SA ship on rare Antarc­tic mis­sion

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - News - Bobby Jor­dan and Dave Cham­bers

A South African ship has com­pleted the first phase of an Antarc­tic ex­pe­di­tion that will peer 3km be­neath the ice and pos­si­bly lo­cate a leg­endary ship lost more than a cen­tury ago.

The SA Agul­has II‚ con­sid­ered one of the world’s top re­search ves­sels‚ ar­rived on Thurs­day at the Larsen C Ice Shelf‚ the pri­mary des­ti­na­tion for the sci­en­tific re­search that will take place dur­ing the Wed­dell Sea Ex­pe­di­tion.

The ship reached the ice shelf after a seven-day voy­age from Pen­guin Bukta.

The next phase will in­volve two days of sea tri­als to test its un­der­wa­ter sys­tem. This in­cludes au­tonomous un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cles and a re­motely op­er­ated ve­hi­cle.

If the tri­als suc­ceed‚ the ex­pe­di­tion’s sci­en­tific re­search pro­gramme will take place be­tween Sun­day and Jan­uary 25.

Depend­ing on sea ice con­di­tions‚ the ex­pe­di­tion will then head to­wards the recorded sink­ing lo­ca­tion of Sir Ernest Shack­le­ton’s ship‚ En­durance‚ which was crushed by sea ice and sank in the Wed­dell Sea in 1915.

The un­der­wa­ter drones will at­tempt to lo­cate and sur­vey the wreck on the sea bed be­fore the ex­pe­di­tion ends on Fe­bru­ary 5.

The ex­pe­di­tion in­cludes sev­eral sci­en­tists from the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town‚ Nel­son Man­dela Uni­ver­sity and the South African En­vi­ron­men­tal Ob­ser­va­tion Net­work.

Their prospects rely largely on the state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy aboard the ship‚ bought by the gov­ern­ment in 2012 and man­aged by the de­part­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs.

The ice­breaker al­lows sci­en­tists to study not only an­i­mal life be­neath the ice‚ but the ice it­self‚ to see how it has changed over the years.

Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est is sea ice thick­ness in the Wed­dell Sea‚ which is wit­ness­ing in­sta­bil­ity of ice shelves sur­round­ing the Antarc­tic ice sheet‚ a phe­nom­e­non linked to cli­mate change.

African Ma­rine So­lu­tions (Am­sol)‚ which man­ages the SA Agul­has II on be­half of the en­vi­ron­ment de­part­ment‚ said the ex­pe­di­tion was the first to at­tempt such a de­tailed study of the ice “from be­neath”‚ a feat made pos­si­ble by re­cent tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment.

“Many of these ice shelves are thin­ning and re­treat­ing rapidly‚ mak­ing sci­en­tific in­ves­ti­ga­tions here very timely,” Am­sol said.

Po­lar ge­og­ra­pher and en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist Dr John Shears‚ who is lead­ing the ex­pe­di­tion‚ said on Fri­day: “The SA Agul­has II has per­formed fan­tas­ti­cally well dur­ing the ex­pe­di­tion and proven pow­er­ful‚ strong and highly ca­pa­ble in the dense pack ice we have en­coun­tered on our amaz­ing jour­ney.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.