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Antarctica, 2007 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.

U.S. pushes Japan on whale hunts
TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- The United States is pushing Japan to suspend its hunt of humpback whales, and the American ambassador to Tokyo said Wednesday an agreement to stop it may have already been reached.

Japan dispatched its whaling fleet last month to the Southern Pacific in the first major hunt of humpbacks since the 1960s. Commercial hunts of humpbacks have been banned worldwide since 1966.

Word of a possible delay in the hunt came as the Australian government said it would send planes and a ship to conduct surveillance of Japanese whaling ships off Antarctica.

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer said Japanese and U.S. negotiators were working on an American demand that the hunt -- part of a scientific research program allowed under international rules -- be halted.

"I think we had an agreement this morning or last night between the United States and Japan that humpback whales would not be harvested, I think, until maybe the international whaling conference in June," Schieffer said.

Because of the migration patterns of the whales, such a delay until the next annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission would mean "that it'll be awhile before they're at risk again," he said.

A Japanese official said there was no written agreement to halt the hunt, but acknowledged that Tokyo could be considering changes to its whaling program in light of the fierce international opposition to the hunt.

"To take the concerns and anger of Australian people and other people into consideration, I think the Japanese government has started to have an intensive discussion about what steps should be taken," said Tomohiko Taniguchi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

"But at the moment I have heard no action, or no decision as to whether or not any sort of halt would be done this time around during this research season," he said.

Japan takes more than 1,000 whales a year under the scientific program allowed under International Whaling Commission rules. This year, Japan plans to take some 50 humpbacks.

Critics say the program is a shield for Japan to keep its whaling industry alive until it can overturn a 1986 ban on commercial whaling.

Japanese coastal communities have a long history of eating whale meat, and it was a major staple in the poverty-stricken years after World War II. The red meat, however, has plummeted in popularity as alternatives such as beef have become widely available in Japan.

The Australian planes and ship will collect photographic and video evidence that would be used to decide if Australia will launch legal action to try to stop Japan's whaling program, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said.

Smith also said Australia will lead a group of anti-whaling nations in lodging a formal protest with the Japanese government within the next few days against Japan's hunting plans. He declined to identify the other nations involved, saying it was up to them to name themselves.

"We are dealing here with the slaughter of whales, not scientific research," Smith told a news conference. "That is our start point and our end point."

An Airbus A-319 used by the Australian government's scientific division in Antarctica will conduct surveillance flights over the Japanese fleet.

Australia will also send a ship operated by its Customs service to the area to collect any evidence that could be used in international legal action against Japan.

Smith said that the ship would be stripped of its .50-caliber machine guns before it is deployed, emphasizing that its role would be purely for surveillance.

He said Japan and Australia would continue to have good relations despite "strong feelings on both sides" on the whaling issue.

A Japanese official said Australia's announcement was an improvement on earlier threats to send military planes and warships.

"Australia is free to do whatever it wants, send planes or a ship," said Ryotaro Suzuki, director of the fisheries division at Japan's Foreign Ministry. "We have no immediate plans to lodge a protest against the Australian action, as long as they don't use force to stop the Japanese whaling fleet."

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 5:51 p.m. EST, Wed December 19, 2007


Anger over Australia's whaler hunt
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Using the military to track Japanese whalers as part of Australia's anti-whaling campaign could cause a diplomatic rift with Tokyo, an opposition politician warned Friday.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters Thursday that he will detail next week how his government intends to gather evidence of illegal conduct by Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Ocean in the coming weeks.

Rudd would not rule out using warships and air force planes to take pictures that could bolster Australia's case in an international court against Japanese whaling in the Australia-declared whale sanctuary in the Antarctic Ocean.

"We would not rule out the use of Australian assets to collect appropriate data, including photographic evidence concerning whaling activities," Rudd said.

However, opposition leader Brendan Nelson, who was defense minister before the Nov. 24 election that put Labor in power, questioned whether such a military deployment would harm relations with Japan, Australia's second-most-important trading partner after China.

"I would be very concerned about sending war assets -- warships and air force planes -- down to look at the Japanese whaling fleet in terms of how is that going to escalate the diplomatic tensions between Australia and Japan," Nelson told reporters.

Japan is allowed by the International Whaling Commission to harpoon whales for scientific research and to sell the carcasses commercially.

Labor argues that Australia could take action against the whalers in the International Court of Justice in The Hague or the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea in Hamburg to add to international pressure against whaling.

Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi, whose responsibilities include whaling, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio through an interpreter that Japan "will not tolerate any moves to obstruct our research whaling program."

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 8:46 a.m. EST, Fri December 14, 2007


Antarctic cruise liner hits iceberg, 150 rescued

MS Explorer (AFP - Getty Images)
The MS Explorer heels to starboard Friday after hitting submerged ice.
AFP - Getty Images

Passenger Vessel First to Go Under in Region; All 154 Aboard Saved
Cruise Ship Sinks Off Antarctica


Rescued cruiseliner passengers spend night in Antarctica
Rescued passengers from a Canadian-chartered passenger ship received the rare opportunity to spend the night in Antarctica Saturday after their cruiseliner slammed into an iceberg and sank off the frozen continent.

All 154 passengers and crew were loaded into lifeboats and taken by another ship to nearby Chilean and Uruguayan military bases in Antarctica. They are expected to be flown to southern Chile or Argentina later on Saturday.

The Canadian GAP Adventures company that ran the ill-fated cruise said it was making arrangements to fly the 100 passengers, among them Australians, Britons, Canadians and Americans, to their respective homes.

"Their families have been contacted and they have been able to contact their families. They're all in good spirits," GAP Adventures spokeswoman Marie-Anne MacRae told AFP.

"We're going to work out arrangements for flying them back home," she added.

The Explorer, a Liberian-registered cruiseliner that was chartered by a Canadian tour company, struck an iceberg off near the island of San Carlos early Friday and sank at about 1830 GMT that same day, according to Chilean military officials.

"There was wind, and it was very cold, and we were wet because of the waves," crew member Andrea Salas, 38, told Argentina's radio Continental.

She said the passengers and crew spent three to four hours on lifeboats before they were rescued by a Norwegian cruise ship, the Nordnorge, that happened to be nearby.

"They are in good condition. There is no hypothermia, they all have food and clothes. Everything is OK," Nordnorge captain Arnvid Hansen told AFP by phone after the Titanic-style accident.

Chilean Navy and Air Force personnel then ferried 84 people to Chile's Frei military base, and the remaining 70 to Uruguay's Artigas military bases, both in Antartica, for an overnight stay.

The captain of the Explorer and another senior officer stayed on board the 2,400-tonne Liberian-registered Explorer until it became clear it would sink.

Susan Hayes, GAP's vice president of marketing, said the night-time evacuation went smoothly. "They actually had several hours while the pumps were pumping the water from the bilge."

All passengers onboard received evacuation training the first day they arrived on the ship, the company said.

The National Geographic Endeavor ship also helped in the rescue effort, officials said.

The Lloyds List maritime publication said the Explorer had five "deficiencies" at its last inspection including problems with a watertight door.

The ship, which was built in 1969, also had lifeboat maintenance problems and missing search and rescue plans, according to a report on Lloyds' website.

Watertight doors were described as "not as required," and the fire safety measures were also criticized, it said, citing an inspection done by Britain's Maritime and Coastguard Agency in May this year.

Chilean port inspectors also found six deficiencies during an inspection in Puerto Natales in March, including two related to navigation matters, it said.

The passengers were from Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, China, Denmark, Holland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Switzerland and the United States.

Cruise ships regularly take passengers to the remote region to view icebergs and other Antarctic natural features at this time of year, when weather is relatively good, with the Antarctic heading from late spring into summer. The average temperature is about minus five degrees Celsius (23 Fahrenheit.)
© 2007 AFP

Source: Brisbane Times, POSTED: updated November 24, 2007 - 6:28PM

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Australia, New Zealand call on Japan to halt hunt of humpbacks
TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Australia and New Zealand called on Japan Monday to halt a whaling fleet headed for the Antarctic to hunt humpback whales, and Japanese officials denied a claim by the environmental group Greenpeace that the fleet sneaked off in the night with its locators off to avoid detection.

The fleet departed from the southern Japan port of Shimonoseki late Sunday night.

The whalers plan to kill up to 50 humpback whales in what is believed to be the first large-scale hunt for the once nearly extinct species since a 1963 moratorium in the Southern Pacific put the giant marine mammals under international protection.

Greenpeace on Monday said it has a protest ship, the Esperanza, searching for the fleet south of Japanese territorial waters and would shadow the ships to the South Pacific.

"It's a large ocean, but we're going to track them down," expedition member Dave Walsh told The Associated Press by telephone Monday.

The Japanese fleet was embarking on the country's largest whaling expedition, targeting protected humpbacks for the first time since the 1960s. In a farewell ceremony Sunday for the four-ship expedition, officials told a crowd at the southern Japanese port of Shimonoseki that Japan should preserve its whale-eating culture.

"They're violent environmental terrorists," mission leader Hajime Ishikawa said. "Their violence is unforgivable ... We must fight against their hypocrisy and lies."

Families waved little flags emblazoned with smiling whales and the crew raised a toast with cans of beer, while a brass band played "Popeye the Sailor Man."

The whalers plan to kill up to 50 humpbacks in what is believed to be the first large-scale hunt for the once nearly extinct species since a 1963 moratorium in the Southern Pacific put the giant marine mammals under international protection.

The mission also aims to take as many as 935 minke whales and up to 50 fin whales in what Japan's Fisheries Agency says is its largest-ever scientific whale hunt. The expedition lasts through April.

Japan says it needs to kill the animals in order to conduct research on their reproductive and feeding patterns.

While scientific whale hunts are allowed by the International Whaling Commission, or IWC, critics say Japan is simply using science as a cover for commercial whaling.

Ken Findlay, a whale biologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said the humpback population was recovering but said he was worried Japan would kill whales from vulnerable breeding grounds like those off New Zealand.

He also said Japan's hunting methods were unnecessarily cruel. Japanese whalers sometimes chase wounded animals for hours, he said.

"I don't think firing a harpoon at a whale and then dragging it next to the ship is ethical," Findlay said. "You question the necessity of that. It's not research."

An IWC moratorium on commercial whaling took effect in 1986, but Japan -- where coastal villages have hunted whales for hundreds of years -- has killed almost 10,500 mostly minke and Brydes whales under research permits since then. Tokyo has argued unsuccessfully for years for the IWC to overturn the moratorium.

The Japanese hunt, which puts meat from the whales on the commercial market, is growing rapidly despite an increasingly vocal anti-whaling movement. This winter season's

Japan argues that it should have the right to hunt whales as long as they are not in danger of extinction.

The American Cetacean Society estimates the humpback population has recovered to about 30,000-40,000 -- about a third of the number before modern whaling. The species is listed as "vulnerable" by the World Conservation Union.

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 10:33 a.m. EST, Mon November 19, 2007

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Japan whale fleet hunts humpback
SHIMONOSEKI, Japan (AP) -- A defiant Japan has embarked on its largest whaling expedition in decades, targeting protected humpbacks for the first time since the 1960s despite international opposition. An anti-whaling protest boat awaited the fleet offshore.

Bid farewell in a festive ceremony in the southern port of Shimonoseki, four ships headed for the waters off Antarctica Sunday, resuming a hunt that was cut short by a deadly fire last February that crippled the fleet's mother ship.

Families waved little flags emblazoned with smiling whales and the crew raised a toast with cans of beer, while a brass band played "Popeye the Sailor Man." Officials told the crowd that Japan should not give into militant activists and preserve its whale-eating culture.

"They're violent environmental terrorists," mission leader Hajime Ishikawa told the ceremony. "Their violence is unforgivable ... we must fight against their hypocrisy and lies."

The whalers plan to kill up to 50 humpbacks in what is believed to be the first large-scale hunt for the once nearly extinct species since a 1963 moratorium in the Southern Pacific put the giant marine mammals under international protection.

The mission also aims to take as many as 935 minke whales and up to 50 fin whales in what Japan's Fisheries Agency says is its largest-ever scientific whale hunt. The expedition lasts through April.

Japan says it needs to kill the animals in order to conduct research on their reproductive and feeding patterns.

While scientific whale hunts are allowed by the International Whaling Commission, or IWC, critics say Japan is simply using science as a cover for commercial whaling.

The anti-whaling group Greenpeace said its protest ship, Esperanza, was moored just outside Japan's territorial waters and would chase the fleet to the southern ocean. There was no immediate word Sunday of an offshore confrontation.

"We are going to do everything in our power to reduce their catch," Karli Thomas, expedition leader on the Esperanza, told The Associated Press by telephone. "Japan's research program is a sham. We demand that the Japanese government cancel it."

An IWC moratorium on commercial whaling took effect in 1986, but Japan -- where coastal villages have hunted whales for hundreds of years -- has killed almost 10,500 mostly minke and Brydes whales under research permits since then. Tokyo has argued unsuccessfully for years for the IWC to overturn the moratorium.

The Japanese hunt, which puts meat from the whales on the commercial market, is growing rapidly despite an increasingly vocal anti-whaling movement. This winter season's target of up to 1,035 whales is more than double the number the country hunted a decade ago.

Japan argues that it should have the right to hunt whales as long as they are not in danger of extinction.

The head of Japan's Fisheries Agency said Sunday the fruits of Tokyo's research would help prove that sustainable whaling is possible.

"The scientific research we carry out will pave the way to overturning the moratorium on commercial whaling, which will better help us to utilize whale resources," Shuji Yamada told the ceremony.

The focus on this year's hunt is the humpback, which was in serious danger of extinction just a few decades ago. They are now a favorite of whale-watchers for their playful antics at sea, where the beasts -- which grow as large as 40 tons -- throw themselves out of the water.

Humpbacks feed, mate and give birth near shore, making them easy prey for whalers, who by some estimates depleted the global population to just 1,200 before the 1963 moratorium. The southern moratorium was followed by a worldwide ban in 1966.

Since then, only Greenland and the Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have been allowed to catch humpbacks under an IWC aboriginal subsistence program. Each caught one humpback last year, according to the commission.

The American Cetacean Society estimates the humpback population has recovered to about 30,000-40,000 -- about a third of the number before modern whaling. The species is listed as "vulnerable" by the World Conservation Union.

Japanese fisheries officials insist the population has returned to a sustainable level and that taking 50 of them will have no impact.

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 8:06 a.m. EST, Sun November 18, 2007


Japan defends whaling 'tradition'
WADA, Japan (AP) -- A whale's bleeding carcass bobbed in the surf, a steel harpoon jutting from its side. Then butchers at this Japanese fishing village went to work, turning a motorized winch to haul the beast ashore.

On the flensing floor, the men blessed it with rice wine -- then hacked through blubber and sinew with long-handled knives, slicing vermilion flesh from the massive spine. Blood gushed from the 30-foot Baird's beaked whale like water from a hydrant.

Finally, the meat was chopped into brick-sized blocks, weighed and priced for townsfolk who lined up for their purchases. Restaurateurs drove away with plastic drums of whale.

For the world's anti-whaling activists, it's an atrocity that must be stopped. But the men who harpoon, flense and sell these whales at four small-scale coastal hunting communities have another word for it: tradition.

"Coastal people have been eating whale for 400 years and we have a right to decide what we eat," declared Yoshinori Shoji, head of the Gaibo Hogei whaling company, based in Wada, a two-hour drive east of Tokyo.

These days, that tradition is much harder to maintain.

Even though the 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling applies more to the high seas than to Japanese coastal outfits, it has severely cut supply, driving prices higher and speeding the meat's plunge in popularity.

The ban also restricts the types of smaller whales that can be hunted, such as a former favorite of the coastal operations -- the minke. Small-time whalers now commercially hunt only whales that are not regulated internationally.

Japan's coastal whalers also suffer from a global PR problem.

Amid an active anti-whaling movement, many people in Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand consider killing whales an environmental and moral crime, and grisly scenes such as the ones in Wada reinforce the image of whaling as barbaric.

The campaign touches a nationalist chord among Japanese, who feel it's discriminatory and hypocritical, given that Japanese whaling only took off after World War II because U.S. occupation authorities encouraged it as a source of food.

"They just completely reject people whose thinking isn't the same as theirs," says the industry's point man in the southern whaling town of Taiji, Yoji Kita. "In their `global standard,' there are a lot of double standards."

When people here speak of tradition, they mean family-owned company boats targeting small game just 20 miles from the shore, rather than the Japanese factory fleets, which range as far afield as the Antarctic and pull in a total of more than 1,000 whales per year.

This year, coastal whalers operating out of four main ports are set to take a total of 66 Baird's beaked whales, 72 pilot whales -- which look like dolphins -- and 20 Risso dolphins.

Minke whales, of which they used to take 300 a year, have been banned from the hunt by the International Whaling Commission since the 1980s, though Japan takes many minke whales -- and eats the meat -- as part of an IWC-allowed scientific whaling program.

The whaling companies, however, say the moratorium is sinking their business.

Japan's eight coastal whaling companies now use only five of their nine whaling boats for coastal operations. Populations in whaling towns have dropped, and village administrators complain about shrinking tax bases.

"Everyone here is in the red," Shoji said as his men sliced fat from the cubes of meat and dumped buckets of innards into a huge vat for processing into fertilizer.

The complaint gets little international sympathy.

A Japanese proposal to win "community whaling" status that would have allowed limited minke whale hunts failed at an IWC meeting in May. Critics argue that Japan's coastal operations are strictly commercial, using modern industrial methods such as mechanized harpoon guns, while community hunts are conducted by aboriginal people as ceremonies or to harvest a vital food source.

"Long ago, they used their own boats and caught whales with nets. But since the early 1900s, they've been using methods imported from Norway," said Junichi Sato of Greenpeace Japan. "So it's not at all as if they were preserving a tradition."

Japan's industrial whaling may be 20th century, but its roots are old.

Organized whaling began in the early 1600s in Taiji, a town about 300 miles southwest of Tokyo, whose phone book is full of names rooted in whaling: Seko -- harpooner; Ryono -- whaling boat sailor.

Shrines to the animals, including one where feudal hunters brought fetuses found in pregnant whales, dot the town. Villagers stage a whale festival on the bluff where spotters in the 17th century watched for approaching whales.

"Whaling is not just an occupation for them -- it's pride, it's history," said Hayato Sakurai, curator of the Taiji Whale Museum, which was established in 1969 and features an enormous replica of the skeleton of a blue whale.

The town's hunts of old involved hundreds of daredevil hunters on wooden boats who would surround the whale, spear it and drag it to shore. But those ways vanished when a typhoon wiped out Taiji's fleet in 1878.

By around 1900, whaling was based on modern steam ships and grenade harpoons.

Today Taiji is feeling the pressure, and Western visitors to City Hall and the wharves draw looks of suspicion that they have come to smear the town.

Coastal whalers argue that while they hunt whales as food and fertilizer, the Western whalers of old were only after them for their oil and discarded the rest.

Also playing into the argument are race, the legacy of the war and a sense of Japan being perennial odd man out in global affairs dominated by the United States and Europe.

"It looks like we're part of the club, but then something happens, and they point at us and say, `You're the country that started the war!"' said Kita. "I feel the whaling issue is a racial discrimination issue."

This touchiness is heightened by the Taiji area's autumn and winter dolphin hunt, when boat crews surround schools of the animals and slash them to death. The kills are often filmed by animal rights groups and broadcast worldwide.

Towns like Wada and Taiji have responded with campaigns to teach pride in the whaling tradition in local schools, where whale meat often features on the lunch menu, despite evidence that whale and dolphin meat is contaminated with mercury.

Wada, for instance, hosts school groups to witness whale flensings, though the copious blood and stench occasionally sickens a student. The kids then gather at a nearby cafeteria for a whale meat breakfast.

"We want them to know about the things that are done in the town where they were raised," explained Tomokazu Shoji, a teacher accompanying his 5th graders to flensing.

Meanwhile, old-time whalers mourn the passing of a culture.

Tameo Ryono, 70, worked on whaling ships in the Antarctic and other seas for some 40 years. The son and grandson of whalers, he grew up in Taiji watching his elders harpoon the beasts. The thick meat was a common meal on the Ryono dinner table.

"This is how we provided for our families for generations," he said, opening a box of black and white photographs of old hunting ships.

"Since the moratorium, kids even in this town don't have many chances to see whales," he said. "They don't dream of being whalers anymore."

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 8:03 a.m. EST, Sun November 18, 2007


U.N. chief sees Antarctic meltdown
CHILEAN PRESIDENTE EDUARDO FREI BASE, Antarctica (AP) -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Antarctica on Friday to see firsthand the impact of climate change and the melting of glaciers.

Ban flew from Chile's southernmost city of Punta Arenas to that country's station on the Antarctica, Chilean Air Force President Eduardo Frei base, accompanied by officials and scientists.

From there, he took a 45-minute flight over the region, seeing several glaciers. The U.N. leader also visited the Antarctic bases of Uruguay and South Korea, his home country.

At the Korean base he was greeted by a small reception and offered traditional Korean food and drink.

He then returned to Punta Arenas. On Thursday, Ban attended the opening of the Ibero-American summit, a gathering of leaders from Latin American countries, Spain and Portugal, that is being held in Santiago, Chile.

He told summit delegates that global warming will be a central concern of his term as head of the world body. On Saturday, Ban was scheduled to visit Torres del Paine national park, where experts say the effects of global warming on glaciers are evident.

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 11:45 a.m. EST, Mon November 12, 2007


Chile to expand Antarctic claim after British move
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- Chile said Monday it will claim an extended portion of the Antarctic seabed to uphold its rights in the face of a similar step by Britain.

Britain last week said it is preparing a claim under a U.N. treaty that allows countries to claim continental shelf up to 350 nautical miles (402 statute miles) off their shores. The treaty also gives countries the right to search for oil and natural gas there.

Earlier treaties allowed countries to claim territory only 200 nautical miles from the coast.

The British claim would extend from the boundaries of the British Antarctic Territory, a land Britain first claimed in 1908, and would conflict with claims by Argentina and Chile.

Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley said Monday that Chile was planning to file a similar claim to extend its Antarctic territory but expected that negotiations between countries with stakes in the region would follow.

"No one can affect the rights Chile has on Antarctic territory," Foxley told reporters.

He noted there is a May 2009 deadline for filing a claim before the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. "We have plenty of time," he said.

The other countries that have submitted claims to the U.N. commission are Russia, Brazil, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, France, Spain and Norway. The commission must rule on each application.

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 2:29 p.m. EDT, Mon October 22, 2007

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Ocean's 'missing link' discovered
SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) -- Australian scientists have discovered a giant underwater current that is one of the last missing links of a system that connects the world's oceans and helps govern global climate.

New research shows that a current sweeping past Australia's southern island of Tasmania toward the South Atlantic is a previously undetected part of the world climate system's engine-room, said scientist Ken Ridgway.

The Southern Ocean, which swirls around Antarctica, has been identified in recent years as the main lung of global climate, absorbing a third of all carbon dioxide taken in by the world's oceans.

"We knew that they (deep ocean pathway currents) could move from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean through Indonesia. Now we can see that they move south of Tasmania as well, another important link," Ridgway, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, told Reuters.

In each ocean, water flows around anticlockwise pathways, or gyres, the size of ocean basins.

The newly discovered Tasman Outflow, which sweeps past Tasmania at an average depth of 800-1,000 meters (2,600 to 3,300 feet), is classed as a "supergyre" that links the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic southern hemisphere ocean basins, the government-backed CSIRO said in a statement on Wednesday.

The CSIRO team analyzed thousands of temperature and salinity data samples collected between 1950 and 2002 by research ships, robotic ocean monitors and satellites between 60 degrees south, just north of the Antarctic Circle, and the Equator.

"They identified linkages between these gyres to form a global-scale 'supergyre' that transfers water to all three ocean basins," the CSIRO said.

Ridgway and co-author Jeff Dunn said identification of the supergyre improves the ability of researchers to more accurately explain how the ocean governs global climate.

"Recognizing the scales and patterns of these subsurface water masses means they can be incorporated into the powerful models used by scientists to project how climate may change," Ridgway said in a statement.

The best known of the global ocean currents is the North Atlantic loop of the Great Ocean Conveyer, which brings warm water from the Equator to waters off northern Europe, ensuring relatively mild weather there. Scientists say if the conveyor collapsed, northern Europe would be plunged into an ice age.

Earlier this year, another CSIRO scientist said global warming was already having an impact on the vast Southern Ocean, posing a threat to myriad ocean currents that distribute heat around the world.

Melting ice-sheets and glaciers in Antarctica are releasing fresh water, interfering with the formation of dense "bottom water", which sinks 4-5 kilometers to the ocean floor and helps drive the world's ocean circulation system.

A slowdown in the system known as "overturning circulation" would affect the way the ocean, which absorbs 85 percent of atmospheric heat, carries heat around the globe, Steve Rintoul, a senior scientist at the CSIRO Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research, said in March.

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 7:04 a.m. EDT, Wed August 15, 2007


Study: Glaciers contributing more to rising seas
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Don't worry too much, for now, about rising seas caused by melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica. The big threat this century could come from small thawing glaciers, researchers reported Thursday.

Even though these glaciers contain only 1 percent of the water tied up in the great ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, they could account for 60 percent of an anticipated rise in the world's sea level by the year 2100.

Sea-level rise is seen as a key consequence of global warming, and much of the concern has focused on the big ice sheets that contain the vast majority of the world's ice.

Researchers writing in the online journal Science Express estimate melting glaciers, which are located all over the globe including in the tropics, could add between 4 and 10 inches to world sea level this century.

While this may not sound like much, consider that some 100 million people live within 3.3 vertical feet of sea level, said Mark Meier of the University of Colorado-Boulder, a lead author of the study.

"If we had almost a foot (of sea-level rise) just due to the small glaciers, add that to the amount due to the ice sheets, which could be appreciable by 2100, and add to that the ocean warming which will cause it to expand in volume, then we get a rise that we can't ignore," Meier said in a telephone interview.

Even a tiny amount of sea-level rise can make a vast inland incursion of water in flat coastal areas, as much or more than 100 times the distance inland as the height of the rise, he said.

Meier said the huge amounts of ice locked in Greenland and Antarctica hold the potential for "some really horrendous sea level rise" -- as much as 3.3 feet -- if they ever completely melt.

That is unlikely to happen this century, although Greenland's ice sheet currently contributes 28 percent and Antarctica's contributes 12 percent to the total ice-melt that fuels sea-level rise, the researchers found.

"Now don't ask me about 1,000 years from now," Meier said. "But for the next few generations we think that we should not ignore the little glaciers."

There are hundreds of thousands of small glaciers all over the world, including in tropical New Guinea, but the important ones in terms of global sea-level change are in Alaska, Canada, Russia and Scandinavia, Meier said.

Part of the reason glaciers are contributing more to rising seas is because of rapid changes in how they flow, co-author Robert Anderson said in a statement.

Many glaciers are getting thinner and that makes them slide more quickly toward the sea.

"While this is a dynamic, complex process and does not seem to be a direct result of climate warming, it is likely that climate acts as a trigger to set off this dramatic response," said Anderson, also of the University of Colorado-Boulder.

The sea ice that seasonally covers the Arctic Ocean would contribute nothing to sea-level rise, much as a melting ice cube in a glass of water would not make the glass overflow. Rising seas are caused by water from ice that has been locked up on land.

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 3:00 p.m. EDT, Thu July 19, 2007


Study: Southern Ocean saturated with CO2Antarctica - ESA\AOES MediaLab
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is so loaded with carbon dioxide that it can barely absorb any more, so more of the gas will stay in the atmosphere to warm up the planet, scientists reported Thursday.

Human activity is the main culprit, said researcher Corinne Le Quere, who called the finding very alarming.

The phenomenon wasn't expected to be apparent for decades, Le Quere said in a telephone interview from the University of East Anglia in Britain.

"We thought we would be able to detect these only the second half of this century, say 2050 or so," she said. But data from 1981 through 2004 show the sink is already full of carbon dioxide. "So I find this really quite alarming."

The Southern Ocean is one of the world's biggest reservoirs of carbon, known as a carbon sink. When carbon is in a sink -- whether it's an ocean or a forest, both of which can lock up carbon dioxide -- it stays out of the atmosphere and does not contribute to global warming.

The new research, published in the latest edition of the journal Science, indicates that the Southern Ocean has been saturated with carbon dioxide at least since the 1980s.

This is significant because the Southern Ocean accounts for 15 percent of the global carbon sink, Le Quere said.

Increased winds over the last half-century are to blame for the change, Le Quere said. These winds blend the carbon dioxide throughout the Southern Ocean, mixing the naturally occurring carbon that usually stays deep down with the human-caused carbon.

When natural carbon is brought up to the surface by the winds, it is harder for the Southern Ocean to accommodate more human-generated carbon, which comes from factories, coal-fired power plants and petroleum-powered motor vehicle exhaust.

The winds themselves are caused by two separate human factors.

First, the human-spawned ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere over the Southern Ocean has created large changes in temperature throughout the atmosphere, Le Quere said.

Second, the uneven nature of global warming has produced higher temperatures in the northern parts of the world than in the south, which has also made the winds accelerate in the Southern Ocean.

"Since the beginning of the industrial revolution the world's oceans have absorbed about a quarter of the 500 gigatons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere by humans," Chris Rapley of the British Antarctic Survey said in a statement.

"The possibility that in a warmer world the Southern Ocean -- the strongest ocean sink -- is weakening is a cause for concern," Rapley said.

Another sign of warming in the Antarctic was reported Tuesday by NASA, which found vast areas of snow melted on the southern continent in 2005 in a process that may accelerate invisible melting deep beneath the surface.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 2:10 p.m. EDT, May 17, 2007

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Big area of Antarctica melted in 2005Antarctica - NASA
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Vast areas of snow in Antarctica melted in 2005 when temperatures warmed up for a week in the summer in a process that may accelerate invisible melting deep beneath the surface, NASA said on Tuesday.

A new analysis of satellite data showed that an area the size of California melted and then re-froze -- the most significant thawing in 30 years, the U.S. space agency said.

Unlike the Arctic, Antarctica has shown little to no warming in the recent past with the exception of the Antarctic Peninsula, where ice sheets have been breaking apart.

Son Nghiem of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and Konrad Steffen of the University of Colorado in Boulder measured snowfall accumulation and melt in Antarctica from July 1999 through July 2005.

They found evidence of melting in several areas, including high elevations and far inland in January of 2005, when temperatures got as high as 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius).

"Increases in snowmelt, such as this in 2005, definitely could have an impact on larger scale melting of Antarctica's ice sheets if they were severe or sustained over time," Steffen said in a statement.

"Water from melted snow can penetrate into ice sheets through cracks and narrow, tubular glacial shafts called moulins," Steffen added.

"If sufficient melt water is available, it may reach the bottom of the ice sheet. This water can lubricate the underside of the ice sheet at the bedrock, causing the ice mass to move toward the ocean faster, increasing sea level."

Source: CNN, POSTED: 10:13 a.m. EDT, May 16, 2007

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  • Enlarged Photo (courtesy NASA): NASA's QuikScat satellite detected extensive areas of snowmelt, shown in yellow and red, in west Antarctica in January 2005. Click here to view


Antarctica: On thin ice
By Michelle Jana Chan

HALF MOON ISLAND, Antarctica (CNN) -- Iceberg Alley is an aptly named narrow channel on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The water is afloat with glassy splinters, hardly bigger than an ice cube, ranging up to colossal tabular icebergs, some the size of several football pitches.

Cruising down this channel in subzero temperatures, it's difficult to imagine Antarctica may be suffering from the effects of global warming.

But these giant breakaway icebergs may in fact be signaling the continent's meltdown.

Icebergs originate from ice sheets, which form on land from millions of years of snowfall. As the ice gravitates towards the sea, it naturally breaks up. But scientists say the ice around the Antarctic Peninsula is disintegrating at unprecedented rates and blame warmer weather.

In the last 50 years, this region has experienced a 2.5C increase in average temperature. That is a faster rise than any other place in the southern hemisphere.

Walking along the pebble beach at Half Moon Island, Chris Edwards, a geologist from Scotland, says the changes are obvious. "I am horrified by the amount of red snow algae I am seeing now, which means we're down to 'old snow.'"

Edwards suggests that's a tell-tale sign of a serious change in weather patterns.

"Evidence like this is everywhere. For example, the Northeast Glacier used to be buffered on to Stonington Island. It's retreated 40 meters (45 yards) in the last 35 years. Now, there's no ice ramp attaching it to the mainland."

This month is the launch of International Polar Year (IPY) -- an ambitious scientific effort involving over 200 projects -- which will study exactly these types of geological changes. Researchers will investigate reductions in ice sheets and explore the impact on sea levels and marine ecosystems.

Birgit Sattler, a microbiologist from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, highlights the need to raise awareness of these issues.

She is conducting a month-long scientific project into glaciers around Port Lockroy, a former whaling station which is now a British research center.

"The Antarctic eco-system is very sensitive and tiny climate changes have dramatic effects. There are far longer vegetation phases now. Plants are growing at much higher altitudes. It's really important to tell people about this."

Before the research papers of the IPY's scientists are published, for those living on the southern polar cap, climate change is already palpable.

Rick Atkinson is Base Manager at Port Lockroy. He has been working in Antarctica for more than 20 years.

"We have to recognize what is happening here. When it's meant to snow, it starts raining. That's not normal."

Source: CNN, POSTED: 6:28 a.m. EDT, May 3, 2007


Antarctica: March of the tourists
by Michelle Jana Chan

DEVIL ISLAND, Antarctica (CNN) -- Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest place in the world but during the high summer, it can feel decidedly mild.

From the top of Devil Island, off the eastern edge of the Antarctic Peninsula, the watery sun reflects off the vast tabular icebergs drifting around the Weddell Sea. At the base of the island, as many as 20,000 pairs of Adιlie penguins make their home.

Moored offshore is the MS Explorer, a 75 meter cruise ship which can take up to 105 passengers. Four inflatable Zodiacs dart back and forth from the vessel, bringing tourists to shore to see the penguins up close.

Mary Brogan, 55, from Dublin, has been planning this trip for over a year with her husband and five friends. But now she's here, she says she worries about the impact of tourism.

"We definitely disturb the wildlife by coming here," Brogan says. "There are crowds of us on the beaches, sticking cameras in the poor penguins' faces."

Tourist numbers are rising to Antarctica even though this is a high-priced vacation. A 10-day cruise trip costs upward of $4,000 but the number of visitors has doubled in the last three years to nearly 30,000.

Dr Shannon Fowler, 32, from California, is a marine mammal biologist and lectures to the passengers on board Explorer.

"I do face a personal dilemma about bringing tourists here but if people can't see something, will they really want to protect it? If you blocked tourism, how many people would say, 'no, you can't mine here' or 'let's protect this place'?"

More tourism will raise public awareness about Antarctica's unique ecosystem but there are also fears about higher traffic to the region. Cruise ship accidents remain one of the biggest threats to the environment.

Last month, the MS Nordkapp cruise ship hit rocks near Deception Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, spilling diesel oil into the bay.

Stephen Ansfee is Explorer's Expedition Leader. "We are getting close to capacity in Antarctica and as the ships get bigger, so do the environmental risks. We will need stricter controls as tourism grows."

Most travel companies in the region subscribe to IAATO, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, which sets guidelines to manage tourism here. The problem is IAATO is a voluntary self-regulated organization and anyone can opt out of the system.

Because no one owns Antarctica, no one is responsible for the continent's safeguard. For better or worse, the future of Antarctica may depend on how many people choose to save up and make the once-in-a-lifetime journey.

Mary Brogan agrees. "Of course I am going to tell my friends about Antarctica when I get home. But am I doing any good encouraging them to come here? It's hard to know."

Source: CNN, POSTED: 8:20 a.m. EDT, April 6, 2007

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Image Courtesy: IAATO (2005-2006 Statistics)


Scientists: Antarctic ice sheet thinning
HOUSTON, Texas (Reuters) -- A Texas-sized piece of the Antarctic ice sheet is thinning, possibly due to global warming, and could cause the world's oceans to rise significantly, polar ice experts said on Wednesday.

They said "surprisingly rapid changes" were occurring in Antarctica's Amundsen Sea Embayment, which faces the southern Pacific Ocean, but that more study was needed to know how fast it was melting and how much it could cause the sea level to rise.

The warning came in a joint statement issued at the end of a conference of U.S. and European polar ice experts at the University of Texas in Austin.

The scientists blamed the melting ice on changing winds around Antarctica that they said were causing warmer waters to flow beneath ice shelves.

The wind change, they said, appeared to be the result of several factors, including global warming, ozone depletion in the atmosphere and natural variability.

The thinning in the two-mile- thick ice shelf is being observed mostly from satellites, but it is not known how much ice has been lost because data is difficult to obtain on the remote ice shelves, they said.

Study is focusing on the Amundsen Sea Embayment because it has been melting quickly and holds enough water to raise world sea levels six meters, or close to 20 feet, the scientists said.

"The place where the biggest change is occurring is the Amundsen Sea Embayment," said Donald Blankenship of the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics.

"One, it's changing, and two, it can have a big impact," he said in a Webcast with a number of conference participants.

Other parts of the continent also were losing ice, he said, but generally not as quickly.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 4:49 p.m. EDT, March 29, 2007


Japan whaler finally heading home?Esperanza has been close to the six-vessel Japanese whaling fleet for several days in the Ross Sea off the Antarctic coast - AP
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Japanese whalers have ended their annual whale hunt in Antarctica and are heading home, Greenpeace said Monday, a statement immediately denied by Japan's Fisheries Agency.

"They have been on the move for 24 hours now and basically we are escorting them out of Antarctic waters" at a speed of 10 kilometers (6.6 miles) an hour, said Karli Thomas from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza.

Esperanza has been close to the six-vessel Japanese whaling fleet for several days in the Ross Sea off the Antarctic coast, and Thomas said the expedition leader told Greenpeace "their destination was Japan."

She said the Japanese whalers told Greenpeace the season was over because of a fire that crippled the fleet's whale-processing ship Nisshin Maru, killing one sailor.

However, Japan Fisheries Agency official Hideki Moronuki denied the whaling season had ended.

"We are currently assessing the ship's condition, and have not made a decision on whether to make a port call for further repair or to return to Japan," Moronuki said.

Citing the Greenpeace comments Moronuki said, "They must be talking about something else on a different planet."

New Zealand said Monday the crippled Nisshin Maru -- carrying 1.3 million liters (343,000 gallons) of fuel oil -- posed a huge risk to the pristine Antarctic environment. None has leaked from the ship.

Japan moved the Nisshin Maru away from the Antarctic coast under its own power Sunday -- 10 days after fire left the vessel stricken near the world's biggest Adelie penguin rookery.

Japan had been determined that the ship should move under its own steam, while New Zealand and conservationists urged it to accept offers of a tow amid fears it could spill oil or other toxic chemicals.

Moronuki said the Nisshin Maru wasn't "posing any environmental threat to the area."

Japan says its annual whale hunts, this year for 945 whales, are for research, but environmental groups say they are a pretext to keep Japan's tiny whaling industry alive. The whale meat is sold for food.

The whalers were also involved in several high-seas confrontations and collisions with environmentalists who chased down the fleet.

"This has been a disastrous whaling season for Japan in terms of the grave risks to Antarctic and sub-Antarctic ecology from a possible spill, the death of a crew member, and of course the pitched battle with one of the protest vessels," New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark told reporters Monday.

"That should surely send a strong message to Japan that what has happened in the Southern Ocean with its whaling fleet is bad for its international reputation," she said.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 12:54 a.m. EST, February 26, 2007

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Antarctic ice melt reveals exotic creaturesAn orange sea star is one of the unusual creatures found by an Antarctic expedition.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Spindly orange sea stars, fan-finned ice fish and herds of roving sea cucumbers are among the exotic creatures spied off the Antarctic coast in an area formerly covered by ice, scientists reported Sunday.

This is the first time explorers have been able to catalog wildlife where two mammoth ice shelves used to extend for some 3,900 square miles over the Weddell Sea.

At least 5,000 years old, the ice shelves collapsed in two stages over the last dozen years. One crumbled 12 years ago and the other followed in 2002.

Global warming is seen as the culprit behind the ice shelves' demise, said Gauthier Chapelle of the Polar Foundation in Brussels.

"These kind of collapses are expected to happen more," he said. "What we're observing here is probably going to happen elsewhere around Antarctica."

Melting ice shelves are not expected to directly contribute much to global sea level rise, but glaciologists believe these vast swaths of ice act like dams to slow down glaciers as they move over the Antarctic land mass toward the coast. Without the ice shelves, glaciers may move over the water more quickly, and this would substantially add to rising seas.

Since 1974, 5,213 square miles of ice shelves have disintegrated in the Antarctic Peninsula.

But the collapse of the ice shelves gave the scientists a unique opportunity to see what had been hidden beneath them; before the collapse, researchers could only peer through holes drilled deep into the ice.

Chapelle and other scientists from 14 nations traveled to the area aboard the icebreaking vessel Polarstern in a 10-week voyage to investigate underwater wildlife along the Antarctic peninsula, the part of the southern continent that curves up toward South America.

Looking down 2,800 feet into the icy water -- a comparatively shallow depth -- they found fauna usually associated with seabeds about three times that deep, in places where the creatures must adapt to scarcity to survive.

There were blue ice fish, with dorsal fins like ribbed fans and blood that lacks red cells, an adaptation that makes the blood more fluid and easier to pump through the animal's body, conserving energy at low temperatures.

Long-limbed sea stars, some with more than the usual five appendages, mingled with the ice fish, and groups of sea cucumbers were observed moving together, all in one direction.

The explorers also found thick settlements of fast-growing animals called sea squirts, which look like gelatinous bags, which apparently started colonizing the area only after the ice shelves collapsed.

Among the hundreds of specimens collected, the scientists identified 15 possible new species of shrimp-like amphipods, and four possible new species of cnidarians, organisms related to coral, jellyfish and sea anemones, the scientists said in a statement.

These specimens will be analyzed to determine whether they in fact are newly discovered species.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 11:48 a.m. EST, February 26, 2007

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Scientists: Gases 'strangling' Southern Ocean
SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) -- The pristine Southern Ocean, which swirls around the Antarctic and absorbs vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is slowly losing a fight against industrial gases responsible for global warming, scientists say.

The Southern Ocean's unique wind and storm conditions make it the world's greatest carbon "sink"; the earth's oceans absorb a third of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the Southern Ocean absorbs a third of that.

But the waters that surround Antarctica are becoming more acidic as they absorb increasing amounts of carbon dioxide produced by nations burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas.

Deforestation and slash-and-burn farming also releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide stored in timber or peat bogs.

The more acidic an ocean gets, the less carbon dioxide it can soak up.

"It is becoming more difficult for the Southern Ocean to absorb the excess carbon dioxide," said Dr Will Howard of Australia's Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre.

Howard has just returned to the Australian Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program's base in southern Tasmania state after leading a team of 60 international scientists on a five-week expedition to gather evidence on how ocean systems are struggling to cope with the build-up of greenhouse gases.

"I would not say it's being killed," Howard said in a telephone interview. But it is being changed. "And once the system is altered ... it's going to be a different ecosystem," he said.

Rising acidification of the Southern Ocean has already begun to affect the ability of plankton -- microscopic marine plants, animals and bacteria -- to absorb carbon dioxide, scientists have found.

In the sea as on land, plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Oceans soak up carbon dioxide from the air and sink it to the depths.


Microscopic marine organisms also form tiny shells of calcium carbonate, which sink when they die to also move carbon to the bottom of the sea.

Projections by the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre indicate that some organisms will not be able to make shells within the next 100 years, Howard said.

"We're talking about time scales of decades to perhaps a century before at least some of these shell-making organisms are facing an ocean chemistry that they cannot make shells in."

Scientists from Australia, France, Belgium, the United States and New Zealand on board the research ship Aurora Australis have just returned from gathering extensive seawater samples from east of Tasmania, where the warm, east Australian current mixes with colder Southern Ocean waters.

This is also an area that carries iron-bearing dust blown off the vast, arid Australian continent into the sea. And iron is seen as part of a possible solution.

Scientists have discovered that phytoplankton in the Southern Ocean are deficient in iron, and that some parts of the Southern Ocean are persistently more fertile than others, probably because they receive extra iron.

So should Australia, the world's largest exporter of iron ore for the steel mills of Asia, throw its iron ore into the sea to help plankton absorb excess carbon dioxide?

"It's not so easy to manipulate," Howard said.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 9:14 p.m. EST, February 24, 2007


Tire-sized calamari rings? Half-ton squid reeled inThe squid, weighing an estimated 990 pounds and about 39 feet long, took two hours to land in Antarctic waters.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- A fishing crew has caught a colossal squid that could weigh a half-ton and prove to be the biggest specimen ever landed, a fisheries official said Thursday.

If calamari rings were made from the squid they would be the size of tractor tires, one expert said.

The squid, weighing an estimated 990 pounds and about 39 feet long, took two hours to land in Antarctic waters, New Zealand Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said.

The fishermen were catching Patagonian toothfish, sold under the name Chilean sea bass, south of New Zealand "and the squid was eating a hooked toothfish when it was hauled from the deep," Anderton said.

The fishing crew and a fisheries official on board their ship estimated the length and weight of the squid: Detailed, official measurements have not been made. The date when the colossus was caught also was not disclosed.

Colossal squid, known by the scientific name Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, are estimated to grow up to 46 feet long and have long been one of the most mysterious creatures of the deep ocean.

If original estimates are correct, the squid would be 330 pounds heavier than the next biggest specimen ever found.

"I can assure you that this is going to draw phenomenal interest. It is truly amazing," said Dr. Steve O'Shea, a squid expert at the Auckland University of Technology.

Colossal squid can descend to 6,500 feet and are extremely active, aggressive hunters, he said.

The frozen squid will be transported to New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa, in the capital, Wellington, to be preserved for scientific study.

Marine scientists "will be very interested in this amazing creature as it adds immeasurably to our understanding of the marine environment," Anderton said.

Colossal squid are found in Antarctic waters and are not related to giant squid found round the coast of New Zealand. Giant squid grow up to 39 feet long, but are not as heavy as colossal squid.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 11:25 a.m. EST, February 22, 2007


Big lakes detected under AntarcticaInterconnected waterways lie deep below the Antarctic ice sheet - NASA
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Lasers beamed from space have detected what researchers have long suspected: big sloshing lakes of water underneath Antarctic ice.

These lakes, some stretching across hundreds of square miles, fill and drain so dramatically that the movement can be seen by a satellite looking at the icy surface of the southern continent, glaciologists reported in Thursday's editions of the journal Science.

Global warming did not create these big pockets of water -- they lie beneath some 2,300 feet of compressed snow and ice, too deep to be affected by temperature changes on the surface -- but knowing how they behave is important to understanding the impact of climate change on the Antarctic ice sheet, study author Helen Fricker said by telephone.

About 90 percent of the world's fresh water is locked in the thick ice cap that covers Antarctica; if it all melts, scientists estimate it could cause a 23-foot rise in world sea levels. Even a 39-inch sea level rise could cause havoc in coastal and low-lying areas around the globe, according to a World Bank study released this week.

"Because climate is changing, we need to be able to predict what's going to happen to the Antarctic ice sheet," said Fricker, of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the University of California, San Diego.

"We need computer models to be faithful to the processes that are actually going on on the ice sheet," she said. At this point, computer models do not show how the subglacial water is moving around.

To detect the subglacial lakes, Fricker and her colleagues used data from NASA's ICESat, which sends laser pulses down from space to the Antarctic surface and back, much as sonar uses sound pulses to determine underwater features.

The satellite detected dips in the surface that moved around as the hidden lakes drained and filled beneath the surface glaciers, which are moving rivers of ice.

"The parts that are changing are changing so rapidly that they can't be anything else but (sub-surface) water," she said. "It's such a quick thing."

"Quick" can be a relative term when talking about the movement around glaciers, which tend to move very slowly. But one lake that measured around 19 miles by 6 miles caused a 30 foot change in elevation at the surface when it drained over a period of about 30 months, Fricker said.

The project took observations from 2003 through 2006 of the Whillans and Mercer Ice Streams, two of the fast-moving glaciers that carry ice from the Antarctic interior to the floating ice sheet that covers parts of the Ross Sea.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 10:49 a.m. EST, February 16, 2007


Japanese whaler afire in AntarcticJapan Whaling - AP/Sea Shepherd
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- A Japanese whaling ship caught fire Thursday near Antarctica, leaving one crew member missing and raising fears of environmental damage to the frozen continent.

The Nisshin Maru sent out a distress call early on Thursday after the fire erupted below decks where whale carcasses are brought for processing, and left the ship drifting without power. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

Most of the 148-member crew were evacuated to three nearby Japanese whaling ships, leaving 31 behind to fight the blaze and search for the missing crewman, 27-year-old Kazutaka Makita, said Hideki Moronuki, an official with the Japan Fisheries Agency.

Hatches were closed to seal off the burning area and prevent the fire from spreading and bring it under control, Moronuki said.

Steve Corbett, a spokesman for Maritime New Zealand, whose country is nearest the area, said his agency had been in constant contact with the ship's captain and was on standby by to send ships to help.

It was not clear if the missing crewman was inside the ship or went overboard into the icy waters of the Ross Sea, he said.

"The ship has lost all engine power," he said. "The crew are still fighting it, but ... they are confident it won't sink and the fire won't spread further."

New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter said the safety of the Nisshin Maru's crew was the top priority, but noted it was only 100 nautical miles (176 kilometers; 110 miles) from the Antarctic coast.

"We are also gravely concerned about the environmental risk to Antarctica's pristine environment if the ship is sufficiently damaged to begin leaking oil," Carter said in a statement.

Carter's office contacted his counterparts in Japan, Australia, the United States and Britain -- other signatories to the Antarctic Treaty with responsibility for protecting its environment -- in case "an international environmental response is needed," ministerial spokesman Nick Maling said.

The 8,000-ton (7,280-metric ton) Nisshin Maru is the mother ship for five other Japanese vessels, to which whales captured under Japan's research program are brought.

Kenji Masuda, an official with Japan's Fishery Agency, said the extent of damage to the ship was not yet clear so it was too early to say what affect the fire would have on the whaling operation.

Japanese whaling ships off Antarctica have been harassed in recent days by anti-whaling activists from the group Sea Shepherd, who have thrown foul-smelling acid and other objects on the ships to try to stop them hunting whales.

A Sea Shepherd ship and one of the whalers collided on Monday during a protest, but the Japanese ship involved was not the Nisshin Maru. The two Sea Shepherd ships left the area on Wednesday after running low on fuel

Weather and sea conditions on Thursday in the Ross Sea were good, with no swells and light winds.

Maritime New Zealand received a distress call from the ship at 5:15 a.m. Thursday (1615 GMT Wednesday), Corbett said.

"We are standing by, talking to the master. At the moment he has got the situation under control so we are just seeing if he wants any assistance," Corbett said.

The Royal New Zealand Navy said the navy frigates HMNZS Te Kaha and HMNZS Te Mana could get to the scene quickly, but both were currently heading away from the area.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 10:35 p.m. EST, February 14, 2007


Japan: Whaling activists 'terrorists'
TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Members of a marine mammal conservation group who attacked Japanese whalers off Antarctica, injuring two of them, are "terrorists," Japan's Fisheries Agency said.

Two activists from the Sea Shepherd protest ship went missing during the confrontation with Japanese whaling craft Nisshin Maru early Friday, but were rescued safely -- with members of the Japanese whaling expedition assisting in the rescue efforts in the icy waters of the Ross Sea.

The protesters then resumed their pursuit of the Japanese vessel, and dumped foul-smelling butyric acid onto the whaling ship's deck, injuring two Japanese crew members, according to Takahide Naruko, the chief of the Far Seas Fisheries Division of the Fisheries Agency.

The two crew members suffered facial injuries when the bottle of acid smashed on deck, sending shards of glass in all directions, he said. One was hit by an empty container of acid and the other had acid squirted in his eye, he said.

"They're terrorists," Hideki Moronuki, the assistant director of the agency's whaling department, said of the anti-whaling activists. "They must stop these dangerous acts immediately."

Bill Hogarth, U.S. Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, also criticized the activists.

"I'm disappointed Sea Shepherd took an action that risked lives," Hogarth said in a press release. "The United States is extremely concerned that encounters like this could escalate into more violent interactions between the vessels."

The United States still opposes Japan's research whale hunts, he said, but the way to resolve the dispute is through the IWC process, he added.

The Nisshin Maru left Japan in November for a six-month whaling expedition in the Antarctic as part of a scientific whaling program conducted within the rules of the IWC.

Tokyo maintains that whaling is a national tradition and a vital part of its food culture, and is pushing for a limited resumption of hunts, arguing that whale stocks have sufficiently recovered since 1986 when a global moratorium on commercial whaling was introduced.

Sea Shepherd "successfully delivered" six liters of butyric acid to the ship's flensing deck, where whales are cut up, halting the crew's work, the group said on its Web site Friday.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 12:07 a.m. EST, February 10, 2007


Japanese accuse anti-whaling activists of 'terrorism'Japan Whaling - AP/Sea Shepherd
TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- A Japanese fisheries official condemned Monday what he called an "act of terrorism" by anti-whaling activists on a Japanese vessel in Antarctic waters.

"It is very dangerous action of attack," said Hideki Moronuki, chief of Japan's whaling activities. "We would like to appeal to all relevant countries for cooperation to stop such [an] act of terrorism by this group."

The U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said two of its vessels -- the Robert Hunter and Farley Mowat -- "caught the Japanese whaling vessel Kaiko Maru bearing down on a pod of whales."

"The conservation vessels moved in and chased the whaler into the ice," the anti-whaling group said. "The Sea Shepherd activists are demanding that the whaler leave the Antarctic whale sanctuary and cease and desist from illegally killing whales."

Moronuki said the Kaiko Maru is a nonlethal whale siting ship, part of a five-vessel research team, and was ambushed by the two vessels.

He said the activists sandwiched the Kaiko Maru on Monday morning, jammed the ship's propeller with a rope and rammed the vessel, damaging the ship's handling rail on its deck.

Sea Shepherd said the Kaiko Maru and its sister vessels have plans to slaughter more than 900 whales illegally in the Antarctic whale sanctuary this year, including 935 piked minke whales and 10 fin whales.

The Sea Shepherd group said one of its vessels, the Robert Hunter, was struck by the Kaiko Maru.

The group was founded in Canada but is based in Washington state.

Sea Shepherd "is committed to the eradication of pirate whaling, poaching, shark finning, unlawful habitat destruction and violations of established laws in the world's oceans," according to its Web site.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 8:51 a.m. EST, February 12, 2007



Study: Female seals carefully select their mates
LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Choosy Antarctic female fur seals go to great lengths to find the right mate.

While males prefer to stay put and wait to be chosen, females are more selective and prepared to travel to find an ideal, genetically diverse partner to father their pups.

"Many mammals have mating systems that were traditionally viewed as being dominated by males fighting each other for the right to mate with passive females," said Dr Joe Hoffman of the University of Cambridge in England.

"So it's not only remarkable to find that female fur seals are choosy, but this also suggests that female choice may be more widespread in nature than we previously thought."

Hoffman and scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who reported their findings in the science journal Nature on Wednesday, discovered the unusual mating patterns while studying a colony of the seals on the island of South Georgia.

To avoid inbreeding with the less adventurous males, female seals would travel up to 35 meters to find a fitter mate to give the next generation the best chance of surviving.

Hoffman and his team believe the females size up potential mates by assessing their physique, behavior and even their smell.

"The behaviors that we observe will impact upon the genetic diversity of fur seal populations and may have helped them recover so successfully from near extinction only 100 years ago," said Hoffman.

"This could in turn affect how well they respond to future challenges such as climate change," he added in a statement.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 4:10 p.m. EST, February 7, 2007


Cruise ship runs aground in AntarcticaMS Nordkapp
By Danny Rose

A CRUISE ship with almost 300 passengers on board, including 12 Australians, has run aground off a remote Antarctic island. The 125m MS Nordkapp ran aground off Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands, about 5.30am (AEDT) today.

Tour operator My Planet said there were no injuries and the vessel made it into a sheltered harbour nearby. Efforts were now on rescuing those on board, and a sister ship was expected to reach the remote island group, about 120km north of the Antarctic Peninsula, later today.

"There is no danger to passengers, crew, the environment or the vessel," My Planet managing director Greg Arnott said.

"MS Nordkapp has under her own steam been able to come off the ground and is now safely anchored in ... Whalers Bay on Deception Island.

"The weather conditions in the area are good and the situation is under control."

Mr Arnott also said a representative of the Hurtigruten Group, which owns the vessel, had been in contact with the vessel and "everything is calm on board".

The vessel is carrying 295 passengers and a crew of 76.

"All passengers will be transported back to Ushuaia in southern Argentina with the help of (sister ship) MS Nordnorge, which is also part of the Hurtigruten fleet, and other vessels in the vicinity," Mr Arnott said.

Mr Arnott said the families of all of the Australian passengers had been contacted and the MS Nordnorge was expected to reach the stricken vessel about 6pm (AEDT). The MS Nordkapp, built in 1997, tours Antarctica during the southern hemisphere summer. It sails off the coast of Norway during the European summer and is suitable for light ice conditions.

Source: Courier-Mail, POSTED: January 31, 2007 02:28pm

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Experts slam upcoming global warming reportGlobal Warming
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Later this week in Paris, climate scientists will issue a dire forecast for the planet that warns of slowly rising sea levels and higher temperatures.

But that may be the sugarcoated version.

Early and changeable drafts of their upcoming authoritative report on climate change foresee smaller sea level rises than were projected in 2001 in the last report. Many top U.S. scientists reject these rosier numbers.

Those calculations don't include the recent, and dramatic, melt-off of big ice sheets in two crucial locations:

They "don't take into account the gorillas -- Greenland and Antarctica," said Ohio State University earth sciences professor Lonnie Thompson, a polar ice specialist. "I think there are unpleasant surprises as we move into the 21st century."

Michael MacCracken, who until 2001 coordinated the official U.S. government reviews of the international climate report on global warming, has fired off a letter of protest over the omission.

The melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are a fairly recent development that has taken scientists by surprise. They don't know how to predict its effects in their computer models. But many fear it will mean the world's coastlines are swamped much earlier than most predict.

Others believe the ice melt is temporary and won't play such a dramatic role.

That debate may be the central one as scientists and bureaucrats from around the world gather in Paris to finish the first of four major global warming reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel was created by the United Nations in 1988.

After four days of secret word-by-word editing, the final report will be issued Friday.

The early versions of the report predict that by 2100 the sea level will rise anywhere between 5 and 23 inches. That's far lower than the 20 to 55 inches forecast by 2100 in a study published in the peer-review journal Science this month. Other climate experts, including NASA's James Hansen, predict sea level rise that can be measured by feet more than inches.

The report is also expected to include some kind of proviso that says things could be much worse if ice sheets continue to melt.

The prediction being considered this week by the IPCC is "obviously not the full story because ice sheet decay is something we cannot model right now, but we know it's happening," said Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate panel lead author from Germany who made the larger prediction of up to 55 inches of sea level rise. "A document like that tends to underestimate the risk," he said.

"This will dominate their discussion because there's so much contentiousness about it," said Bob Corell, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a multinational research effort. "If the IPCC comes out with significantly less than one meter (about 39 inches of sea level rise), there will be people in the science community saying we don't think that's a fair reflection of what we know."

In the past, the climate change panel didn't figure there would be large melt of ice in west Antarctica and Greenland this century and didn't factor it into the predictions. Those forecasts were based only on the sea level rise from melting glaciers (which are different from ice sheets) and the physical expansion of water as it warms.

But in 2002, Antarctica's 1,255-square-mile Larsen B ice shelf broke off and disappeared in just 35 days. And recent NASA data shows that Greenland is losing 53 cubic miles of ice each year -- twice the rate it was losing in 1996.

Even so, there are questions about how permanent the melting in Greenland and especially Antarctica are, said panel lead author Kevin Trenberth, chief of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

While he said the melting ice sheets "raise a warning flag," Trenberth said he wonders if "some of this might just be temporary."

University of Alabama at Huntsville professor John Christy said Greenland didn't melt much within the past thousand years when it was warmer than now. Christy, a reviewer of the panel work, is a prominent so-called skeptic. He acknowledges that global warming is real and man-made, but he believes it is not as worrisome as advertised.

Those scientists who say sea level will rise even more are battling a consensus-building structure that routinely issues scientifically cautious global warming reports, scientists say.

The IPCC reports have to be unanimous, approved by 154 governments -- including the United States and oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia -- and already published peer-reviewed research done before mid-2006.

Rahmstorf, a physics and oceanography professor at Potsdam University in Germany, says, "In a way, it is one of the strengths of the IPCC to be very conservative and cautious and not overstate any climate change risk."

Source: CNN, POSTED: 2:44 p.m. EST, January 29, 2007

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Reward offered to locate whalersJapanese whaling ship harpoons a whale (Greenpeace Photo)
SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) -- An anti-whaling group patrolling the Ross Sea off Antarctica has offered a $25,000 reward to any person or group that can provide coordinates of the Japanese whaling fleet operating in the area.

The U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society announced the reward in the midst of its "Operation Leviathan" mission to disrupt Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.

"We're here to stop them from killing whales and we will do all we can without risking human lives to do that," said Captain Alex Cornelissen from the ship Robert Hunter, one of two Sea Shepherd ships involved in the anti-whaling campaign.

"We're waiting for more information about the coordinates of the Japanese fleet to track them down, and hope the reward will help deliver that news soon," Cornelissen told Reuters on Monday via satellite telephone from his ship.

Paul Watson, the captain of the the second ship Farley Mowat, told local radio the New Zealand Government knew the location of the Japanese whalers because its air force had filmed the fleet.

"We know there are people who have this information and the coordinates for the Japanese fleet and quite frankly it will save us that much in fuel if we can get those coordinates," he said.

The Sea Shepherd ships have another three weeks before they must leave the area to refuel and pick up supplies.

In the statement announcing the reward on the Sea Shepherd website,, Watson said he believed the Japanese fleet was within 500 miles (850 km) of his ships.

International environmental group Greenpeace set sail from New Zealand last Friday to start its 2007 anti-whaling campaign, again trying to come between Japanese whalers and their prey in the Southern Ocean.

A global moratorium on commercial whaling has existed since 1986, but Japan kills hundreds of whales each year under a scientific whaling program. Iceland and Norway are the only countries to ignore the moratorium and conduct commercial hunts.

Japan has called a special February meeting of members of the International Whaling Commission in an attempt to help lift the whaling moratorium, but 26 anti-whaling nations, including Australia, have said they will boycott the meeting.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 10:43 p.m. EST, January 28, 2007

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Sir Edmund returns to AntarcticaSir Edmund Hillary (AP Photo)
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Everest conqueror and Antarctic explorer Sir Edmund Hillary has returned to the frozen continent -- at age 87 -- for what he believes will be his last time.

Hillary joined New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and other dignitaries who flew to Antarctica for the 50th anniversary of the Scott Base, which the adventurer helped build in 1957.

"This is probably the last opportunity that I will get to visit the wintery south," Hillary said Friday, the day after he arrived.

Hillary helped lead a team to the South Pole in 1955. He was the first person to drive to the pole, using a modified farm tractor.

The trip came two years after Hillary and sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first people to climb Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak.

Hillary, who still travels widely to Nepal and elsewhere, last visited Antarctica two years ago.

"I was always prepared to come back one more time," said Hillary, whose comments were reported by New Zealand media traveling with the anniversary delegation. "I don't think it'll ever happen again, but this is a marvelous return."

Hillary criticized Japan for its policies allowing whaling for scientific purposes, and for pushing to revoke the international ban on commercial hunting. The Japanese whale hunting season began recently in waters at the far south of the world.

"They just don't seem to have accepted that these creatures, wonderful creatures that they are, should be carefully protected," Hillary said.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 10:28 p.m. EST, January 19, 2007

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Robot Gliders Investigate The Ocean Floor
New Brunswick, NJ (AHN) - How would you like to control the universe from 7,500 miles away? Well, maybe not the universe, but how about a small underwater craft that investigates the affects of global warming on the universe?

New technology and research has developed an underwater robot glider that will soon "fly" beneath the icy cold waters of Antarctica, gathering scientific information for the Coastal Ocean Observation Laboratory at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Launch time is scheduled for January 8, 2007 off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. From there the robot glider will descend 650 feet beneath the water. Every six hours, the glider will surface and, via satellite, send the collected data to its home base in New Jersey.

In August 2006, a fleet of robot gliders were released in the waters at Monterey, CA to make similar observations of the ocean floor. The information these gliders assembled will help researchers develop better ways to protect the ocean environment and might even be used to direct sea maneuvers carried out by the military. Future plans are to utilize these gliders in the exploration of deserts and space.

Richelle Putnam - All Headline News Staff Writer
Source: CNN, POSTED: January 3, 2007 4:52 p.m. EST


Other Related Polar or Regional News

Ice loss 'opens Northwest Passage'Satellite image shows the Northwest Passage, marked in yellow, is now fully navigable. (ESA Photo)
BOULDER, Colorado (CNN) -- Ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, long held to be an early warning of a changing climate, has shattered the all-time low record this summer, scientists say.

Additionally, the European Space Agency said nearly 200 satellite photos this month taken together showed an ice-free passage along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland, according to news reports. Ice was retreating to its lowest level since such images were first taken in 1978, according to a report from The Associated Press.

Using satellite data and imagery, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) now estimates the Arctic ice pack to cover 4.24 million square kilometers (1.63 million square miles) -- equal to just less than half the size of the United States.

That figure is about 20 percent less than the previous all-time low of 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles) set in September 2005

Mark Serreze, senior research scientist at NSIDC, termed the decline "astounding."

"It's almost an exclamation point on the pronounced ice loss we've seen in the past 30 years," he said.

Most researchers had anticipated the complete disappearance of the Arctic ice pack during summer months would happen after the year 2070, he said, but now, "losing summer sea ice cover by 2030 is not unreasonable."

Leif Toudal Pedersen of the Danish National Space Center told the AP that Arctic ice has shrunk to some 1 million square miles. The previous low was 1.5 million square miles, in 2005.

"The strong reduction in just one year certainly raises flags that the ice (in summer) may disappear much sooner than expected," Pedersen said in an ESA statement posted on its Web site Friday, according to AP.

Scores of peer-reviewed scientific studies have documented a steady, worldwide decline in ice cover, from the sea-bound ice covering the North Pole to the vast, land-based ice sheets that cover the Antarctic continent. Glaciers, from Greenland to the Alps to Mount Kilimanjaro near the equator, have also been vanishing.

The loss of land-based ice is predicted to lead to a future rise in sea levels. Most estimates predict a rise ranging from a few inches to a meter or more. A substantial rise in sea level could imperil low-lying areas from Bangladesh to Miami to Lower Manhattan, and could magnify the damage from landfalling hurricanes and cyclones.

While the loss of sea ice, like the Arctic ice pack, would not contribute to sea level rise, wildlife experts say it could alter the Arctic ecology, threatening polar bears and other mammals and sea life.

Scientists add that an ice-free Arctic could also accelerate global warming, as white-colored ice tends to deflect heat, while darker-colored water would absorb more heat.

But along with concerns, the melting Arctic also raises possible opportunities on business and political fronts. This summer, both Russia and the United States made efforts to inventory the potential mineral wealth on the ocean floor beneath the declining ice pack. Russia also sent a submarine to the North Pole to stake a symbolic claim to the Arctic as a part of the Russian nation.

The decline in ice also raises the possibility of an ice-free "Northwest Passage," a shipping route north of the Canadian mainland that could provide a shortcut for transit between the Atlantic and Pacific.

It is possible that the Arctic sea ice could decline even further this year before the onset of winter, Serreze said. Ice levels can reach their low point anywhere from mid-September to early October.

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 11:14 p.m. EDT, Sat September 15, 2007



Arctic sea ice cover at record low
BOULDER, Colorado (CNN) -- Ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, long held to be an early warning of a changing climate, has shattered the all-time low record this summer, according to scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder.

Using satellite data and imagery, NSIDC now estimates the Arctic ice pack covers 4.24 million square kilometers (1.63 million square miles) -- equal to just less than half the size of the United States. This figure is about 20 percent less than the previous all-time low record of 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles) set in September 2005

Mark Serreze, senior research scientist at NSIDC, termed the decline "astounding."

"It's almost an exclamation point on the pronounced ice loss we've seen in the past 30 years," he said.

Most researchers had anticipated that the complete disappearance of the Arctic ice pack during summer months would happen after the year 2070, he said, but now, "losing summer sea ice cover by 2030 is not unreasonable."

Scores of peer-reviewed scientific studies have documented a steady, worldwide decline in ice cover, from the sea-bound ice covering the North Pole to the vast, land-based ice sheets that cover the Antarctic continent. Glaciers, from Greenland to the Alps to Mount Kilimanjaro near the equator, also have been vanishing.

The loss of land-based ice is predicted to lead to a future rise in sea levels. Most estimates predict a rise ranging from a few inches to a meter or more. A substantial rise in sea level could imperil low-lying areas from Bangladesh to Miami, Florida, to Lower Manhattan, and could magnify the damage from landfalling hurricanes and cyclones.

While the loss of sea ice, like the Arctic ice pack, would not contribute to sea level rise, wildlife experts say it could alter the Arctic ecology, threatening polar bears and other mammals and sea life.

Scientists add that an ice-free Arctic could also accelerate global warming, as white-colored ice tends to deflect heat, while darker-colored water would absorb more heat.

But along with concerns, the melting Arctic also brings possible opportunities on business and political fronts. This summer, both Russia and the United States made efforts to inventory the potential mineral wealth on the ocean floor beneath the declining ice pack. Russia also sent a submarine to the North Pole to stake a symbolic claim to the Arctic as a part of the Russian nation.

The decline in ice also raises the possibility of an ice-free "Northwest Passage," a shipping route north of the Canadian mainland that could provide a shortcut for transit between the Atlantic and Pacific.

It is possible that the Arctic sea ice could decline even further this year before the onset of winter, Serreze said. Ice levels can reach their low point anywhere from mid-September to early October.

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 3:20 p.m. EDT, Tue September 11, 2007


Russia to sink flag to Arctic Sea floor in oil, land grab
MOSCOW, Russia (AP) -- An expedition aimed at strengthening Russia's claim to much of the oil and gas wealth beneath the Arctic Ocean reached the North Pole on Wednesday, and preparations immediately began for two mini-submarines to drop a capsule containing a Russian flag to the sea floor.

The Rossiya icebreaker had plowed a path to the pole through an unbroken sheet of multiyear ice, clearing the way for the Akademik Fedorov research ship to follow, said Sergei Balyasnikov, a spokesman for the Arctic and Antarctic research institute that prepared the expedition.

"For the first time in history people will go down to the sea bed under the North Pole," Balyasnikov told The Associated Press. "It's like putting a flag on the moon."

Russian scientists hope to dive in two mini-submarines beneath the pole to a depth of more than 13,200 feet, and drop a metal capsule containing the Russian flag on the sea bed.

Balyasnikov said the dive was expected to start Thursday morning and last for several hours.

The voyage, led by noted polar explorer and Russian legislator Artur Chilingarov, has some scientific goals, including the study of Arctic plants and animals. But its chief goal appears to be advancing Russia's political and economic influence by strengthening its legal claims to the gas and oil deposits thought to lie beneath the Arctic sea floor.

The symbolic gesture, along with geologic data being gathered by expedition scientists, is intended to prop up Moscow's claims to more than 460,000 square miles of the Arctic shelf -- which by some estimates may contain 10 billion tons of oil and gas deposits.

The expedition reflects an intense rivalry between Russia, the United States, Canada and other nations whose shores face the northern polar ocean for the Arctic's icebound riches.

About 100 scientists aboard the Akademik Fyodorov are looking for evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge -- a 1,240-mile underwater mountain range that crosses the polar region -- is a geologic extension of Russia, and therefore can be claimed by it under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The subs will collect specimens of Arctic plants and animals and videotape the dives.

The biggest challenge, scientists say, will be for the mini-sub crews to return to their original point of departure to avoid being trapped under a thick ice crust.

"They have all the necessary navigation equipment to ensure safety," Balyasnikov said.

Denmark hopes to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Danish territory of Greenland, not Russia. Canada, meanwhile, plans to spend $7 billion to build and operate up to eight Arctic patrol ships in a bid to help protect its sovereignty.

The U.S. Congress is considering an $8.7 billion budget reauthorization bill for the U.S. Coast Guard that includes $72.96 million to operate and maintain the nation's three existing polar icebreakers. The bill also authorizes the Coast Guard to construct two new vessels.

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 7:04 p.m. EDT, Wed August 1, 2007


Tourists contemplate tragedy of war in Falklands
STANLEY, Falkland Islands (Reuters) -- Braving a biting wind in the remote Falkland Islands, tourists comb through trenches and battlefields from the British-Argentine war of 1982, finding weathered combat boots and tubes of toothpaste.

These visits to see the scene and contemplate the tragedy of war -- 904 people died in 73 days after Argentina tried to reclaim the South American islands from Britain -- have given a big boost to tourism in the Falklands.

Last year, 55,000 visitors came, 18 times the number of a decade ago and far more than the few thousand people who live on the islands.

Tourists, mostly from the United States, Britain and Canada, arrive on weekly flights from Chile or on Antarctic and other cruises, taking trips to see penguins and elephant seals.

Tour agencies also offer visits to cemeteries and battlefields, especially Mount Longdon and Mount Tumbledown, sites of some of the fiercest fighting.

"These two mountains, Longdon and Tumbledown, are the places everyone wants to see, walk through, to honor those who died in these mountains," said Patrick Watts, a tour guide who lived on the islands during the war.

Tourism has become the second-biggest earner for the Falklands after fishing, said Liz Dimmlich, general director of the Tourism Office.

"It's very interesting for people to see the battlefields and obviously the cemeteries, which are very moving," said Dimmlich.

The Falklands are still scarred by the war 25 years ago. Even without a tour, visitors can easily see mine fields, bomb craters and crosses and flowers where soldiers fell.

Argentina continues to claim the islands, called Islas Malvinas in Spanish, but Britain has refused its requests to renew dialogue.

The Falklands are just 300 miles from the coast of Argentina and were claimed variously by Argentina, Britain, France and Spain until 1833, when Britain seized the territory from the Argentine settlers of the time. Most residents now are of British descent and identify with that culture.

Mount Longdon, which overlooks Stanley the capital, is surrounded by rough and muddy terrain. Dozens of soldiers from both sides fell at one of the last battles of the war.

"It was hell. We fought man to man," Ernesto Alonso, a former Argentine fighter who was 19 at the time, said in Buenos Aires.

The steep, difficult mountainside explains why Longdon was chosen by the Argentines to defend Stanley.

For tourists taking photos, guides point out machine guns, field artillery, improvised cooking utensils, water buckets, thin-soled shoes and other debris strewn on the ground. Taking souvenirs is not allowed.

Many combatants from the Argentine side said after the war that, as they holed up in trenches and make-shift shelters to defend positions on Mount Longdon, they did not have enough food, equipment or cold-weather gear.

Tours include the Argentine cemetery in Darwin, where 230 white crosses mark graves, many without names. Veterans say some remains were buried together and that the cemetery really holds 234 dead.

In the town of Goose Green, near Darwin, visitors can see "POW" painted on a big shed, visible still under fresher paint, where hundreds of Argentine prisoners of war were held.

Behind the sheds, in a typical Falklands scene mixing the war's legacy with daily life, sheep graze in a mine field after somehow getting through the barbed wire fence.

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 5:53 a.m. EDT, Wed August 1, 2007


Russia 'could claim Arctic region'
MOSCOW, Russia (AP) -- Scientists say Russia could lay claim to millions of square kilometers of territory under the Arctic Ocean, following their discovery of a link between a major underwater ridge and Russia's coastal shelf, Russian media reports.

The director of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute was quoted by the Izvestia daily as saying that an expedition has determined that the Lomonosov Ridge running across the North Pole is an extension of the Eurasian continent.

The six-week-long expedition on a nuclear icebreaker measured 700 square kilometers (270 sq. miles) of seabed and conducted a series of detailed scans and acoustic measurements of the relief, the newspaper reported Friday.

"The Lomonosov Ridge forms an inalienable part of Russia's Siberian platform," institute deputy director Viktor Posyolov was quoted by ITAR-Tass as saying.

The discovery could not be independently confirmed and no Russian officials could be reached for comment Friday.

The reports said the find means Russia could potentially claim an area the size of Germany, France and Italy combined, which may contain up to 10 billion cubic meters of hydrocarbons, along with diamonds and metal ores.

International law says that a country can claim rights to seabed within 200 miles (320 kilometers) of its continental shelf.

Russia has repeatedly claimed wide swaths of undersea Arctic territory, though four other polar countries -- Norway, Denmark, Canada and the United States -- have objected to its bid, which was first presented to the United Nations in 2001.

Experts say global warming is opening up the Arctic to new economic pressures, as receding ice exposes new areas of ocean and tundra to exploration and ice-free zones result in shorter shipping lanes.

Source: CNN, POSTED: updated 5:21 a.m. EDT, Sunday July 1, 2007


Robots to search unexplored Arctic for new life Robotic underwater vehicle called "Camper" (Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst Photo)
BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) -- Researchers hope newly developed robots will give them their first look at a mysterious ridge located between Greenland and Siberia.

The Gakkel Ridge, encased under the frozen Arctic Ocean, is steep and rocky, and scientists suspect its remote location hosts an array of undiscovered life.

Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod plan to begin a 40-day expedition of the ridge on July 1. They plan to use the robots to navigate and map its terrain and sample any life found near a series of underwater hot springs.

Tim Shank, lead biologist on the international expedition, said researchers have no idea what new life at the ridge might be like.

"I almost think it's like going to Australia for the first time, knowing it's there, but not knowing what lives there," he said.

The Gakkel Ridge marks a 1,100-mile stretch from north of Greenland toward Siberia, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates continuously move away from each other.

Scientists believe new life could be discovered there because of hot springs that are created at such tectonic boundaries when ocean water comes into contact with hot magma rising from the earth's mantle.

The organisms known to exist in the Arctic basin, where the Gakkel is located, may have evolved in a unique fashion because they were mostly isolated from the life in the deep waters of other oceans for all but the last 25 million years, said Robert Reves-Sohn, the expedition's lead scientist.

The job of reaching any new organisms at the ridge falls to scientists operating three new robotic vehicles, two of which are designed to navigate untethered under the ice.

The two robots, named Puma and Jaguar, cost about US$450,000 (euro335,000) each and received significant funding from NASA because their mission is similar to what scientists hope to do in a future exploration under the ice of one of Jupiter's moons, Europa.

The robots are built to descend to about 5,000 meters and work 5 to 6 meters off the bottom, photographing and removing samples, said Hanumant Singh, the project's chief engineer.

The advances are no guarantee of success, however.

The hot springs are difficult to find in far less challenging conditions and the margin for error is thin, since the robots cannot surface through the ice and be retrieved if there are problems.

Singh said the excitement of finding new organisms and understanding the geology in the Arctic outweighs any risks to the robots.

"Even though we know there's a strong probability, or there's a reasonable probability of losing a vehicle, it's still worth it," he said.

Source: CNN, POSTED: 1:20 p.m. EDT, June 22, 2007


Ancient ice shelf breaks free from Canadian ArcticIce Shelf Breaks Free, Ellesmere Island (CNN Photo)
TORONTO, Ontario (AP) -- A giant ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields has snapped free from Canada's Arctic, scientists said.

The mass of ice broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island, about 800 kilometers (497 miles) south of the North Pole, but no one was present to see it in Canada's remote north.

Scientists using satellite images later noticed that it became a newly formed ice island in just an hour and left a trail of icy boulders floating in its wake. (Watch the satellite images that clued in ice watchers)

Warwick Vincent of Laval University, who studies Arctic conditions, traveled to the newly formed ice island and could not believe what he saw.

"This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years. We are crossing climate thresholds, and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead," Vincent said Thursday.

In 10 years of working in the region he has never seen such a dramatic loss of sea ice, he said.

The collapse was so powerful that earthquake monitors 250 kilometers (155 miles) away picked up tremors from it.

The Ayles Ice Shelf, roughly 66 square kilometers (25 square miles) in area, was one of six major ice shelves remaining in Canada's Arctic.

Scientists say it is the largest event of its kind in Canada in 30 years and point their fingers at climate change as a major contributing factor.

"It is consistent with climate change," Vincent said, adding that the remaining ice shelves are 90 percent smaller than when they were first discovered in 1906.

"We aren't able to connect all of the dots ... but unusually warm temperatures definitely played a major role."

Laurie Weir, who monitors ice conditions for the Canadian Ice Service, was poring over satellite images in 2005 when she noticed that the shelf had split and separated.

Weir notified Luke Copland, head of the new global ice lab at the University of Ottawa, who initiated an effort to find out what happened.

Using U.S. and Canadian satellite images, as well as data from seismic monitors, Copland discovered that the ice shelf collapsed in the early afternoon of August 13, 2005.

"What surprised us was how quickly it happened," Copland said. "It's pretty alarming.

"Even 10 years ago scientists assumed that when global warming changes occur that it would happen gradually so that perhaps we expected these ice shelves just to melt away quite slowly, but the big surprise is that for one they are going, but secondly that when they do go, they just go suddenly, it's all at once, in a span of an hour."

Within days, the floating ice shelf had drifted a few miles (kilometers) offshore. It traveled west for 50 kilometers (31 miles) until it finally froze into the sea ice in the early winter.

The Canadian ice shelves are packed with ancient ice that dates back over 3,000 years. They float on the sea but are connected to land.

Derek Mueller, a polar researcher with Vincent's team, said the ice shelves get weaker and weaker as the temperature rises. He visited Ellesmere's Ward Hunt Ice Shelf in 2002 and noticed it had cracked in half.

"We're losing our ice shelves, and this a feature of the landscape that is in danger of disappearing altogether from Canada," Mueller said. "In the global perspective Antarctica has many ice shelves bigger than this one, but then there is the idea that these are indicators of climate change."

The spring thaw may bring another concern as the warming temperatures could release the ice shelf from its Arctic grip. Prevailing winds could then send the ice island southwards, deep into the Beaufort Sea.

"Over the next few years this ice island could drift into populated shipping routes," Weir said. "There's significant oil and gas development in this region as well, so we'll have to keep monitoring its location over the next few years."

Source: CNN, POSTED: 11:23 a.m. EST, January 4, 2007

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