sunday night:

“Congratulations to the 1st female to traverse Antarctica SOLO.V proud.”

AP news agency reported Felicity Aston was also the first person to make the crossing using only her own strength to ski the 1,084 miles (1,744km).

An expedition spokeswoman confirmed Felicity Aston had crossed Antarctica.

Explorer Felicity Aston from UK has reached Antarctica's Hercules Inlet, becoming the first woman to cross the continent alone

Explorer Felicity Aston from UK has reached Antarctica's Hercules Inlet, becoming the first woman to cross the continent alone

The expedition took Felicity Aston 59 days, beginning at Leverett Glacier.

Tweeting from her @felicity_aston account, Felicity Aston, from Kent, said she was sitting in her tent waiting for a plane to pick her up.

“I’ve been promised red wine and a hot shower,” Felicity Aston wrote.

Later she added: “Foiled by bad weather yet again! No plane tonight but I have my last Beef and Ale Stew to enjoy for my final evening alone – yum!”

In a podcast, Felicity Aston said her last day had been “amazing”, with an icy eight miles to cross.

“It’s all a little bit overwhelming after days and days of counting the time and the distance to get here. I seem to have got here all of a rush all of a sudden and I don’t really feel prepared for it. I mean it feels amazing to be finished and yet overwhelmingly sad that it’s over at the same time,” Felicity Aston said.

Felicity Aston said her journey had been “an amazing privilege”.