Under the Ice: Research Diving in Antarctica


Maggie Koerth-Baker

The Polar regions of the Arctic and the Antarctic are both cold. Beyond that, you can’t really talk about conditions at one pole based on the conditions at the other. Case in point: Sea ice. Since 1979, there’s been a significant decrease in Arctic sea ice—about 4% per decade—correlated closely to an increase in global average temperatures.

But Antarctica is different. Averaged out, sea ice around the Frozen Continent has grown by a little less than 1% per decade. From place-to-place, season-to-season, and year-to-year, however, the trends in Antarctic sea ice have shown a lot more variability than those in the Arctic. In other words, there’s a lot we don’t know about sea ice in the Antarctic and, right now, the data we have is too noisy to say much about it for sure. At least, in a big picture sort of way.

In the small picture, though, this year has been tough one on the Ross Sea, near the McMurdo scientific research station. The sea ice in McMurdo Sound is thin; the snow is thick, and both those things have big implications for the scientists who normally work out on the sea ice. Henry Kaiser is a diver, filmmaker, and musician who has spent the last 10 years aiding scientists on research dives off the Antarctic coast. In this story, he talks about how thinner-than-normal sea ice affects scientists’ ability to do their jobs.

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