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.
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. (via /.)
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.
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."How to get along for 500 days alone together"
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.
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.
Read the rest
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.
This is a detail from one of the regularly updated maps that researchers in Antarctica use when they want to leave McMurdo Station and travel across the continent's sea ice. It shows the well-traveled routes across McMurdo Sound, ice thickness measurements taken at various points along the road, and hazards like large cracks in the ice.
Towards the north end of the Sound, you can see an island labeled, "Inaccessible Island". I asked Henry Kaiser — a musician and filmmaker who has spent the last decade working with scientists on the frozen continent — about why that island was inaccessible. After all, I didn't see any major cracks or hazards around it. Seems like you could traverse the ice to the island just fine.
Turns out, I was misunderstanding. Inaccessible isn't a designation. Inaccessible is the island's official name. Even though it's not. Inaccessible, I mean. Named by Robert Scott, it's part of a chain of islands that all represent the remains of an ancient volcanic crater. The name apparently comes from the fact that Inaccessible Island is incredibly steep, so while you can reach it, getting onto the damn thing seems to be a lot harder.
Inaccessible Island in McMurdo Sound is not to be confused with the Inaccessible Island that is located in the south Atlantic about halfway between South America and Africa; nor with the Inaccessible Islands, an entire group of islands located between the tip of South America and tip of the Antarctic peninsula; nor with Inexpressible Island, an Antarctic island where part of Scott's crew on his second expedition was forced to spend the winter of 1912 living in a cave and eating penguins.
• Read about Inaccessible Island (the one in McMurdo Sound) in the report of Robert Scott's first expedition to Antarctica, published in 1907.
Google unveils Street View imagery from Antarctica, including South Pole Telescope, Shackleton sites
Today, Google is launching access to a new collection of hi-res imagery from the Antarctic. In this post are some examples of those stunning vistas, shared with Boing Boing courtesy of Google. Alex Starns, Technical Program Manager for the Street View team, writes:
Back in September 2010, we launched the first Street View imagery of the Antarctic, enabling people from more habitable lands to see penguins in Antarctica for the first time. Today we’re bringing you additional panoramic imagery of historic Antarctic locations that you can view from the comfort of your homes. We’ll be posting this special collection to our World Wonders site, where you can learn more about the history of South Pole exploration.
With the help of the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota and the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, we’ve added 360-imagery of many important spots, inside and out, such as the South Pole Telescope, Shackleton's hut, Scott’s hut, Cape Royds Adélie Penguin Rookery and the Ceremonial South Pole.
More about the project here. And more images below!
Read the rest
Between 1910 and 1913, surgeon George Levick traveled with Robert Scott through Antarctica on a mission to reach the South Pole. Along the way, Scott's team recorded their observations of Antarctica and its wildlife, observations that were later published in scientific journals. At least, most of the observations were published. Some of Levick's notes ended up being left out of the official journals, only printed in pamphlet form, like some kind of academic Tijuana Bible.
The reason: Those notes were full of Levick's horrified documentation of depraved penguin sex acts—tales so unfit for polite society that Levick actually wrote most of them in Greek, rather than English.
Recently rediscovered and translated, these notes have now been published for the first time in the journal Polar Record. The excerpts printed on the LiveScience site read like something from an addendum to Heart of Darkness.
"This afternoon I saw a most extraordinary site [sic]. A Penguin was actually engaged in sodomy upon the body of a dead white throated bird of its own species. The act occurred a full minute, the position taken up by the cock differing in no respect from that of ordinary copulation, and the whole act was gone through down to the final depression of the cloaca."
In another entry, this one written in English on Dec. 6 of that year, he wrote: "I saw another act of astonishing depravity today. A hen which had been in some way badly injured in the hindquarters was crawling painfully along on her belly. I was just wondering whether I ought to kill her or not, when a cock noticed her in passing, and went up to her. After a short inspection he deliberately raped her, she being quite unable to resist him."
Levick described penguins that waddled about the colony's outskirts terrorizing any straying chicks as "little knots of hooligans" in his pamphlet. "The crimes which they commit are such as to find no place in this book, but it is interesting indeed to note that, when nature intends them to find employment, these birds, like men, degenerate in idleness."
Thanks Chris Baker!
I love this video of an iceberg collapsing in on itself in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica. (Word of warning, the people filming this loved the experience even more than I loved watching it, so much so that you may want to turn your speakers down.)
There are two kinds of icebergs, tabular and non-tabular. The tabular ones are what they sound like, big flat sheets of ice. Non-tabular are different—irregular shapes that become even more irregular as bits and pieces of them melt. Judging by the arched shape this iceberg had taken on, it probably falls into the non-tabular category. Implosion happens when melting weakens key structural support within that shape and bits of the iceberg begin to crash in on itself, accelerating the breakup. Both tabular and non-tabular icebergs and catastrophically fail like this, though.
Another fun iceberg fact: There are six size categories we sort icebergs by. Four of them have pretty predictable names: "Small", "Medium", "Large", and "Very Large". But below "small" are two size categories with a little more whimsy.
Icebergs with a hight of less than 3.3 feet and a length less than 16 feet are called "Growlers".
If the height shorter than 16 feet and the length shorter than 49 feet, then the iceberg is called, adorably, "a Bergy Bit". Yes, that is a technical term.
The United States Antarctic station at McMurdo Sound was opened in 1956. Originally it was operated by the Navy, rather than the National Science Foundation. This photo was taken during the Navy years, in November of 1958.
The flat white snow at the bottom of the photo is the frozen McMurdo Sound. The 'road' is the landing strip for the U.S. Navy planes which supported the U.S. Antarctic Program when this photo was taken. You can see the airplanes parked near McMurdo Station, along the coastline. This U.S. Navy photo was donated by Charlotte Koch, whose husband Richard Koch was a P2V Navy pilot in Antarctica.
The photo (and that quote) comes from a collection of historical photos in the United States Antarctic Program's photo library.
The history of the McMurdo site turns out to be pretty interesting. The first human presence there dates to 1902. It's where Robert Scott made landfall and, up until the Navy arrived in 1955, the only buildings at the site were Scott's hut, and a couple of other shelters built to house Scott's equipment. By 1960, there were 90 permanent structures.
But this isn't a story of runaway growth. Scientists in Antarctica recognized the need to preserve the ecology of the continent pretty early on. Today, there are about 100 buildings at McMurdo and the facility hasn't been allowed to expand much beyond the landscape impacted by humans during the first 10-15 years of the station's existence.
Read a 2008 paper from the journal Polar Geography about McMurdo's history and efforts to document and limit the station's growth.
Photos via Peter Rejcek, a great person to follow if you want to know more about Antarctic science.
Numbers can be powerful things, but they don't necessarily help the average person grasp what's actually going on in science. Instead, personal stories tend to make a bigger impact. And that's understandable. Things you can see—or things that someone can show you—are going to stick in your head a bit more than a barrage of data.
This is especially a problem, I think, with climate change. Some of the largest impact of climate change, so far, have happened in places far removed from the experiences of the people who create the most anthropogenic greenhouse gases. So it's often hard to take the idea "the Earth is getting warmer" and really grok what that actually means.
That's why people like Will Steger are important. Steger is an explorer and science communicator who has won the National Geographic Society's John Oliver La Gorce Medal—an award that's also been given to Amelia Earhart, Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen and Jacques Cousteau.
He does most of his work in the Arctic and Antarctic, places where he has clearly seen the results of climate change. In a video of a presentation at the University of Minnesota, Steger shows you his experiences—and what they mean. How has climate change altered the landscape of the poles? What does that mean for the future of the Earth? Steger does a good job of making the data feel like something real.
I wish I could figure out how to embed this, but you should go watch it, nonetheless. It's a long video, but worth the time.
Henry Kaiser—filmmaker, musician, Antarctic research diver and BoingBoing guest blogger—took a series of infrared portraits of scientists and staff at the McMurdo Research Station. I really like the way these infrared photos feel like they capture the cold environment better than a normal photo would. Another bonus: I keep having to remind myself that, no, everybody in Antarctica has not dyed their hair blue.
One more incredibly cool video from research diver, musician, and filmmaker Henry Kaiser. Henry says:
"Since support workers in town cannot make their usual recreational trips out onto the sea ice, the powers-that-be at McMurdo Station installed the OB TUBE within walking distance of town.
Anyone can climb down the ladder and watch us divers at work under the ice. The snow was bulldozed off of the sea ice around the observation tube, creating a very light environment; which seems to have attracted an enormous population of larval and juvenile ice fish that form great clouds around the tube."
Suddenly, I wish I were washing dishes in Antarctica.
This video was made by Henry Kaiser, a musician and research diver who guest blogged here yesterday about the problems caused by thinning sea ice in Antarctica. The film takes you on a tour of McMurdo Station and the research being done there by Gretchen Hoffman of the University of California Santa Barbara.
Kaiser dives for different researchers every year. This year, he's working with Hoffman's team, helping them study the effects of climate change on ocean life. Specifically, Hoffman has Kaiser out collecting Antarctic sea urchins so that her team can extract the animals' sperm and eggs to test the development of sea urchin zygotes in differing conditions of PH and temperature.
There's great footage in here of human life above the ice, and animal life below. It's a bit long, but I recommend taking the time to watch the whole thing.
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.Read the rest
When I recycle, I have to separate out metal, plastic, chipboard, glass, plain paper, glossy paper, and newsprint. That sounds like a lot of separating, until you compare it to the recycling protocol at McMurdo Scientific Research Station, Antarctica.Read the rest
Dayton's Wall is an underwater geologic formation named for Paul Dayton, a marine ecologist who studies the lives and interactions between seafloor-dwelling organisms. Located in Antarctica, in an area of the Ross Sea between McMurdo Station and Cape Armitage, Dayton's Wall is a great place to spot creatures that live on the rocky Antarctic seafloor.
This footage of life on Dayton's Wall was shot by Henry Kaiser, a man with a really awesome CV. Kaiser is a musician and filmmaker, and for the last decade he's also worked as a research diver, conducting dives beneath the Antarctic sea ice on behalf of scientists stationed at McMurdo.
Kaiser has turned some of his footage into music videos, set to songs performed by Nik Bärtsch's RONIN. With the artist's permission, Kaiser made two music videos. This one, and another set just beneath the surface of the ice. They're both beautiful and haunting, and make me want to find out more about Nik Bärtsch's RONIN, who I'd never heard of before.
We'll have more from Henry Kaiser soon, including an upcoming guest blog post. Watch this space for Antarctic wonders. And, in the meantime, check out his YouTube page. He posts new videos every day.