BB contributor and DIY science hacker Ariel Waldman recently went on a research expedition to Antarctica to study microscopic extremophiles under the ice. She made a great video series about it and has now created a wonderful interactive tour of this hidden world called "Life Under the Ice." It's damn cool. (Get it? Get it?!) From Ariel's project description:
Typically when we think about Antarctica, we think of a place that's barren and lifeless... except for a few penguins. But Antarctica should instead be known as a polar oasis of life, host to countless creatures that are utterly fascinating. They’ve just been invisible to us – until now. Life Under the Ice enables anyone to delve into the microscopic world of Antarctica as an explorer; as if you had been shrunk down and were wading through one large petri dish of curiosities...
The collected Antarctic microbes were found living within glaciers, under the sea ice, next to frozen lakes, and in subglacial ponds. Microbes from under the sea ice were discovered in the Southern Ocean’s McMurdo Sound near McMurdo Station and the Erebus Glacier Tongue. Microbes from glaciers and frozen lakes were discovered in the McMurdo Dry Valleys at Lake Bonney and Lake Hoare.
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This video is apparently from January of 2019, but I saw it on Twitter the other day, accompanying the news about the record-breaking ice melt in Antarctica over the holidays.
Did you hear about that? How the ice in Antarctica is melting at alarming rates, because of climate change, which is real? There aren't a lot of humans in Antarctica to witness the gradual encroach of our ecological apocalypse, but it's happening.
Anyway, the penguin video. It's a thriller. That chunk of ice cracks off — again, because of rising global temperatures — and poor little penguin dude is stuck there is it floats away, while her other penguin friends are safe on the other side. I don't think I've watched anything this intense since the last time I saw the end of Toy Story 3. I held my breath for damn near a minute, hoping that lil' tuxedo'd waddler would be okay. If we're not gonna freak out about climate change, we should at least be worried about our poor penguin friends!
But also, climate change is terrifying, and this penguin is a portent for the future that all of us are headed for. Read the rest
Our friend Ariel Waldman (who has written for Boing Boing quite a bit) recently led an expedition to Antarctica to look for extremophiles. She made a great YouTube series chronicling her work there and recently uploaded the final video in the series.
Above: Ep. 1 - How to get to Antarctica.
Ep. 2 - Antarctica under the ice:
Ep. 3 - Camping in Antarctica:
Ep. 4 - Extremophiles of Antarctica:
Ep. 5 - Antarctica robot road trip:
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A new study on polar ice sheet melt warns that global sea levels could rise by almost six feet by the year 2100, an estimate twice as high as previously predicted. Read the rest
A massive cavity so large you could fit New York City inside of it has opened up under Thwaites glacier in Antarctica. Scientists say if it collapses, as it's likely to do within the next 50 to 100 years, it could cause a catastrophic rise in sea levels capable of flood coastal cities around the world. Read the rest
On April 29, 1961, Dr. Leonid Rogozov was in Antarctica in a blizzard when his stomach began to hurt. Badly. The only physician on the Soviet Antarctic Expedition, Rogozov realized his appendix needed to come out before it burst and killed him. Rogozov's only choice was to take the matter into his hands. He roped in a meteorologist and a driver to assist. From MDLinx:
Dr. Rogozov assumed a semi-reclined position designed to allow him to perform the operation with minimal use of a mirror...
“It was frequently necessary to raise my head in order to see better, and sometimes I had to work entirely by feel,” Dr. Rogozov wrote. “General weakness became severe after 30 to 40 minutes, and vertigo developed, so that short pauses for rest were necessary.”
Toward the end of the operation, Dr. Rogozov nearly lost consciousness and he feared he would not survive....
After resection of the severely diseased vermiform appendix (including a 2 × 2 cm perforation at the base), antibiotics were introduced into the peritoneal cavity, and he closed the wound...
Understandably, he described his postoperative condition as “moderately poor,” although signs of peritonitis resolved during the next 4 days. At 5 days post-surgery, his fever diminished, and the sutures were removed by day 7. After 2 weeks, he was back to work.
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NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Program released this astonishing aerial photo of a rectangular iceberg in Antarctica. Located on the Larsen C ice shelf, the curious iceberg is likely one mile or so across. From the BBC News:
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Such objects are not unknown, however, and even have a name - tabular icebergs.
These are flat and long and form by splitting away from the edges of ice shelves.
Kelly Brunt, a glaciologist with Nasa and the University of Maryland, said the process of formation was a bit like a fingernail growing too long and cracking off at the end.
They were often geometrically-shaped as a result, she said.
"What makes this one a bit unusual is that it looks almost like a square," she added.
When wind blows over the snow of Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf, the surface vibrates and produces a beautiful and eery drone. Colorado State University researchers deployed seismometers to explore the subsurface of the ice shelf and were surprised to learn that their sensors recorded the natural song of the terrain. The frequencies are below the threshold of human hearing and are sped up for audibility in the video above. From the scientific paper:
Ice shelves are the floating buttresses of large glaciers that extend over the oceans and play a key role in restraining inland glaciers as they flow to the sea. Deploying sensitive
seismographs across Earth’s largest ice shelf (the Ross Ice Shelf) for 2 years, we discovered that the shelf
nearly continuously sings at frequencies of five or more cycles per second, excited by local and regional
winds blowing across its snow dune-like topography. We find that the frequencies and other features of
this singing change, both as storms alter the snow dunes and during a (January 2016) warming event
that resulted in melting in the ice shelf’s near surface. These observations demonstrate that seismological
monitoring can be used to continually monitor the near-surface conditions of an ice shelf and other icy
bodies to depths of several meters.
More at Colorado State University News.
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Greenpeace International just released this beautiful music video for "Hands off the Antarctic," a new track by Radiohead's Thom Yorke. Part of Greenpeace's Protect the Antarctic Ocean initiative, the footage is from their Arctic Sunrise research vessel.
"There are some places on this planet that are meant to stay raw and wild and not destroyed by humanity’s footprint,” Yorke said. “This track is about stopping the relentless march of those heavy footsteps. The Antarctic is a true wilderness and what happens there affects us all. That’s why we should protect it.”
The environmental group premiered the video yesterday by projecting it onto London's Marble Arch.
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Very quickly. Before it, and you, freeze.
On Cyprien Verseux's Twitter account, wonderful snapshots of fun with food on the bleak, frozen ice sheets of Antarctica. Read the rest
Antarctica's brutal climate is taking its toll on the historic bases built by the original explorers and scientists. Now preservationists are working to preserve these important sites. Read the rest
With climate change comes extreme temperatures, and scientists just recorded a new low.
Nearly 15 degrees colder than the previous record-breaking coldest temperature, which was -128 degrees in 1983 near the South Pole, the temperature in Antarctica dropped to -144 degrees Fahrenheit.
Temperatures this low make Antarctica "almost like another planet," says lead researcher Ted Scambos at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, quoted in Forbes.
Taking just a few breaths of air this cold would kill you. According to Forbes, "At that temperature, just a few breaths of air would induce hemorrhaging in your lungs and quickly lead to death."
The temperature was recorded using satellite measurements in the middle of Antarctica during the depths of winter where the sun never rises. These findings, recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, are close to the theoretical coldest temperature Earth can get down to.
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Penguins huddle in frigid temperatures, but rather than stay in one place, timelapse footage shows that when one occasionally takes a step, others follow suit, creating a low-moving wave and allowing those on outer edges to move in over time. Read the rest
Chock up another one for the women and men who work in Antarctica. Not only do they spent months on end slugging away for the betterment of humankind, they also mark the turning of the seasons by watching a film about a crew in their shoes being hunted by an alien threat.
iO9 reports that every year after scientists and logistical staff leave Antarctica for the winter, the skeleton crew that maintains one of the research stations over the winter months gathers to watch the 1951 sci-fi classic The Thing From Another World. The movie, which is as corny as you might imagine, still managed to be menacing enough to inspire John Carpenter to create The Thing, back in 1982. The best bit: The Antarctic winter crew watch the movie after the last flight leaves the island, knowing that they'll be isolated for months from the rest of the world as the howling winter storms envelope the continent.
I can't imagine that the isolation that the winter crew faces while they're in Antarctica does anything good for their skulls. That they make light of things going terribly wrong for folks in a similar situation to the one that they face? That's bad ass.
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Researchers from the Antarctic Heritage Trust turned up this 100-year-old fruitcake in a Cape Adare hut. From their report:
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One of the weirdest places in Antarctica is Blood Falls, a five-story cascade of blood-red liquid pouring from Taylor Glacier. Researchers finally traced its source: a saltwater lake millions of years old trapped under the glacier. Read the rest