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Antarctica, 2006 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.


Drilling into the past to predict the future
LINCOLN, Nebraska (AP) -- Scientists in Antarctica spent Christmas Day finishing work that may show the effects of global warming -- drilling for clues about how massive ice sheets responded to past temperature changes.

The project will be vital to creating a map of how the Earth may react to higher temperatures, scientists say.

Antarctic Geological Drilling Program - NSF PhotoOne hundred scientists from four countries are working on the Antarctic Geological Drilling Program, or ANDRILL, coordinated by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

They gather rock core from deep below the Antarctic sea floor, then analyze it.

So far, the cores show a dynamic ice sheet that advanced and retreated more than 50 times over 5 million years.

Some of the ice shelf's disappearance was probably during times when the planet was 2 degrees Celsius (36 Fahrenheit) to 3 degrees Celsius (37 Fahrenheit) warmer than it is today -- "much like it will be in the next 50 to 100 years," said Tim Naish, a lead scientist on the project from Victoria University in New Zealand.

When drilling stopped Christmas Day, workers had bored down 1,238 meters (4,061 feet).

"We may not understand the future, but we can understand the past," said David Harwood, director of the ANDRILL Science Management Office at UNL.

The drilling project took place on the Ross Ice Shelf, a floating glacier about the size of France.

The shelf is believed to be one of the most vulnerable pieces of the sprawling West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which scientists believe may have collapsed during a previous warm period. Scientists have suggested that a naturally occurring period of warmth, exacerbated by high levels of greenhouse gases, could cause an exceptionally quick contraction of ice sheets.

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey reported last year the West Antarctic sheet may be starting to disintegrate, which could lead to rising sea levels.

With temperature change comes the acceptance that "we're looking blindly into the future," Harwood said, but the ANDRILL project could at least help establish some expectations.

"We need a map," he said.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 1:59 p.m. EST, December 28, 2006

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From the ashes comes baby Nessie fossilNessie Fossil - NSF Photo
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The bones of a baby plesiosaur have been recovered from an Antarctic island, scientists reported Monday.

In life, 70 million years ago, the five-foot-long animal would have resembled Nessie, the long-necked creature reported to inhabit Scotland's Loch Ness.

The new fossil skeleton is one of the most complete of its type ever found, researchers said. It will go on display Wednesday at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology's Museum of Geology. (Watch animation of the baby swimming and the cleaning of the fossil )

Plesiosaurs lived for millions of years in the then-warm southern ocean surrounding Antarctica, with adults growing as large as 32 feet long. With diamond-shaped fins they could "fly" through the water much as penguins do now.

The National Science Foundation said researchers battled freezing conditions and 70 mile-per-hour winds in recovering the fossil, which was too heavy to be carried out and had to be moved by helicopter.

Leaders of the 2005 expedition that recovered the plesiosaur were James E. Martin, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the museum, Judd Case of Eastern Washington University and Marcelo Reguero of the Museo de La Plata, Argentina.

The researchers said the animal's stomach area was well-preserved, including forked ribs, sometimes into three prongs, and numerous small, rounded stomach stones probably used to help maintain buoyancy or to aid digestion.

The skeleton was found in an area covered with volcanic ash, leading them to speculate that the plesiosaur was killed in an eruption, either by the blast or by ash dumped in the ocean.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 9:45 a.m. EST, December 13, 2006

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Up close and personal with an Emperor penguinEmperor Penguin - NOAA Photo
SEA ICE OFF ROSS ISLAND, Antarctica (Reuters) -- It seems best to play it cool if you want to see a penguin.

Those who come to McMurdo Station, the biggest U.S. science base in Antarctica, often dream of seeing the regal Emperor penguins or the smaller Adelies, but environmental policies require humans let the birds make the first move, and keep their distance in any case.

"If the animals are reacting to you, you're too close," is the general rule.

But sometimes penguins' curiosity brings them into close proximity with humans who are out in the penguin stomping ground, foraging for scientific data while the birds are foraging for food.

That's what happened on Saturday, when marine biologist Gretchen Hofmann and her team headed onto the sea ice near Ross Island to catch samples of Antarctic fish and operate an underwater, under-ice robot.

Hofmann, based at the University of California-Santa Barbara, is an experienced Antarctic hand and noticed a small dot about a half-mile away, which she correctly guessed was a lone penguin.

Hofmann kept still on the ice, eventually getting down on her knees, wondering if the bird would approach. Within a minute or so, the bird dropped down on its feathered belly and started sliding toward the scientist.

The bird, a big Emperor penguin, tobogganed to within about 20 feet of Hofmann, then stood on its leathery feet and waddled even closer, to about 8 feet away, as if to get a better look.

Penguins have no natural predators on land and have little fear of humans, Hofmann said.

That certainly appeared to be the case as the penguin preened, flapped its stumpy wings, gave a few gutteral cries and turned around several times, as if modeling in some surreal Antarctic fashion show.

With a snowy breast, glossy black back and wings and a patch of shaded sunset yellow-orange near its throat, it was a sight to behold, and seemed to know it.

Later in the day, near a few fishing holes drilled through the ice to collect specimens, a pair of Adelie penguins, also out foraging on a brilliantly sunny spring day, came into view. What drew the eye was their rolling gait, a bit like a tired human two-year-old's.

They did not venture as close as the Emperor penguin, but did not stray from their course, despite human observers.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 10:26 a.m. EST, December 12, 2006

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Antarctic ice collapse tied to greenhouse gasesAntarctica, Larsen B Ice Shelf: NASA Photo
OSLO, Norway (Reuters) -- Scientists said Monday that they had found the first direct evidence linking the collapse of an ice shelf in Antarctica to global warming widely blamed on human activities.

Shifts in winds whipping around the southern ocean, tied to human emissions of greenhouse gases, had warmed the Antarctic peninsula jutting up toward South America and contributed to the break-up of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002, they said.

"This is the first time that anyone has been able to demonstrate a physical process directly linking the break-up of the Larsen Ice Shelf to human activity," said Gareth Marshall, lead author of the study at the British Antarctic Survey.

The chunk that collapsed into the Weddell Sea in 2002 was 3,250 square kilometers (1,255 square miles), bigger than Luxembourg or the U.S. state of Rhode Island.

Most climate experts say greenhouse gases, mainly from fossil fuels burnt in power plants, factories and cars, are warming the globe and could bring more erosion, floods or rising seas. They are wary of linking individual events -- such as a heat wave or a storm -- to warming.

But the British and Belgian scientists, writing in the Journal of Climate, said there was evidence that global warming and a thinning of the ozone layer over Antarctica, caused by human chemicals, had strengthened winds blowing clockwise around Antarctica.

The Antarctic peninsula's chain of mountains, about 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) high, used to shield the Larsen ice shelf on its eastern side from the warmer winds.

"If the westerlies strengthen the number of times that the warm air gets over the mountain barrier increases quite dramatically," John King, a co-author of the study at the British Antarctic Survey, told Reuters.

Warmer summers
The average summer temperatures on the north-east of the Antarctic peninsula had been about 2.2 Celsius (35.96 Fahrenheit) over the past 40 years.

But on summer days when winds swept over the mountains into the area the air could warm by 5.5 Celsius (9.9 Fahrenheit). And on the warmest days, temperatures could reach about 10 Celsius (50.00 Fahrenheit).

King said temperature records in Antarctica went back only about 50 years but that there was evidence from sediments on the seabed -- which differ if covered by ice or open water -- that the Larsen ice shelf had been in place for 5,000 years.

"Further south on the main Antarctic continent temperatures are pretty stable," he said. "There is no clear direct evidence of human activity affecting the main area."

In Ottawa, the director of the British Antarctic Survey said that if the warming trend continued then other ice shelves would one day be at risk.

"Ultimately, yes, I think that's bound to be the case ... We've seen this southward migration as the wave of increased temperatures has penetrated further and further south," Dr Chris Rapley told Reuters in an interview Monday.

The collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf did not raise world sea levels because the ice was floating.

King said the removal of the floating ice barrier could accelerate the flow of land-based glaciers toward the sea, at least in the short term. That ice could raise sea levels.

Rapley said recent data had revealed for the first time that two major glaciers in eastern Antarctica were also starting to discharge ice into the sea.

Source: CNN, Tuesday, POSTED: 11:24 a.m. EDT, October 17, 2006  (11:24 GMT) 

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The day in numbers: 1.8 kilometersIceberg: New Zealand Defence Force Photo
(CNN) -- About 100 icebergs from Antarctica are floating towards New Zealand. The naturally occurring -- but rare -- phenomena pose a major threat to international shipping.

1.8 km: The length of the largest iceberg in the group. The icy armada has been pushed north after circulating on ocean currents and a series of southern storms.

167 km:
The size of the original superberg, A-43, that the flotilla of icebergs are believed to have come from. A-43 broke off the Ronne Ice Shelf near the Falkland Islands around six years ago and started splitting apart as it drifted into the southern Atlantic. By January 2005 it had shrunk to 51 km by 21 km and was renamed A-43A.

11:40 pm:
The time at which Frederick Fleet, a lookout on the Titanic, saw an iceberg and struck a warning bell three times. He went to the telephone and called Sixth Officer James Moody and said: "Iceberg right ahead." Within two hours, 1, 517 passengers and crew had drowned.

40,000: The number of medium to larger sized icebergs that "calve" annually in Greenland.

3: The number of polar icebreakers the U.S. Coast Guard deploys each year to the Arctic and Antarctic to maintain navigation channels and support scientific missions. During peacetime, icebergs are considered the most dangerous maritime threat.

1960: The year in which the U.S. Ice Patrol conducted a number of experiments in iceberg demolition. Experiments included dropping bombs, planting bombs inside an iceberg and using brooms to coating icebergs with carbon black to accelerate solar melting. It was concluded that monitoring and warning mariners of the location of an iceberg was a better option.

Source: CNN, Tuesday, POSTED: 6:08 a.m. EST, November 8, 2006

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Powerful quake hits S. Atlantic
TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of at least 6.9 hit in the Scotia Sea between South America and Antarctica, Japanese and U.S. officials said Sunday.

No tsunami alert was issued by the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, said Dale Grant, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center.

The warning center monitors seismic activity in the Pacific area.

The quake struck at 1:41 a.m. local time (0341 GMT) with a preliminary magnitude of 6.9, the USGS said.

Japan's Meteorological Agency put the preliminary magnitude at 7.2.

The USGS estimated the earthquake's depth at 10 kilometers (six miles). The quake was centered in the Scotia Sea, approximately 495 kilometers (305 miles) west-southwest of Bristol Island in the South Sandwich island group, the USGS said.

Source: CNN, Sunday, August 20, 2006 Posted: 0557 GMT (1357 HKT)

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Scientists: Ozone layer recovery will take longer
GENEVA, Switzerland (AP) -- The atmosphere will take up to 15 years longer than previously expected to recover from pollution and repair its ozone hole over the southern hemisphere, the United Nations' weather organization said Friday.


Antarctica, Ozone Layer: AP PhotoThinning in the ozone layer -- due to chemical compounds leaked from refrigerators, air conditioners and other devices -- exposes the Earth to harmful solar rays. Too much ultraviolet radiation can cause skin cancer and destroy tiny plants at the beginning of the food chain.

Scientists said Friday it would take until 2065, instead of 2050 as previously expected, for the ozone layer to recover and the hole over the Antarctic to close.

"The Antarctic ozone hole has not become more severe since the late 1990s, but large ozone holes are expected to occur for decades to come," ozone specialist Geir Braathen told reporters in summarizing a new report by the World Meteorological Organization and the U.N. Environment Program. The report will be released next year.

The ozone hole, a thinner-than-normal area in the upper stratosphere's radiation-absorbing gases, has formed each year since the mid-1980s at the end of the Antarctic winter in August, and generally is at its biggest in late September.

Experts said they extended the projected recovery because chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, would continue to leak into the atmosphere from air conditioners, aerosol spray cans and other equipment for years to come.

But there was cause for celebration, they said, noting a decline in CFCs in the first two atmospheric layers above Earth.

"The level of ozone-depleting substances continues to decline from its 1992-1994 peak in the troposphere and the late 1990s peak in the stratosphere," WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud said in a statement.

Less of these chemicals are used every year, he said, after 180 countries in 1997 committed to reducing CFCs under the Montreal Protocal.

"This shows that the Montreal Protocol is effective and is working," he said.

Last year, the ozone hole reached about 27 million square kilometers (10 million square miles) on September 20 -- just below its largest size in 2003 of about 29 million square kilometers (11.2 million square miles), WMO experts said.

Source: CNN, Friday, August 18, 2006; Posted: 10:07 a.m. EDT (14:07 GMT)

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Antarctica: Stunning vistas, wildlife draw more tourists
By Brian Witte (Associated Press)

BROWN BLUFF, Antarctica (AP) -- Stepping carefully down the cruise ship's gangway, I wait for a break in the swelling waves to make my move.

With a quick stride, I settle on to a small rubber boat. Within minutes, our small group of tourists bounces by floating chunks of strikingly blue ice and a napping seal. The boat lands on a rocky beach, and I swing my legs over the Zodiac to step on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Walking by blocks of beached ice, my senses are struck by a tremendous sight and a pungent guano smell. Hundreds of adelie penguins are waddling around in front of me. Their numbers stretch high up a rocky slope, about as far as I can see.

It's our first landing on this remotest of continents, and already the two-day cruise from Ushuaia, Argentina, through infamously rough seas is paying off. Increasingly, travelers worldwide are realizing this vast crystalline wilderness at the bottom of the world is well worth the trouble to visit. Some 26,000 visited in the past year, and the number increases annually.

"Each year seems to be the highest ever," says Kara Weller, who is leading this trip for Quark Expeditions.

It may be the coldest continent in the world, but the weather can be surprisingly pleasant during the December days of the austral summer. Temperatures often get above freezing -- even into the 40s on the peninsula. Trips usually run from November to March.

Most of this trip spanning 11 days is spent at sea on the M/V Orlova, a 100-meter ice-strengthened cruise ship that is nearly full with about 100 passengers. The ship is comfortable, but not fancy. It has a bar and lounge with a small library and an auditorium. Small yachts also make trips to Antarctica. Much larger cruise ships also come down here.

Unforgettable experiences

We leave port on a Friday night. The next day, we're already able to watch the powerful glides and graceful arcs of wandering albatrosses and other birds of the southern seas.

To pass the time at sea, tour guides mix in numerous lectures by various experts, including a bird specialist, a marine biologist, a geologist, a historian -- even an artist who gives lessons on drawing and painting icebergs and penguins. Lectures on global warming are surprisingly absent on this trip, though, but Weller says the topic is usually discussed.

Many of the trip's highlights happened during landings on the continent and nearby islands.

Watching an avalanche from a distance or hearing the stentorian cracking boom of a calving iceberg are unforgettable experiences. Still, there is plenty to see from the ship's decks. With few hours of darkness this time of year, tourists are able to maximize sightseeing.

So long as you're heavily dressed to keep warm from strong winds, it's easy to spend a couple of hours on deck watching a large array of wind-carved icebergs floating by, some bright white, others various shades of blue. We pass pristine landscapes of high mountains laden with big hanging glaciers. Whales also rise up into view occasionally. Sunsets can be long-lasting, lighting up the sky with bright orange and reds.

We see hundreds more penguins on Aitcho Island. Gentoo penguin nests are clumped together, and they are hard at work using their beaks to steal small stones from each other to improve their nests. For the most part, the awkwardly sneaky penguins seem to break even amid the ruckus.

It's not long, though, before we get our first taste of the extremely fast-changing Antarctic weather. Strong winds and thick ice force us to cancel a landing at Paulet Island, home to thousands of adelie penguins.

The unpredictable nature of Antarctic weather was evident again several hours later, when our path to Devil Island was blocked by ice. Our ship had to turn around as we came across sheets of ice at sea. It's not so bad being stuck on the ship, though, with plenty of large tabular icebergs to watch at sea.

After yet another canceled landing at Half Moon Island the next day, we finally get a break in the weather and make it to Deception Island, a dormant volcano. As chinstrap penguins pop up and down in quick bursts beside the ship, we ease through a narrow opening called Neptune's Bellows and to a natural harbor known as Whaler's Bay.

A couple of hours later, we cruise up the island's caldera to Pendulum's Cove, where visitors can take a polar plunge in waters heated by the volcanic activity.

Penguin highways

The next morning, we land on Cuverville Island, where scores of gentoo penguins are sitting on eggs. Before heading back to the ship, we take a Zodiac cruise around a group of icebergs, giving us a close look into cavernous openings with swirling blue patterns.

After lunch, we visit Danco Island, with more breeding gentoo penguins. Here, they have worked out a network of well-worn "penguin highways," trails in the snow to aid climbs up a steep hill to other penguin groups. While waiting to get back to the ship, a couple of us spot a bright orange 10-legged spider-like creature floating between some rocks by the beach. Known as a sea spider, it would more than cover the palm of a hand. It's one of those unusual critters you can come across here.


A gentoo penguin feeds two recently hatched chicks.Back on the ship, we get some alarming news that one of the older passengers is very sick and will need to be evacuated. This means we will make a long detour overnight and go back to the South Shetland Islands to get to an airstrip. Because of evacuations like this, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, many tour groups highly recommend that passengers get medical evacuation insurance.

After the passenger was evacuated to Chile, we visited Ardley Island, where newly hatched gentoo penguins are being fed by their parents. An adult penguin delicately takes the chick's head into its mouth and regurgitates a snack of krill into the chick's mouth, leaving a slimy strand from beak to beak.

Then we dropped by research stations on a nearby island. One of them even has a gift shop. The area is the only eyesore on the trip, with rusting barrels and the smell of fuel in the air.

Trying to make up for some lost time, we head south again for a packed last day, hitting one of the trip's highlights at Paradise Bay. Mountains here are covered with glaciers, which press down in a still, jumbled bluish-white fury of ice.

At our farthest point south, we are still 1,487 nautical miles from the South Pole. The whole trip will be 2,268 nautical miles.

Before making the two-day trip back, we wrap up the visit in the Lemaire Channel, where the water creates mirror images of a long string of mountains on both sides of us.

A pod of orca whales swim quickly beside the ship, their black and white bodies submerged but visible through the clear water.

Source: CNN, Tuesday, August 15, 2006; Posted: 11:32 a.m. EDT (15:32 GMT)   

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Calls for regulation of rising Antarctica tourism
By Brian Witte (Associated Press)

Ice Formations: AP PhotoDECEPTION ISLAND, Antarctica (AP) -- While walking beside the ruins of an old whaling station at this popular tourist stop, a unique aspect of visiting Antarctica is immediately apparent.

There are no authorities like park rangers around to keep an eye on things. Only tour guides and our consciences can keep us from damaging these decaying structures or getting too close to the seals and penguins on the dark-brown cinder beach of this volcanic island. Graffiti on oil tanks and an old airplane hanger indicates that not everyone who has stopped here has respected the ruins.

There are no binding limits on the number of people who can visit sensitive areas in this remote wilderness. With the number of visitors reaching new highs in recent years, some environmental groups have been pushing for regulations on how many people can visit each year.

Discussions about limiting Antarctic tourism have been raised since the 2001 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, and the topic was brought up again at the annual meeting, which was held in June in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, which supports regulations, said in a paper at the meeting that nothing has been done in almost five years of discussions.

"Antarctic tourist numbers are increasing steeply and appear likely to continue increasing steeply," the organization stated. "Presently, nothing is in place to prevent these numbers -- already above 26,000 -- reaching high tens of thousands within 10 years."

Alan Hemmings, a senior adviser to the ASOC who attended the June meeting, believes limits need to be established -- before it's too late.

"Whilst most people, and most operators, will do their best to minimize impact, that is all they are doing -- minimizing it, not avoiding it," Hemmings said in an e-mail response to questions about Antarctic tourism.

But Denise Landau, executive director of the International Association of Antarctic Tourism Operators, said the number of tourists is far from overwhelming, and tour operators have become far more sophisticated in how they conduct trips. She points out that her organization works very hard to make a unique part of the world accessible to people in an environmentally responsible way.

"We do look after the place and we do care about it, so it's growing but it's not at a point now where it's not manageable," she said in a telephone interview.

Treaty system
A key part of the debate is Antarctica's unique political situation. The continent is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, which has been in effect since 1961. The treaty designates Antarctica as a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science.

More than 40 nations, including the United States, have agreed to the treaty. Although different countries have research stations and bases in Antarctica, no single nation has control over any section of the continent.

Back when the treaty was signed, tourism was almost nonexistent. It has grown over the past 50 years, from a few hundred a year to more than 26,000, according to IAATO.

About 80 outfitters are voluntary members of IAATO, which was founded in 1991 to advocate and practice safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to Antarctica.

"To date, private sector Antarctic tourism has developed as a remarkably low impact and cooperative model," Landau said in a statement at the meeting in Edinburgh. "Thousands of people have been able to experience and appreciate the Antarctic wilderness, with much less environmental impact than in any other part of the globe."

The group has established procedures and guidelines for trips. They include regulations and restrictions on how many people can go ashore at one time, staff-to-passenger ratios and guidelines for activities while ashore. Procedures set up by the group also call for reporting both before and after visits. IAATO operators also report environmental concerns.

Landau said many operators in IAATO revere Antarctica and wouldn't do anything to cause it harm.

"If it was a huge problem, we'd be the first ones to scream and yell," she said. "They want to protect the places that they're visiting."

Visitor awareness
During a December trip with IAATO-member Quark Expeditions, trip organizers were careful to emphasize how about 100 passengers should conduct themselves on shore. We were reminded during lectures -- and even with a staff-produced play on the ship -- that we must not get too close to wildlife. Staff members always accompanied us on landings.

Once during the trip, when a group of crab-eater seals on a chunk of ice appeared agitated by our approach on a Zodiac boat, the driver immediately recognized it and withdrew. For the most part, though, many penguins and seals we encountered didn't appear too bothered by our presence. It wasn't uncommon to see penguins waddle within several feet of human visitors. But penguins could be startled. A sudden, too-close approach could scare a penguin into reversing its direction from a group of nests to the closest water.

Tourists have taken note of the impact rising numbers of visitors could have in the future.

In interviews with passengers during the trip, some said they had heard the destination had become much more popular in recent years. They said they wanted to visit before there were too many tourists.

"I wanted to see it hopefully in its more unspoiled manner than what we may get ten years from now," said Marla Shelton, of Rochester Hills, Michigan. "There have been a few places that I would liked to have gone before they got totally touristed out."

A rising concern for Landau and environmental groups is the growth of outfitters who conduct trips to Antarctica without being members of IAATO.

"We're not so worried about the growth," Landau said. "We're just worried about the new parties."

Hemmings is concerned tourism will continue to grow at a much steeper annual increase than in the recent past. Among other factors, he said the Oscar-winning film "March of the Penguins" could boost tourism further. Hemmings said a film about explorer Ernest Shackleton raised tourism numbers "quite quickly and appreciably."

Hemmings said another concern is that tourists want to go to interesting biological sites. Despite the large size of Antarctica, Hemmings said such areas are limited, because only about 2 percent of Antarctica is seasonally ice-free.

Still, Hemmings isn't opposed to tourism, and ASOC isn't set on a particular number of people who could visit each year.

"Whatever the number -- and it would be in excess of the present numbers -- one would need to partition it sensibly between regions," Hemmings said.
 

Source: CNN, Tuesday, August 15, 2006; Posted: 11:10 a.m. EDT (15:10 GMT)

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Mother-of-pearl clouds float over AntarcticaRare nacreous clouds above Australia's Mawson station in Antarctica: AP Photo

HOBART, Australia (AP) -- Some of the coldest temperatures on the planet brought a rare cloud formation to the skies over Antarctica, scientists said Tuesday.

Meteorological officer Renae Baker captured spectacular images of the nacreous clouds, also known as polar stratospheric clouds, last week at Australia's Mawson station in Antarctica.

The clouds only occur at high polar latitudes in winter, requiring temperatures less than minus 176 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 80 degrees Celsius) . A weather balloon measured temperatures at minus 189 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 87 degrees Celsius) on the day the photos were taken.

Resembling airborne mother-of-pearl shells, the clouds are produced when fading light at sunset passes through water-ice crystals blown along a strong jet of stratospheric air more than six miles above the ground.

"Amazingly, the winds at this height were blowing at nearly 230 kilometers (143 miles) per hour," Baker said on the Australian government's Antarctic Division's Web site.

Australian Antarctic Division atmospheric scientist Andrew Klekociuk said the clouds are seldom seen, but are occasionally produced by air passing over polar mountains.

"You have to be in the right part of the world in winter, and have the sun just below your horizon to see them," he said.

Source: CNN, Tuesday, August 1, 2006; Posted: 11:28 a.m. EDT (15:28 GMT)

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Brazil's military to airlift penguins back home

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) -- Brazil's air force and navy will transport more than 100 penguins to Antarctica next month after the flightless birds were stranded on Rio de Janeiro beaches.

Penguins arrive from the Antarctic Circle on ice floes that melt in the vicinity of Brazil's shore and the birds wash up on Rio beaches every winter. Typically many of the birds are sent to local zoos.

A plane carrying equipment for an Antarctic naval base will take the penguins to Brazil's southernmost region next month, an air force spokesman said on Monday. They will continue their journey on a naval ship, which will release them into the ocean in their Antarctic habitat.

Source: CNN, Monday, July 31, 2006; Posted: 1:36 p.m. EDT (17:36 GMT)

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Man missing from U.S. ship near Antarctica

DENVER, Colorado (AP) -- A crewman was missing from an American research ship near Antarctica, and the vessel and a Chilean plane were searching for him Wednesday.

Joshua Spillane, 31, a marine technologist from Bellingham, Washington, apparently fell overboard from the Laurence M. Gould on Monday, Raytheon Polar Services said.

Raytheon said the ship was making a routine shuttle between the U.S. Antarctic Program's Palmer Station and Punta Arenas, Chile.

The trip through the Drake Passage, regarded as one of the fiercest bodies of water on the globe, usually takes four days.

Raytheon spokeswoman Valerie Carroll said the ship carries emergency gear but she did not know whether Spillane had any with him when he disappeared.

Raytheon said U.S., Chilean and company officials were conducting "routine fact-finding" about the incident.

Raytheon Polar Services, based in the Denver suburb of Centennial, provides science, operations and maintenance services to three U.S. research stations and two research vessels in the Antarctic. It is a unit of Raytheon Technical Services Co.

Source: CNN, Wednesday, April 19, 2006; Posted: 7:55 p.m. EDT (23:55 GMT)

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Scientists dig up million-year-old ice cube

TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- A million-year-old ice sample drilled from 3 kilometers under the Antarctic and unveiled in Tokyo on Tuesday could yield vital clues on climate change, Japanese scientists said.

Researchers, showing off the cylindrical samples of what they said was the oldest ice ever to be retrieved, said studying air trapped inside "core" samples taken from various depths under ground could also help predict how the Earth's weather patterns will change in the future.

"The ice core is made up of snow that fell in the distant past," said project leader Hideaki Motoyama of the National Institute of Polar Research, dressed snugly in a parka after unveiling the gleaming ice in a room kept at minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit).

"You can use it to examine changes in temperature, levels of carbon dioxide and methane over time, information that is only available from the core," he said.

Researchers at the Dome Fuji base in the eastern Antarctic spent more than two years on the delicate operation of drilling into the ice sheet, coming up with the million-year-old samples in January and shipping them to Japan on an icebreaker.

Research based on a previous study of Antarctic ice and published by the journal Science last year said concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane were far higher now than at any time in the last 650,000 years.

The Japanese team will look farther into the past and are also hoping the ice samples will yield opportunities to study the evolution of tiny organisms trapped in the ice.

"The environment there is very harsh, with temperatures about minus 45 degrees, so we don't know if life can be sustained," Motoyama said. "But we believe we will find organisms."

The researchers believe they can dig about another 20 meters into the ice at the Antarctic site before reaching base rock.

Source: CNN, Wednesday, April 19, 2006; Posted: 9:45 a.m. EDT (13:45 GMT)

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Report: Air warming above Antarctica

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The air over Antarctica is warming even faster than in other parts of the world, according to an analysis of 30 years of weather balloon data.

While surface warming has been reported in parts of Antarctica, this is the first report of broad-scale climate change across the whole continent, the British Antarctic Survey says in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

The weather balloon data show a warming of 0.9 degree to 1.3 degree Fahrenheit per decade over the last 30 years. By contrast, the average worldwide temperature has risen 0.2 degree per decade in that time, according to the paper.

Detailed records from the weather balloons launched at nine stations around the continent, including Russian records, have only recently become available, the researchers said.

The research team led by John Turner reported that they could not provide a definite cause for the warming, but added that the observed increases are what would be expected as a result of warming caused by greenhouse gases trapping heat from the sun in the atmosphere.

Source: CNN, Thursday, March 30, 2006; Posted: 2:48 p.m. EST (19:48 GMT)

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Final Report:
Leopard Seal Kills Kirsty Brown (Antarctic Scientist) in Antarctica

The death of a British marine biologist in Antarctica [July 2003] is thought to be the first human fatality ever caused by a leopard seal. Since more and more people are visiting Antarctica each year, scientists fear further seal attacks are on the rise.

  • Final report into the Interactions between humans and leopard seals - A review board was setup to gather information on interactions between humans and leopard seals following the tragic death of Kirsty Brown (Antarctic Scientist), who was attacked and killed by a leopard seal in July 2003. This study was sponsored by the Kirsty Brown Fund and hosted at British Antarctic Survey.

    This one-year study has complied data on interactions between humans and leopard seals, from over 180 questionnaires and interviews, were analyzed to provide the information required for any assessment of the risks posed by leopard seals to people working in the Antarctic. The results have been published in the journal Antarctic Science and the full report is available to download from the BAS site - View Report (.pdf 1.1 MB).

    Source: British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Friday, March 10

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Climate risk 'worse than thought'
Scientists warn of Greenland, West Antarctic ice sheets melting


An iceberg is seen melting in Kulusuk, Greenland: AP PhotoLONDON, England (AP) -- The threat posed by climate change may be greater than previously thought, and global warming is advancing at an unsustainable rate, a report by scientists published Monday says.

The UK government-commissioned report collates evidence presented at a Meteorological Office conference on climate change last year. It says scientists now have "greater clarity and reduced uncertainty" about the impacts of climate change.

In a foreword, Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was clear that "the risks of climate change may well be greater than we thought."

"It is now plain that the emission of greenhouse gases, associated with industrialization and economic growth from a world population that has increased six-fold in 200 years, is causing global warming at a rate that is unsustainable," he wrote.

Over the next century, global warming is expected to raise ocean levels, intensify storms, spread disease to new areas and shift climate zones, possibly making farmlands drier and deserts wetter.

The U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says temperatures rose by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) during the 20th century. Computer modeling predicts increases of between 2.5 degrees and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.4 degrees and 5.8 degrees Celsius) by the year 2100, depending on how much is dome to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists have warned of climatic "tipping points" such as the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melting and the Gulf Stream shutting down.

In the British report, the head of the British Antarctic Survey, Chris Rapley, warned that the huge west Antarctic ice sheet may be starting to disintegrate, an event that could raise sea levels by 16 feet (five meters).

Rapley said a previous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report playing down worries about the ice sheet's stability should be revised.

"The last IPCC report characterized Antarctica as a slumbering giant in terms of climate change," he wrote. "I would say it is now an awakened giant. There is real concern."

Blair's vow to put climate change at the center of the international agenda during Britain's leadership of the G8 and the European Union last year met brought only a limited response.

He was unable to overcome the Bush administration's antipathy to the Kyoto climate-change accord -- rejected by the U.S. government on the grounds it would damage the economy. British ministers also have acknowledged that Britain is unlikely to meet its own target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2010.

Source: CNN, Wednesday, February 1, 2006; Posted: 12:34 p.m. EST (17:34 GMT)

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Dead whale in Greenpeace protest
BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) -- Greenpeace activists parked a 20-ton dead whale outside the Japanese Embassy in Berlin to protest against the country's whaling program on Thursday
.

The dead whale is on a truck outside the Japanese Embassy in Berlin: AP PhotoHundreds of people gathered to catch a glimpse of the 17-meter (56-foot) fin whale, which the environmental group transported to the German capital late on Wednesday on a trailer emblazoned with banners saying "Stop Whaling!"

"This fin whale is one of the most endangered species in the world and Japan still hunts them," said Greenpeace spokeswoman Stefanie Werner. "It must stop."

Greenpeace said it hoped the whale's presence would demonstrate to Japan the futility of its whaling program, which has caused controversy for nearly 20 years.

A spokesman for the Japanese Embassy in Berlin said it regretted Greenpeace's move, adding the country's whaling activities were carried out in accordance with international agreements.

Found stranded on Germany's Baltic coast last week, the whale is due to return there for an autopsy later on Thursday.

"You don't get whales coming to Berlin too often," said Berlin police spokesman Bernhard Schodrowski.

Japan abandoned commercial whaling in 1986, in line with an international moratorium, but began catching whales again the following year for what it calls scientific research. Critics say the whale meat goes to up-market Japanese restaurants.

Greenpeace told Reuters on Thursday that Japanese hunters had killed at least 123 whales in the icy seas off the coast of Antarctica since the start of the whaling season this year, adding that its activists had managed to disrupt several hunts.

Earlier this week, 17 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Britain, France and Germany, jointly called on Japan to put a stop to its Antarctic whaling programme.

Source: CNN, Thursday, January 19, 2006; Posted: 8:39 a.m. EST (13:39 GMT)

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Greenpeace, whalers clash at sea
SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- The Greenpeace environmental group says a Japanese whaling ship has deliberately rammed its protest ship Arctic Sunrise in the Southern Ocean.

Crew members inspect damage to the bow of the Arctic Sunrise: AP PhotoBut the Greenpeace claim has been disputed by the Japanese side, which said the Arctic Sunrise initiated Sunday's incident with its research vessel Nisshin Maru in waters off the Antarctic.

Greenpeace says the Nisshin Maru is the factory ship of the Fisheries Agency of Japan's whaling fleet.

No one was injured in Sunday's incident, though Greenpeace said its ship was "battered and bruised."

Greenpeace has been shadowing the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary in recent weeks.

It says that despite international protests about Japan's annual "scientific" whale hunt, the Fisheries Agency of Japan has sharply increased its catch of minke whales and added fin whales to the kill.

In a statement Sunday, Greenpeace expedition leader Shane Rattenbury said: "There is no way to describe this as anything but a deliberate ramming which placed the safety of our ship and the lives of our crew in severe danger."

In response, the Fisheries Agency's Institute of Cetacean Research said its Nisshin Maru was deliberately rammed by the Arctic Sunrise "while it was attempting to transfer cargo."

According to Rattenbury, the incident happened Sunday morning as Greenpeace activists aboard inflatables were beginning to paint the words "whale meat from sanctuary" on the side of a supply ship, the Oriental Bluebird, which was taking on whale meat from the Nisshin Maru.

He said the Arctic Sunrise was watching the action from about a kilometer (0.6 miles) away, when the Nisshin Maru suddenly disengaged from the supply vessel and headed for the Arctic Sunrise, striking it on the port side.

He said the Nisshin Maru then steamed away.

But in a statement from the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo, Director-General Hiroshi Hatanaka said the bow of the Arctic Sunrise hit the Japanese vessel twice.

"The captain of the Nisshin Maru confirmed to ICR today that Greenpeace had rammed our vessel, which has sustained some damage. Luckily, no crew members were injured," he said.

A second Greenpeace ship, the Esperanza, was in the area at the time. About 70 crew and campaigners are on the two ships in the Southern Ocean as part of a Greenpeace campaign called "Defending our Oceans."

Another ship, the Sea Shepherd, which is not part of Greenpeace, has also been in the area.

Last week, the research institute said it was resuming what it termed its whaling research in the Southern Ocean "despite harassment and illegal actions by environmental groups Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace."

The institute said the Japanese ships would continue to use water cannons to deter the activists.

The Southern Ocean extends from the coast of Antarctica north to 60 degrees south latitude, which coincides with the Antarctic Treaty limit.

The Southern Ocean is the fourth largest of the world's five oceans, after the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and Indian Ocean. It is larger than the Arctic Ocean.

Source: CNN, Sunday, January 8, 2006; Posted: 7:51 p.m. EST (00:51 GMT)

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Other Polar News

Divers' deaths under polar ice remain mysteryCoast Guard Cutter Healy (AP Photo)
SEATTLE, Washington (AP) -- Five hundred miles north of Alaska, a group of shipmates from the Coast Guard cutter Healy tossed a football on the blue-and-white, diamond-hard Arctic ice.

Others snapped panoramic photos and took walks during the two-hour break, stretching their legs after a month aboard the 420-foot icebreaker.

Lt. Jessica Hill and Boatswain's Mate Steven Duque seized the chance for a training dive and slipped into a patch of open water near the Healy's bow. A team held ropes attached to the divers, lest they become disoriented under the ice. Several research scientists watched from the deck.

But no one knows what happened on the other end of those ropes on that cold, brilliant summer day -- except that both divers died.

The Coast Guard has started two investigations, relieved the Healy's captain, pulled all diving equipment off the ship and suspended all polar diving. But nothing has been said about what might have killed Hill, 31, and Duque, 22, on August 17, or when the investigations will conclude.

"We can get no word whatsoever, and that's tough," Hill's father, William Hill Jr., said. "We can't even get the death certificates."

The Healy was on a research mission backed by the National Science Foundation. On board were three dozen scientists collecting data that would help them map the ocean floor and study the Earth's crust to better understand earthquakes, tsunamis and plate tectonics.

Hill, the ship's marine science officer and a native of St. Augustine, Florida, was an experienced civilian diver before she joined the Coast Guard about four years ago. Her shipmates described her as a fun-loving officer who, during a trip to the North Pole last year, posed on the ice in a bikini by a red and white striped pole.

Duque, whose responsibilities included keeping the Healy's decks in order, operating machinery and driving launch boats, was from Miami, Florida. Colleagues said he was exceedingly professional and inspired others to take their jobs seriously.

Both attended the Navy's dive school, which is required of all Coast Guard divers.

The pair had been underwater for about 10 minutes, estimated Harm Van Avendonk, a University of Texas geophysics researcher, and something appeared to be wrong.

"I saw people from the bow looking intently down on the ice, and I sensed immediately that they didn't look relaxed," he said. "It was taking a long time for the divers to reappear."

In a blur, the crew's training took over, several witnesses said.

The divers were pulled up by the ropes. Blankets and stretchers were rushed onto the ice, and EMTs immediately began performing CPR. The divers were carried to the ship's sick bay, where they were pronounced dead roughly two hours after the dive.

"What I can tell you is this: These people were very well trained. Every time we did something we had to have a safety briefing," said Steve Stevenoski, a high school teacher from Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, who was videotaping the frozen seascape when he heard shouts from the dive support team.

"There was an accident that was completely unforeseen," he said.

Captain relieved of duty
According to Coast Guard protocol, they would have created a "dive profile," detailing who was diving, how far down they were going and how long they would spend at various depths.

Typically such plans are drawn up by a ship's dive officer, though the captain is ultimately responsible for the safety of divers. That could explain why Capt. Douglas Russell was relieved of command less than two weeks later. Vice Adm. Charles D. Wurster, commander of the Coast Guard in the Pacific, said he had lost confidence in Russell.

The only signs of the tragedy during a recent tour of the ship were a grief counseling pamphlet on a table in the scientists' lounge and the locked and empty room where dive equipment was stored. The equipment was shipped to the Navy's dive school in Panama City, Florida, for examination.

One Coast Guard investigation is focusing on the root cause in hopes of preventing future accidents; the other is a broader administrative investigation that could result in findings of responsibility.

One investigator, a lieutenant, said Hill and Duque were the first Coast Guard divers to die underwater since the 1970s.

The Coast Guard described the dive as routine, but any dive in frigid waters beneath 4-feet-thick ice poses serious dangers. The cold can numb the extremities. Divers typically wear dry suits, which use air to help determine buoyancy. Such suits can balloon during ascents as pressure decreases -- if the diver doesn't release the air quickly enough, he or she can shoot toward the surface and crash into the ice.

They also must use equipment that can handle the cold, such as breathing regulators outfitted with rubberized covers filled with antifreeze.

The deaths were hard on the Healy's crew of 75, said Ensign Stephen Elliott, who was on the ice as part of the dive support team that day.

"These are people you watch movies with, eat with, joke around with," he said. "It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't live on a ship what it's like to be a shipmate. They were incredible shipmates."

Posted: CNN, 09/24/06 06:53 PM, EDT

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