On Thanksgiving Day, 47 scientists set off on a two-month voyage to explore uncharted seas.
No ship’s hull has ever parted the waters they’re headed to. That’s because until a few years ago the 3,000-square-kilometer region was underneath the Larsen B ice shelf just east of the Antarctic Peninsula.
It may have been 2005 and Hurricane Katrina that etched climate change into public consciousness, but for many scientists the first clear casualty of global warming came in 2002 with the sudden collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf. (Watch the time-lapse satellite imagery here. A 200-m-thick chunk of ice the size of 1.4 Luxembourgs vanishes in about 90 days.)
Always on the lookout for silver linings, scientists realized that what the collapse left behind was unstudied water and uncharted seafloor. Or “unchartered” as the Cousteau Society website unfortunately wrote – please people, remember your copyeditors.
So they mounted an expedition to kick off the International Polar Year and contribute to the Census of Antarctic Marine Life. Aboard the Polarstern, a double-hulled ship that can chew through ice at temperatures of 50 below, the 47 scientists are planning 25 research projects.
The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, which owns the Polarstern (and supplied the image above), is hosting live questions to researchers once they get to the scene of the collapse, next week. Track the ship’s progress on the Alfred Wegener Institute website. It has a constantly updated position map and weather reports every 3 hours (i.e., at lunchtime, it was cloudy and raining. They had seen their first icebergs at 9 in the morning.)
So jot down your Antarctic questions here…and I’ll pass them on to the bottom of the world. Till then tread lightly.