The leader of an Antarctic expedition whose ship became stranded and had to be rescued has expressed his frustration over the “misrepresentation of the expedition”, after critics labelled the expedition a “jolly tourist trip”.
Prof Chris Turney led the 52 passengers on board the Russian vessel Akademik Shikolsky, which got stuck in sea ice following poor weather conditions. All 52 had to be evacuated by helicopter from a nearby Chinese icebreaker.
He said that climate sceptics were quick to joke about the irony of a group of scientists looking at the impacts of climate change being trapped by thick ice.
“The [expedition] is not a jolly tourist trip as some have claimed”, Turney said. “There was nothing to suggest that this event [the rescue] was imminent.”
He added that they had relied on two separate weather forecasts and claimed that they were stranded because of a collision between a huge iceberg, B09B, and the Mertz Glacier Tongue. He also said that the fact that they became stuck has no impact on the debate on climate change.
Several rescue attempts were thwarted after Chinese icebreaker Xue Long itself became stuck, having to return to open waters. Xue Long and the Australian icebreaker Australasia Aurosis are now said to be stuck in thick sea ice themselves. It has been reported that one of the biggest icebreakers in the world, American Polar Star, is being deployed to the area to assist.
The Antarctic, unlike the Arctic, is made up mostly of land. Scientists have said sea ice in the region is increasing slightly because of local wind patterns, whereas the Arctic is losing sea ice rapidly. Over the long-term, though, ice on both land and sea in the Antarctic is still disappearing.
Despite thick sea ice proving a hindrance to ships in the Antarctic, the Arctic has seen a steep decline in ice volume in recent decades. Last month, scientists detected a 50% increase in ice volume in the same period in 2012, but the overall volume of ice in the region has declined from 20,000 cubic km back in 1980 to 9,000 cubic km.