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Antarctica, 2005 News Archives
Her power and beauty is nature in its purest state...

Latest Antarctic News | Important Disclaimer

This section will host some of the important news about Antarctica and will come from many of the online news services and RSS news feeds. This is just a sampling and will not include every news breaking event. If our readers find articles they feel should be listed here, please email us the URL of the news headline and we will consider posting it here.

Famed explorer Norman Vaughan dies at age 100
"If you don't look for challenges, you become a follower"

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Norman Vaughan, who as a young man explored Antarctica and spent much of his life seeking adventure, died Friday just a few days after turning 100 years old.

Famed Explorer Norman Vaughan: AP PhotoVaughan died at about 10:30 a.m. at Providence Alaska Medical Center surrounded by family and friends, said nursing supervisor Martha George.

Vaughan was well enough on Saturday to enjoy a birthday celebration at the hospital attended by more than 100 friends and hospital workers. His actual birthday was Monday.

Vaughan's motto was "Dream big and dare to fail." As a young man, he joined Admiral Richard Byrd on his expedition to the South Pole in 1928 and 1930 as a dog handler and driver.

Days before his 89th birthday he and his wife, Carolyn Muegge-Vaughan, returned to Antarctica and climbed to the summit of 10,320-foot Mount Vaughan, the mountain Byrd named in his honor.

"It was the climax of our dream," he told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview at his Anchorage home. "We had to risk failure to get there. We dared to fail."

Vaughan continued to seek adventure his entire life. His exploits included finishing the 1,100 mile-Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race six times after age 70. At age 96, he carried the Olympic torch in Juneau, passing the flame from a wheelchair, 70 years after he competed in the Olympics as a sled dog racer.

He wanted to climb Mount Vaughan again to celebrate his 100th birthday but the expedition fell short of money. He planned to sip champagne at the summit -- the first taste of alcohol for the lifetime teetotaler.

"The only liquor I've ever had was the taste of wine at communion," he said. "I told my mother I wouldn't drink until I was 100 and she said, 'That's all right."

Vaughan had a taste of champagne Saturday during his birthday celebration.

Vaughan was born December 19, 1905, in Salem, Massachusetts. He was the son of a wealthy leather tanner and shoe manufacturer. In his youth, he became fascinated by tales of early-century polar explorers.

In 1925, he entered Harvard College left to join Byrd on his expedition, which included creation of the first settlement in Antarctica and the first air flight over the South Pole. Vaughan was part of a crew that drove dog teams 1,500 miles across the frozen continent to collect geological samples and other scientific data.

After serving in the Korean War, Vaughan started making frequent trips to Alaska, moving permanently to the state at age 67. He arrived in Anchorage nearly broke. His first job was shoveling snow from sidewalks to pay for room and board, and he followed that with a stint as a dishwasher.

Despite his accomplished past, he felt no embarrassment about his humble beginnings in Alaska.

"If you don't look for challenges, you become a follower," Vaughan said. "Challenges are self-satisfying for a person, testing himself on whether he can do it or not, analyzing for himself his character. Many times it answers a great question for the person."

Source: CNN, Friday, December 23, 2005; Posted: 7:40 p.m. EST (00:40 GMT)

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British swimmer sets Antarctic record
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (Reuters) -- Extreme swimmer Lewis Pugh has set a new world record for the most southerly long-distance swim, conquering the icy Antarctic waters at 65 degrees south, his research team said Tuesday.

The 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) swim follows just months after a record Arctic swim, making the British solicitor the first person to accomplish such a feat in both the world's coldest seas.

"As soon as I dived in, I had a screaming pain all over my body," he said in a statement from a Canadian-Norwegian expedition ship in the Antarctic seas.

Sporting only a swimsuit, cap and goggles, Pugh took less than 19 minutes to complete the swim near Vernadsky, the Ukrainian scientific base on Antarctica, in water of 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) and heavy snow.

"I am not sure how I kept on going for so long. I had to concentrate all the time and swim as fast as I could to keep the cold out," he said.

Pugh, who trained for months in an icy plastic pool in Cape Town's harbor, has astounded scientists with his ability to raise his body temperature before swimming, allowing him to survive temperatures that only a few can endure.

"When he enters the water, his core body temperature is extremely high [38.4 degrees Celsius], and he is able to maintain this temperature for up to 15 minutes in ice cold water," said leading South African sports scientist Tim Noakes.

"To my knowledge, this capacity has not been previously described."

Source: CNN, Tuesday, December 20, 2005; Posted: 12:25 p.m. EST (17:25 GMT)

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Recovery of ozone hole decades away
Analysis suggests hole won't heal until about 2065

SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- The eventual recovery of the gaping ozone hole over Antarctica, first discovered two decades ago, may take years longer than previously predicted, scientists reported Tuesday.

Researchers suspect that's because of all the older model refrigerators and car air-conditioning systems in the United States and Canada that are still releasing ozone-killing chemicals. Both countries curbed those chemicals in newer products.

If scientists are right, that means longer-term exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation, which raises the risk of skin cancer and cataracts for people. Long-term UV exposure is bad for the biodiversity of the planet too.

Since the discovery of the ozone hole over the South Pole in the 1980s, satellites and ground stations have been monitoring it. Current computer models suggest the ozone hole should recover globally by 2040 or 2050, but Tuesday's analysis suggests the hole won't heal until about 2065.

Meanwhile, the lesser-damaged ozone layer over the Arctic is expected to recover by about 2040, according to new modeling done by John Austin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Results were presented at an American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

"From a human perspective, it's a little dismaying because this means there's still going to be higher levels of UV," said Paul Newman, an atmospheric scientist with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Measurements of ozone depletion vary every year, making it hard for scientists to predict the long-term effects of changes and how it may affect recovery.

The size of this year's Antarctic ozone hole rivaled the all-time biggest hole detected in 2003. In September, the hole over the South Pole peaked at about 10 million square miles, or the size of North America. That was a notch below the 2003 record size of about 11 million square miles.

Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, in refrigerants, aerosol sprays and solvents have been largely blamed for most ozone depletion.

Experts generally agree that the man-made chemicals are leveling off since more than 180 countries in the 1980s signed the Montreal Protocol, which phases out some CFCs and other ozone-damaging compounds such as chlorine and bromine.

As a result, chlorine has declined in the lower atmosphere since the mid-1990s, while the growth rate of bromine has slowed.

But new research suggests that chlorine and bromine are not being depleted as fast as expected. In 2003, the ozone-depleting chemicals in the United States and Canada made up about 15 percent of total global emissions even though the two nations have stopped producing the chemicals.

It takes decades for these chemicals to dissipate and that may delay ozone hole recovery, said Dale Hurst, a research associate at the NOAA Global Monitoring Division.

New satellite images suggest that seasonal weather patterns may also affect ozone hole recovery. New observations by a NASA satellite found that chlorine converts into a more dangerous form in cold Antarctic winters, leading to ozone loss. Because conditions are warmer in the Arctic, the impact is not as profound.

Source: CNN, Tuesday, December 6, 2005; Posted: 5:10 p.m. EST (22:10 GMT)


Iceberg 'sings under pressure'
BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) -- Scientists monitoring earth movements in Antarctica believe they have found a singing iceberg.

Sound waves from the iceberg had a frequency of around 0.5 hertz, too low to be heard by humans, but by playing them at higher speed the iceberg sounded like a swarm of bees or an orchestra warming up, the scientists said.

The German Alfred Wegener institute for polar and marine research will publish the results of its study, done in 2002, in Science magazine on Friday.

Between July and November 2002 researchers picked up acoustic signals of unprecedented clarity when recording seismic signals to measure earthquakes and tectonic movements on the Ekstroem ice shelf on Antarctica's South Atlantic coast.

Tracking the signal, the scientists found a 50 by 20 kilometre iceberg that had collided with an underwater peninsula and was slowly scraping around it.

"Once the iceberg stuck fast on the seabed it was like a rock in a river," said scientist Vera Schlindwein. "The water pushes through its crevasses and tunnels at high pressure and the iceberg starts singing."

"The tune even goes up and down, just like a real song."

Source: CNN, Thursday, November 24, 2005; Posted: 7:22 p.m. EST (00:22 GMT) 


Bodies of Argentines found in crevasse
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Authorities said Wednesday they have recovered the bodies of two Argentines missing for more than a month in Antarctica after their snowmobile plunged into a deep ice crevasse.

The remains of biologist Augusto Thibaud and navy electrician Teofilo Gonzalez were found buried under snow in a gash in the Collins glacier on an island close to the Antarctic peninsula where the accident occurred September 17.

Sergio Policastro, a spokesman for the Antarctic command center in Buenos Aires, said Thibaud's body was found Tuesday at a depth of 180 feet (60 meters) by army experts on ropes. Authorities said the second victim was found Wednesday, not far from the battered snowmobile the two men were riding on when they plunged through the crack in the ice.

Policastro said search teams probed a vast, irregular underground ice chamber for weeks in hopes of finding the victims. Those efforts included an initial attempt by elite crews using rappelling ropes who were rushed from Buenos Aires shortly after the accident.

Thibaud was a scientific researcher with the Argentine Antarctic Institute. He and Gonzalez plunged into the crevasse as they and three others from Argentina's Jubany research base were traveling across a glacier in the waning days of the Southern Hemisphere winter. All of the men were traveling on snowmobiles.

The accident occurred on one of a series of snow- and ice-shrouded islands, named 25 de Mayo, near the Antarctic peninsula where the Argentines, Chileans and Uruguayans all have bases. Argentine officials said the bodies would be flown back to Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, when weather permits.

Source: CNN, Wednesday, October 26, 2005; Posted: 2:33 p.m. EDT (18:33 GMT)


3 Chileans trapped in Antarctic crevasse
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- Rescue crews -- battling freezing temperatures and steady snowfall -- searched Thursday for three Chilean military officers trapped in a snow vehicle inside a 40-meter (131-feet) Antarctic crevasse.

One captain and two sergeants were part of an eight-member Chilean army patrol whose vehicle plunged into the ice fissure during a mission Wednesday afternoon, the army said in a statement.

Five other officers managed to jump from the vehicle before it plummeted into the crevasse, and remained at the site overnight to resume rescue efforts early Thursday. The head of the army's Antarctic Command, Col. Miguel Santibanez, said that "as time passes things turn more complicated."

But he noted that one advantage is that the four missing officers are probably protected inside their vehicle and have appropriate clothing and enough food for two or three days. He described the vehicle as "a snowcar, similar to a double-cabin truck." He said the three officers were in the front cabin when the accident happened. The army said temperatures averaged -5 degrees Celsius (23 Fahrenheit).

Additional personnel to assist in the rescue couldn't reach the site of the accident, as poor weather kept all rescue planes grounded. But a patrol form the Argentine army's Antarctic command was reportedly on its way to the site of the accident to join rescue efforts. That patrol was in the area, near Chile's O'Higgins base, after failing two find two Argentine officers who suffered a similar accident on September 17 and have yet to be found. (Full story)

The Chilean army said that it will continue its rescue efforts until "all personnel have been accounted for."

Source: CNN, Thursday, September 29, 2005; Posted: 2:21 p.m. EDT (18:21 GMT)


Commandos join Antarctic rescue mission

Argentine Rescue PhotoBUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Four army commandos on skis dropped by helicopter Tuesday onto an Antarctic glacier to search for two Argentine men who plunged into a deep ice crevasse in a weekend snowmobiling accident.

Lt. Col. Carlos Flesia said the helicopters also airlifted in ropes, ice anchors and other gear the rescuers from an elite Antarctic Commando unit planned to use in the difficult descent into the 180-foot-deep crack.

"The rescue units were dropped off in an area of solid rocks," said Flesia at Argentina's Antarctica command center in Buenos Aires. He said the four-man team would spend the few remaining hours of sunlight Tuesday trying to ski the 1,500 yards to the crevasse and rappel into the depths.

More than 70 hours had elapsed since the accident, and the unit was working in blustery subzero conditions on the last day of the southern hemisphere winter. Authorities said the missing men were wearing extreme weather gear and were equipped with radios, but had not been heard from since the accident, and hopes were fading of pulling them out alive.

The missing men were identified as scientific researcher Augusto Thibaud of the Argentine Antarctic Institute and Teofilo Gonzalez, a navy officer and electrician. Their snowmobile plunged into the crevasse on Saturday while on an expedition near Argentina's Jubany research station.

Three other men traveling on snowmobiles behind them were rescued Sunday, airlifted out by a Chilean helicopter from 25 de Mayo island, located near the Antarctic peninsula where several countries have bases and scientific research stations.

Source: CNN, Tuesday, September 20, 2005; Posted: 5:18 p.m. EDT (21:18 GMT)

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U.N.: Antarctic ozone hole nears record size
"So-called ozone recovery has yet to be confirmed"

Antarctic ozone hole - 2005 (WMO)GENEVA, Switzerland (Reuters) -- The hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica has grown to near record size this year, suggesting 20 years of pollution controls have so far had little effect, the United Nations said on Friday.

In a bulletin on the seasonal depletion of ozone gas, which filters harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer and cataracts, the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the hole would peak within a couple of weeks. "It will probably not break any records, but it shows that ozone depletion is going on and that the so-called ozone recovery has yet to be confirmed," Geir Braathen, WMO's top ozone expert, told a news briefing.

U.S. scientists reported last month that the ozone layer has stopped shrinking but it will take decades to start recovering (Full Story). The hole above the South Pole and Antarctica, which spans about 27 million sq km, was expected to grow another million sq km in a week, bringing it close to the record years of 2000 and 2003, the WMO said. It had passed over Ushuaia, in the Patagonia region of southern Argentina, "leading to noticeable increases in UV (ultraviolet)" radiation, according to the bulletin, issued on the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) containing chlorine and bromine, have been blamed for thinning the layer because they attack the ozone molecules, causing them to break apart. Many CFCs, once commonly used in refrigeration, air conditioning and industrial cleaning, were banned by the Vienna Convention, signed exactly 20 years ago, and its Montreal Protocol clinched in 1987.

Most scientists say the hole spanned a record 29 million sq km (11 million sq miles) in September 2003, exposing the southern tip of South America. "You could say that the ozone situation is stabilizing at a low level. We are approaching the maximum of ozone depletion, it is kind of leveling off, but it is still too early to say that the situation is improving," Braathen said.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the 189 states to have ratified the Montreal Protocol had eliminated more than 1.5 million tons of annual production of chemicals that destroy the ozone layer. But developing countries were "only at the half-way point in many of their obligations" under the pact, while in wealthy countries a number of chemicals still needed to be phased out.

"It is essential that we remain alert to this hazard to avoid an increase in skin cancers, cataracts and other health threats," Annan said.

Source: CNN, Friday, September 16, 2005; Posted: 3:06 p.m. EDT (19:06 GMT)

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Ice base on skis wins competition
Ice Base - Halley VI StationLONDON, England (Reuters) -- Designed to cope with one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth, the winner announced on Tuesday of an international competition to build a new ice station in Antarctica resembles a giant blue centipede.

British Antarctic Survey's Halley VI station will not only be on a floating ice shelf that will flow out to sea and break up, but it will host scientists all year long in temperatures that range from minus 5 degrees to minus 40 degrees Centigrade (23 degrees to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit).

The winning design was by the Faber Maunsell and Hugh Broughton Architects consortium and consists of a long, segmented body held high off the ground by adjustable legs on skis so it can be periodically towed back towards land.

It beat off designs from two other finalists, one of which was for a "walking" building and the other for a building that appeared to hover on legs above the ice.

"This was an incredibly tough choice for the jury panel to make," said BAS director Chris Rapley. "The process ... was stimulating and exciting for everyone involved."

The design specifications for the 19 million ($33 million) ice station on the Brunt ice shelf are among the most exacting on the planet.

It must it be home to a crew of scientists that dwindles to 16 in the southern hemisphere winter when there is no daylight for three months and booms to 60 in the summer months, and it has to rise above the 1.5 meters of snow that falls each year.

At the same time every nut and bolt must be shipped in and, when the station comes to the end of its anticipated 20-year life, everything must be shipped out again to leave no trace of its existence on the pristine continent.

Four of the previous Halley ice stations dating back to the 1950s have slowly been buried by the snow and crushed by the ice as it travels northwest at the rate of 400 meters a year and gradually breaks up at its seaward edge.

The Halley V station it will replace by December 2008 also has adjustable legs and is the only one not to have been buried.

However, it faces another problem. Scientists predict that the ice shelf will halve within the next decade and the section of ice on which Halley V sits will simply float away.

The new, towable ice station should be able to avoid such problems by simply moving out of the danger area, allowing scientists to carry on vital research at the site where the hole in the ozone layer was first discovered.

Source: CNN, Wednesday, July 20, 2005; Posted: 3:52 a.m. EDT (07:52 GMT)

Related Information

The Halley VI competition was launched in June 2004 by BAS and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and attracted 86 entries worldwide.


Ninety Degrees South: Antarctic Concept VehicleAntarctic Concept Vehicle Unveiled
LONDON, England (CNN) -- An innovative Antarctic exploration vehicle has been unveiled by London's Royal College of Art and the British Antarctic Survey.

Designer James Moon, a graduating Masters student at the RCA, said that "Ninety Degrees South" was the first vehicle specifically designed for the Earth's most inhospitable wilderness. The two-man transport provides a lightweight, environmentally-friendly and more adaptable alternative to the snowmobiles and large tracked vehicles currently favored by those working in Antarctica. "I'm naturally an adventurous person with an interest in exploration and for my project I wanted to do something for extreme environments," Moon told CNN.

"In Antarctica all the technology used is adapted from military vehicles so when I found out there wasn't a purpose-built Antarctic exploration vehicle I was intrigued."

Since the Antarctica Treaty came into force in 1961, banning the militarization of the continent and protecting its environment, Antarctica has been an important area of scientific study. Around 4,000 scientists and support staff living in 45 research stations around the continent during the summer months, falling to around 1,000 during the winter. As well as temperatures below -50 degrees Celsius, Antarctic visitors must contend with fierce winds and blizzards, while the vast hole in the ozone layer over the continent also causes high levels of UV-radiation.

Unlike snowmobiles, therefore, Ninety Degrees South provides full protection from the elements for its passengers. The vehicle's combination of front wheels and rear tracks enables it to operate on ice, snow or hard surfaces, giving it greater operational adaptability than conventional exploration vehicles. Moon said Ninety Degrees South was small enough to be transported around Antarctica by light aircraft and would cause minimum environmental damage -- a key consideration towards maintaining the continent as a pristine wilderness.

Pathfinder technology also enables the vehicle to move quickly and safely over unknown terrain. A small GPS-controlled unit travels ahead of the main vehicle connected by a 30-meter umbilical cord and uses ground penetrating radar to identify potential dangers. Moon said the technology had applications beyond polar transportation and could be adapted for automated vehicles designed to explore other planets. The Antarctic is a key testing ground for technology intended for use on other planets because its environment is the harshest that Earth has to offer.

"I'm particular interested in overcoming the dangers of traveling across crevassed areas of ice," said Moon. "Unknown terrain limits the speed of any journey over the ice -- the faster you can detect crevasses the quicker you can travel. I believe the pathfinder technology serves as a prototype for future, entirely automated, expeditions in the Antarctic and on other planets." A model of Ninety Degrees South is currently on display at the RCA, with Moon now looking for investors to take the project further.

"I'd love to take it down [to Antarctica] to test it out," he said. "It's a massive project to take on but hopefully someone will want to invest in it. The British Antarctic Survey was really supportive from a technical point of view. At the RCA the stuff we do tends to be quite conceptual, but they've helped me to ground it in reality."

David Blake, head of technology and engineering at the British Antarctic Survey said that "Ninety Degrees South" could open up new areas of polar exploration.

"James Moon's concept is very novel and a vehicle built to his design could enable new areas of activity to be undertaken in Antarctica, including ground based deep field surveys," said Blake. "James' vehicle is innovative and challenging and I am delighted at his enthusiasm and drive in developing his concept vehicle."

Source: CNN, Thursday, June 23, 2005; Posted: 6:55 a.m. EDT (10:55 GMT)

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Deal reached on making polluters pay in Antarctica
STOCKHOLM (AFP) - A two-week conference on pollution in the Antarctic wrapped up in Stockholm, with delegates boasting a major breakthrough on a deal ensuring that polluters in the future will be held accountable for the messes they make in the region.

"The major outcome of the conference was the finalization, after 13 to 14 years of negotiations, ... of the liability annex" to the existing Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, said Tony Press, the Australian chairman of the Committee for Environmental Protection.

About 300 experts, including representatives from 45 governments attended the meeting, the 28th conference on the Antarctica Treaty. The delegates agreed late Tuesday on the annex that will hold companies and nations financially responsible for "environmental emergencies" in Antarctica, which covers 14 million square kilometers (5.4 million square miles) and where 90 percent of the planet's ice is to be found. According to the new annex, an operator that is found to have created an environmental crisis in the region will be required to take immediate action to rectify the situation. If it fails to do so, it will still need to bear the cost of any action taken by others, or pay the equivalent of the clean-up cost into an environmental protection fund.

A 1959 treaty signed by 12 states recognized Antarctica's role in the global climate and laid down that it was in the interest of mankind that the white continent continue to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and should not become the theater or object of international conflict. In addition to the liability annex delegates at the conference discussed concerns about growing tourism to the area.

"This year, there are about 30,000 tourists in the region... There is no direct evidence of tourism having any impact, but there are concerns," Press told AFP, adding that the tourism issue also gives rise to worries about the "introduction of non-native species" to the pristine Antarctic environment. "We have to ensure that organisms and disease are not introduced," he said.

The impact of global warming on the region was also on the agenda, after experts recently warned that climate change is causing some 200 glaciers along the coasts to melt. "Especially in the Antarctic peninsula area, the impacts of warming over the past 50 years are quite obvious," Press said, adding that sea surface temperatures had risen and that glaciers and ice sheets were melting. The Antarctic Peninsula is a long strip of territory that stretches up towards the southern tip of Latin America.

Possibly as a result of the increasing temperatures as well as of illegal fishing, there have also been some changes in species numbers in the region. "Some penguin species are growing in number... and due to illegal fishing there is a species of albatross that is endangered," Press said.

Source: Yahoo News, Friday, June 17, 2005 Posted: 12:57 PM EDT


Satellite image of B15A

Giant polar iceberg hits glacier
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- The world's biggest iceberg has hit the end of an Antarctic glacier, snapping off a block about 5 square kilometers (3 square miles), a New Zealand scientist said Wednesday.

  • Satellite image of B15A (right of picture) taken earlier this year

The giant iceberg, known as B15A, ran into the tip of the Drygalski Ice Tongue in "more of a nudge than a collision," said Lou Sanson, chief executive of the government scientific agency Antarctica New Zealand. The clash between the 160-kilometer (100-mile) -long iceberg and the 70- kilometer (40-mile) -long glacier near McMurdo Station on the north Antarctic coast was first predicted by scientists in late December. The collision was discovered by scientists reviewing satellite photos taken last weekend, Sanson told The Associated Press.

"That's the only record we've got of it," at this stage, he said. The last of the sun's rays were hitting the frozen southern continent on Wednesday, as the southern hemisphere winter closes in on the region. Sunlight will not return to the Antarctic region until August 20. Sanson said it was possible the iceberg would now head back out to sea.

The giant iceberg had blocked sea access to the region, threatening penguin breeding colonies and blocking ships supplying food and fuel to Antarctic research stations for some months. The U.S. McMurdo Station and New Zealand's Scott Base are on the sound, and Italy's Terra Nova base is nearby. McMurdo Station has a staff of about 1,000 during the summer and about 100 remain for the harsh polar winter. Scott Base has about 100 staff during the summer and only about 12 in the winter.

The iceberg, which contains enough water to supply the River Nile for 80 years, had blocked wind and water currents in the sound, causing a buildup of ice which impeded ships needed to supply food and fuel to the three research stations. Two icebreakers managed to smash a 50-kilometer (30-mile) track through the ice to McMurdo Pier, enabling ships to deliver supplies.

Source: CNN, Wednesday, April 20, 2005 Posted: 7:21 AM EDT (1121 GMT)


University to Research Melting Polar Ice Caps
LAWRENCE, Kansas (AP) -- A new federally funded center will give the University of Kansas a prominent role in researching global warming, the melting of polar ice caps and their effects on the world's climate.

The National Science Foundation has awarded the university almost $19 million to finance operations at the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets over the next five years. Announced Monday, it is the largest federal grant any Kansas university has ever received.

The research will involve NASA and more than 40 scientists from 10 universities. The center hopes to help scientists better understand climate change, how melting ice caps affect sea levels and how changing sea levels will affect nations' populations and economies. "The bottom line is, this is a very important problem," said Scott Borg, director of the National Science Foundation's Antarctic sciences. "It's immensely important to understand what's happening with the ice sheets."

Officials said the center will create new technology for studying polar ice caps, then develop new ways to interpret data. The grant comes as some scientists worry about the thinning of polar ice caps and the potential for higher sea levels around the world.

Prasad Gogineni, a University of Kansas professor of electrical engineering and computer science who will serve as the new center's director, said research on climate changes is important because, like natural disasters, it is likely to hit poor nations the hardest. Last year, a NASA research team found that glaciers in Antarctica are thinning faster than they did in the 1990s and the ice cap may be less stable than previously thought.

Source: CNN, Tuesday, April 12, 2005 Posted: 2:02 PM EDT (1802 GMT)


Antarctica's Shifting Ice
PUNTA ARENAS, Chile (AP) -- Scientists looking southward from the tip of
South America, over steel-gray waters toward icy Antarctica, see only questions on the horizon about the fate of the planet.

Larsen B Ice ShelfNow that one mammoth Antarctic ice shelf has collapsed into the ocean, when might another, bigger one crumble and slip into a warming sea? In 1,000 years? In 100 years? Sooner? Never?

"People don't have the answer to the question yet -- what the probability is of that collapse, if any," said scientist Gino Casassa. "But there's some indication of instability."

Casassa and fellow Chilean researchers had just flown back from the icy continent to this expedition staging point, and brought with them some potentially unsettling news. On a two-month roundtrip trek by snow tractor to the South Pole, they pointed their sophisticated radar at the ground and found that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be thicker than thought, many hundreds of feet thicker in parts. Glaciologists like Casassa worry most about that western ice sheet, half a continent of frozen water believed enough, if gradually melted, to raise ocean levels worldwide by about 15 feet.

That would be a slow-motion catastrophe for global coastlines -- not instantly deadly like a tsunami, but more universal and permanent. And "the deeper the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the greater the potential impact to sea level," Casassa pointed out, though cautioning that their data awaits full analysis. Such pressing questions about the white continent and global warming -- and the impact each will have on the other -- are consuming more and more scientific resources these days, as hundreds of researchers migrate south in the southern summer to probe, measure and observe in an on-the-ice search for answers.

Advanced technology, like the radar lent by the University of Kansas, allows scientists to penetrate darker corners of polar science. ICESat, a NASA satellite launched two years ago, is giving them an unprecedented look at the state of the ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic. The same U.S. space agency, meanwhile, is boosting the power of its supercomputers to speed through millions of calculations to foresee temperature, evaporation, precipitation and other changes far into the future, using complex climate models.

The challenges remain huge, however, on the globe's most forbidding landscape. And technology sometimes fails. One of the ice-surveying satellite's laser eyes went dead, for one thing, reducing its useful data by more than half. For another, the vast continent has too few permanent monitoring stations to give scientists more than a sketchy grasp of its climate behavior.

"Even now, we're not so sure what's going on in all Antarctica. There aren't sufficient data," said Argentina's Pedro Skvarca, a veteran Antarctic glaciologist.

The hunt for data took on fresh urgency after Antarctica's "Larsen B," an ice shelf bigger than Rhode Island, collapsed into the Southern Ocean over the space of just 35 days in 2002. The 1,300 square miles of ice had fringed the Antarctic Peninsula, a rocky arm of land that reaches north to within 750 miles of this southernmost Chilean city. In that peninsular region, average surface temperatures have risen by 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit over 50 years.

Temperatures globally rose about 1 degree Fahrenheit (about 1/2 degree Celsius) in the past century, most of that attributed by scientific consensus to the accumulation in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other warming "greenhouse gases," mostly from fossil fuel-burning. It hasn't been established whether the Antarctic Peninsula warming stems directly from global warming, or from more localized conditions.

Because an ice "shelf" already floats on the sea, displacing its weight in water, Larsen B's disintegration -- and that of the smaller, nearby Larsen A in 1995 -- didn't raise ocean levels. But what has happened since did. Skvarca and American researchers, collating aerial reconnaissance with ICESat images, reported last September that land-based glaciers backed up behind Larsen B have accelerated their flow since its break-up -- moving ice into the sea up to eight times faster than before.

Now scientists are warily watching the Larsen C ice shelf, farther south and 20 times larger. Like the B sector before it collapsed, "Larsen C also appears to be thinning," said Robert Thomas, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center facility in Virginia. "It's quite possible that the thinning is the precursor to the breakup." Scientists expect Larsen C to disintegrate sometime in this century, Skvarca said in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires. "We should bear in mind what is happening to the Larsen ice shelves, because if it also happens to a big shelf, we are going to be in trouble," he said.

"Big" refers to the floating giants -- the Ross and Ronne ice shelves. Each is around 200,000 square miles, bigger than California. They lie deeper south in a more frigid zone, are thicker in depth and hold back immense streams of ice coming from the heights of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the 1,100-mile-wide, 9,000-foot-high dome that sits atop continental rock. No one has spotted signs of instability yet in the two giant shelves. But scientists also worry about what Thomas calls the "back door" -- a stretch of Antarctic coast whose glaciers feed off the western ice sheet directly into the Amundsen Sea, or into small ice shelves on that sea.

"There's some indication of instability in the Amundsen Sea," Casassa said.

Casassa, Thomas and colleagues have watched the "back door" since the early 1990s, most recently via satellite tracking. They reported in the journal Science last September that a half-dozen glaciers there are now thinning and accelerating. The big Pine Island glacier is carrying ice faster toward the sea as far as 186 miles inland, deep within the western ice sheet.

"The instability and changes are migrating inland," Casassa said. "This could affect the whole of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, because the ice sheet 'feels' what is happening at the coast." Glaciologists are quick to point out they've found no basis for fearing an imminent, massive collapse of ice into the southern seas. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N.-organized network of scientists, concluded in a 2001 assessment that the impact of global warming "will be realized slowly"f in Antarctica.

Although scientists assume major change might take a millennium, much remains unknown about the links among ice, ocean and skies. It isn't known, for example, how excess amounts of cold, fresh water from glaciers, pouring into the salty sea, will affect the ocean current that circles Antarctica from west to east -- a main driver of all the world's ocean currents, and hence of world climate.

Antarctica's own climate, meanwhile, may be verging on change.

Factors including the seasonal Antarctic "ozone hole" of recent decades are believed to have held temperatures in the interior stable while the world warmed. But NASA climatologists recently reported that a computer model study indicates things may rapidly reverse toward warming in Antarctica, in part because an international ban on ozone-destroying substances is expected to restore the ozone layer.

Drew Shindell of NASA said "there's a lot of room for improvement in the modeling" -- in upper-atmosphere dynamics, for example, including the chemistry of ozone. "We're trying to get that kind of modeling. We have new computers, 10 times bigger," he said by telephone from his New York office. In powerful computers, by satellite and on the Antarctic ice, the stepped-up search for answers will go on.

Like others, Skvarca sees a need for a bigger, better coordinated international effort. The Argentine scientist recalled the "premonitory" work of the late Ohio State University glaciologist John Mercer, who forecast in the 1970s that warming would cause the Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves to disintegrate, from north to south.

At the time, "nobody paid much attention," Skvarca said. "Let's not wait 30 years more to see whether Larsen C and others disintegrate. There's an urgent need for research now."

Source: CNN, Monday, February 7, 2005 Posted: 1:49 PM EST (1849 GMT)


Scientists Watch for Antarctic Iceberg Collision
CANBERRA, Australia (Reuters) -- Scientists are watching for a collision between a giant iceberg and an Antarctic glacier, which could free up sea lanes to America's McMurdo Station and help penguins reach crucial feeding areas.

Iceberg B-15AThe iceberg B15-A, which is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) long and contains enough drinking water to supply the world for several months, was once part of the major B15 iceberg which broke off the Ross Ice Shelf on the edge of Antarctica five years ago. B15-A has been drifting slowly towards the floating end of a glacier known as the Drygalski Glacier Tongue for several months and scientists now believe a collision is likely.

"It seems highly likely, given how this thing has jiggled around for the past four years," Australian Antarctic scientist Neal Young told Reuters on Monday.

The United States-based National Science Foundation (NSF) had predicted the collision would occur before Christmas, while the space agency NASA suggested the crash would happen by January 15. But Young, from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem Cooperative Research Centre, on Monday said the iceberg was still about three miles from the Drygalski Glacier Tongue and was moving about one mile a day.

He said while a collision was likely, it might not happen as storms and sea currents could change the iceberg's course. "There is no guarantee there will be any collision, or it could be catastrophic in terms of having quite big consequences," he said.

He said a collision could lop a large chunk off the iceberg and allow it to drift out of the area around Ross Island, making it easier for icebreakers to reach McMurdo Station. New Zealand also has a base in the area. He said it would also give penguins a shorter trip to the sea to find food for their young and would help boost local penguin populations. "If B15-A does eventually does escape then I think it is likely the whole area will open up again, in that it has been a real barrier up until now," he said.

But a collision could also knock off a piece of the Drygalski Glacier Tongue, which could lead to more ice in the sea routes toward the Italian research base at Mario Zucchelli Station. The NSF has said the iceberg posed no threats to supplies or personnel at McMurdo Station.

Young, who is monitoring the iceberg through NASA and European Space Agency satellite images, said the last known chunk to be carved off the Drygalski Glacier Tongue occurred in 1956. Scientists were now eagerly watching to see what would happen if the iceberg and glacier collide.

"This is the biggest thing we've seen for a while," he said.

Source: CNN, Monday, January 17, 2005 Posted: 11:26 PM EST (0426 GMT)

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