This combination of Dec. 10, 2013, left, and March 11, 2014 photos provided by NASA shows a large iceberg separating from the Pine Island Glacier and traveling across Pine Island Bay in Antarctica. (NASA)
One of the largest icebergs on the planet, about six times the size of Manhattan, has separated from an Antarctic glacier and is floating out towards open ocean. The iceberg is named B-31, and is roughly 255 square miles (660 square km). Its estimated maximum thickness is 1,600 feet (487 meters). Last Fall, it broke off from the Pine Island Glacier. Researchers have been watching it drift away since then, via satellite.
"The ice island, named B31, will likely be swept up soon in the swift currents of the Southern Ocean, though it will be hard to track visually for the next six months as Antarctica heads into winter darkness," according to scientists at NASA's Earth Observatory monitoring its progress.
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The Antarctic Heritage Trust of New Zealand announced
(PDF) that it had discovered a century-old box of photographic negatives from Captain Scott's last expedition base at Cape Evans, depicting Ernest Shackleton's 1914-1917 Ross Sea Party. The mouldy cellulose nitrate negs were among 10,000 artifacts recovered from Scott's Cape Evans hut, and were "clumped together." The negs were painstakingly restored and the photos have been published
. They're damaged but remarkable, and no one knows who took them.
The valleys of Antarctica are the coldest places on Earth — where dense, super-chilled air accumulates, dropping the temperature as low as -136 ˚F (-93.2 ˚C). — Maggie
Antarctica's Organic Lake is 8 degrees Fahrenheit, but the water doesn't freeze, thanks to a heavy concentration of salt. But wait, it gets more awesome. Despite the cold and the salt, Organic Lake is also home to a diverse array of life
. — Maggie
The ice sheet that covers Antarctica is almost two miles thick in some places. But the British Antarctic Survey is able to peek beneath the frozen surface with the help of satellites, lasers, and radar.
Here's an incredibly cool video showing the prow of a massive ice breaking ship as it plows through Antarctica's Ross Sea. The footage is sped up, to pack two months of travel into five minutes. But, unlike a lot of time-lapse videos, this one also has a really informative audio track, in which marine scientist Cassandra Brooks waxes poetic about the many different kinds of ice and explains why she and her team were out there, breaking through the stuff, to begin with.
Bonus: At the end, you get to see the absolute adorableness that is penguins on high-speed fast forward.
Via Deep Sea News
Antarctica: A Year On Ice looks like it's going to offer a damn fine supply of polar landscape porn.
Be sure to stick through to the final scene of the trailer, which is awe-inspiring in an entirely different way.
Let's just play this safe and assume that, until more samples have been collected and detailed DNA analysis has been done, the real answer to the question, "Is bacteria found in Antarctica's Lake Vostok
actually new to science or just contamination from the drilling?" is "We don't really know."
This is a great example of why making scientific pronouncements from the field, before you've had time to do the really in-depth analysis that goes into writing a peer-reviewed research paper, can be problematic. Right now, you've got different camps of researchers making totally contradictory claims. Who is right is, so far, anybody's guess. — Maggie
"You can say anything you want in a press release". Sadly, that sentiment is too true. Turns out, recent reports of the discovery of previously unknown bacteria in samples hauled up from the waters of Antarctica's frozen Lake Vostok have turned out to be premature. The bacteria turned out to be contaminants carried by the drilling and collection apparatus
. At Scientific American, Elizabeth Howell talks about this flub in the context of other stories where scientists bypassed peer review and announced findings to the newspapers first. — Maggie
Last week, "Inspiration Mars
" announced its search for a male and female couple to do a Mars flyby mission, requiring the pair to spend 501 days alone together. Sailors/adventurers Deborah Shapiro and Rolf Bjelke have some experience doing just that, at least terrestrially. More than twenty years ago, Shapiro and Bielke had 9 months of alone time on the Antarctic Peninsula. By choice. Shapiro wrote about their experience in a book called Time On Ice
. Over at BBC News, Shapiro answers the question: "Why didn't you two kill each other?"
One has to be able to give the other person mental elbow room. During our winter, when a person settled into the sofa in the salon with a book and started reading, he or she was not interrupted.
Keeping quiet when the person is close enough to practically read one's thoughts, is a matter of self-discipline, fuelled by caring.
The only exception to our silence rule was for boat-related safety issues. The boat, for obvious reasons of survival, always came first.
"How to get along for 500 days alone together
“It appears that there lies a large wetland ecosystem under Antarctica’s ice sheet, with an active microbiology.” — There's some really exciting news coming from the land at the bottom of the world
. — Maggie
Or as I like to call it, Cape Fuckthiswearegoinghome.
Sadly, Antarctica's Cape Goodenough (pictured here on National Geographic's Political Map of the World) was not named by a less-then-intrepid band of explorers who decided that seeing the coastline of Antarctica was plenty of adventure for them, thankyouverymuch.
Instead, it's named for William Goodenough, admiral in the British Royal Navy. Yes. Admiral Goodenough. I'm sure the troops were enthused.
But wait, there's more. In the 1930s and 1940s, the admiral was apparently involved in the creation of comfortable, dormitory-style housing for international post-graduate students in London. Today, the buildings are known as ... Goodenough College.
Underwater, Antarctica's Weddell seals are fast-moving, graceful predators, catching and eating as much as 100 pounds of food per day. They dine on squids and fish and have been known to enjoy the occasional penguin or two.
On land, they are hilariously ineffectual blobs of jelly.
You can see that dichotomy in action in this great (and long) video made by Henry Kaiser in Antarctica. Following the adventures of a baby seal on the ice and under the water, the video is peaceful, meditative and reminds me a bit of the sort of old-school Sesame Street video that would build simple, kid-friendly narratives out of nature footage and music. (The music, by the way, was written and performed by Henry Kaiser, as well.)
Despite their poor performance in land-based locomotion, Weddell seals actually live on the ice, descending into the water to hunt and mate and swim around. They use natural holes in the ice to get from above to below and back, but they also work to maintain those holes and often use their teeth to chew at the edge of the ice and make a small hole larger. At about 13 minutes into the video, you can watch a seal doing just that — rubbing its head back and forth to enlarge an opening in the ice.
And why hang out on the ice, to begin with? Simple. In the water, seals are, themselves, potential dinners for larger creatures. On land, they have no natural predators at all and can safely bask in the sun, lying on their cute and chubby bellies for so long that their body heat hollows out divots in the ice.
Henry Kaiser is kind of our man on the inside in Antarctica. He works there every year as a film maker, turning science into movies. He sent this awesome Halloween greeting from underneath the sea ice.
Bonus: He also sent us a video taken at the same spot — only this has 100% fewer wacky masks and 100% more sea anemones.
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LocalWiki's Philip Neustrom says,
My non-profit, LocalWiki, has been working on this really incredible
project to help document the continent of Antarctica. Most notable,
at least right now, is this custom map we've pieced together from
very-hard-to-find NASA aerial imagery and coastline datasets. It's
probably the most beautiful thing I've ever worked on.
Check out the LocalWiki for Antarctica. The project "aims to document the
full extent of human involvement on the continent," and for now is focused on a two-mile region
surrounding Palmer Station.