Thursday, December 31, 2009

Antarctic Cruise Guide - 2nd Edition

Professor Craig Franklin from the UQ School of Biological Sciences has recently announced the release of the second edition Antarctica Cruising Guide, believed to be the most comprehensive guide for tourists to the area.

Up to 40,000 tourists visit Antarctica each year and this number is set to increase.

The guide, co-authored with Dr Peter Carey, was written to inform people about Antarctica in a way that would not only enhance their trip south but also raise awareness of threats to Antarctic conservation.

"Sales of the first edition of the book exceeded our expectations so much so that AWA Press wanted to release a second edition," Professor Franklin said.

"We took the opportunity of the second edition to expand the coverage of the highlights of Antarctica and more importantly, to update the threatened species status of key wildlife found in the Southern Ocean.

"It is alarming that more than one-third of the species described in the book are listed as threatened and endangered. In this edition we have been able to devote a chapter to 'Threats to Antarctic Conservation'."

The new edition includes chapters on the Falkland Islands and South Georgia which are now being visited more often by tourists, as well as Ross Island which is being visited by tourists travelling directly from Hobart to Antarctica by sea.

"We have covered most tourist destinations as well as those sites which are of scientific and historical importance. There is no book that gives such a thorough overview of the places that most people are able to visit in Antarctica," Professor Franklin said.

Professor Franklin and Dr Care, have spent four years carrying out scientific work or lecturing on cruise ships in the Antarctic.

"We are well qualified to help more people appreciate and have a greater understanding for the ice," he said.

Antarctica Cruising Guide is available in bookshops and online and is published by AWA Press, New Zealand.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mawson's hut team sets up home on the ice

Pauline Askin

Aerial shot of ice cracking on the Cape Denison coastline, East Antarctica

I am now standing on Antarctica, my icy home for the next six weeks and it’s minus five degrees Celsius and majestic. My new address is Commonwealth Bay, Cape Denison, 67 degrees South, East Antarctica.

A group of curious penguins greeted us as we unpacked our gear, but our nearest human neighbours are 200 kms west at the French Antarctic base Dumont D’Urville.
Commonwealth Bay looks like a tourism postcard. A curved bay with a coastline of ice cliffs. The isolation is stark. Apart from Sir Douglas Mawson’s huts, which we are here to restore, a radio mast and our portacabins, there is nothing but ice. From today we will live and work in close quarters without seeing anyone else until a scheduled cruise ship arrival in mid-January 2010.

It’s 10.24 pm as I write this blog but it is not night. This is a land that never gets dark during summer, which is a little surreal.

I have been awake for nearly 24 hours since l’Astrolabe arrived in Commonwealth Bay in perfect weather, light winds and cloud cover, ending our 2,500 kms journey from Australia. After a quick coffee we started the helicopter shuttle.

It took us two hours and about seven helicopter trips to transfer the 10 members of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation 2009/10 Expedition, laden with polar clothing, survival packs and work equipment. There were also 14 caged pallets of food, scientific equipment, generators, fuel and building materials for the restoration work.

I was fortunate to go back up in the helicopter for about 20 minutes while my colleague Dr. Peter Morse was shooting video footage for a documentary.

Aerial shot of the huts Sir Douglas Mawson and his team lived in during their 1911-13 expedition

I had a bird’s eye view of the Cape Denison coast, where I saw deep cracks in the ice cliffs and my first sight of Mawson’s huts, half buried under snow and ice from the Antarctic winter. With everything firmly planted on the ice, the pilot waved us goodbye as he hovered overhead.

We quickly unpacked equipment so that we could get indoors and get properly clothed as fast as possible, then erected tents, dug a freezer cave for our frozen foods and unpacked pallets. There is still a few days work unpacking the pallets.

By about 9 a.m. we were sitting down to a steaming bowl of Egyptian lentil soup made by one of the team — it was delicious and just what was needed to warm up.
The rest of the day passed very quickly and included a walk to Mawson’s huts. The main hut and workshop are pretty well exposed and there’ll be no problems getting access to restore them, says expedition leader Tony Stewart. Some of the group did a water run to Alga Lake to secure some freshly melted Antarctic snow. Most people have now gone to bed and it’s time for me to join the slumber party. Good night.

Aerial shot of the Astrolabe in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Iceberg a 'once-in-a-lifetime' sighting

A giant iceberg - 19km long - drifting towards Western Australia has been hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime rarity for both its size and the length of its journey.

The iceberg, known as B17B, is currently 1,700km from Australia's west coast on a lengthy and laborious journey from Antarctica.

It is one of the biggest icebergs ever seen in that part of the world and has amazed scientists for having maintained its impressive size without breaking apart.

"It's very rare, uncommon, but not unusual," Australian Antarctic Division glaciologist Dr Neal Young told AAP on Wednesday.

"Icebergs do come from time to time and they can be very big, but it can be a long time before we spot one - so it's really a once-in-a-lifetime sighting."

Originally three-times its current size, the iceberg broke off Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf in 2000 along with a slew of others.

The iceberg has since travelled thousands of kilometres and a third of the way around Antarctica thanks to ocean currents and winds.

It stayed completely still in one spot for about five years.

As it makes its way slowly north towards Australia, the iceberg is likely to split into smaller pieces as it gets closer - if it comes this way at all, Dr Young said.

Dr Young originally spotted the iceberg using satellite images from NASA and the European Space Agency.

The iceberg is 19km by 8km, equating to an area of 140 square kilometres - roughly double the size of Sydney Harbour.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Zealand fears tourism disaster in Antarctica

New rules are needed for tourist ships visiting Antarctica to prevent a disaster in the world's most isolated region, according to New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.

"I am greatly concerned that unless we take action, there will be a serious maritime casualty involving a tourist vessel in Antarctica, and we will be faced with a humanitarian and environmental disaster," McCully said.

A three-day meeting started in Wellington Wednesday of about 80 experts from the 47 Antarctic Treaty countries, aimed at drawing up new regulations for tourist ships visiting Antarctica.

McCully told the meeting that four tourist ships had run aground in the past three years, and 154 people had to be rescued by a nearby vessel after the Canadian-owned Explorer sank after hitting an iceberg in 2007.

"We were lucky. No one was lost in that incident, but the fact that there have not been more serious consequences owes more to good luck than good management," he said in a speech.

"Clearly, we are on borrowed time."

The number of annual visitors in tourist ships has quadrupled to around 46,000 over the last 15 years, and there are concerns some of the ships are not suitable for the extreme conditions.

The meeting is expected to come up with recommendations on the types of ships that can be used in Antarctic waters, and whether they should be required to sail with another ship nearby for safety's sake.

Other recommendations will be aimed at ensuring the Antarctic environment remains pristine, including whether to ban the use of heavy fuel oil, which if leaked could have a devastating impact on wildlife.

The experts' recommendations will go to a meeting of Antarctic Treaty members in Uruguay in May next year.

Source AAP

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Team hunts for Mawson's historic plane

A heavy duty metal detector is being brought into Antarctica to scan for a plane used by Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson.

He took the flying machine to Antarctica in 1911 and the Mawson's Huts Foundation wants to find it.

The search for Sir Douglas' plane has captured the imagination of Tony Stewart, who is leading the team of expeditioners who will spend this summer down at Commonwealth Bay.

Full Story