It’s summer. I’m on holidays. The weather is bad, so we’re stuck inside reading books, playing scrabble, watching movies and eating chocolate and leftovers from Christmas Day. Seems pretty normal really; a not unusual Boxing Day.
The wind, at around 50 knots, is rather stronger than the usual summer storm, its true; and the blowing snow not the usual weather conditions if for instance I was at the beach. It’s close to white out conditions outside, visibility around 50 metres. And our ship is still marooned; stuck, iced in, beset; going no-where, at latitude 66˚S, longitude 144˚E.
Waiting for a Snow Dragon. That’s the name of the enormous Chinese ice breaker that is coming to our aid sometime tomorrow evening. The Aurora Australis is also on its way from Casey, and l’Astrolabe from the French base Dumont D’Urville. We don’t really need all three one would think, but apparently this is how these things work!
We have been assured there is no danger to us; it’s just a matter of waiting. Yesterday there were two icebergs on the move a bit too close for comfort – one came within a kilometre or so of us; but today all is calm on the iceberg front, if not the weather. The icebergs primarily drift around with the currents rather than the wind, given the great bulk of them are underwater.
The “Shokalskiy University” lectures continue; even if much of our science program is on hold. Today we’ve learnt about penguin biology and heard from Alicia about her Ph D research into Leopard Seal blubber. Sadly we have yet to see a Leopard Seal on the trip – there is a rumour going around that they don’t really exist!
One of the great things about the science on the trip is its interdisciplinary nature, so these lectures as well as being great for us non professional scientists are a great opportunity for the scientists on board from fields as diverse as oceanography; paleo-climatology, glaciology, benthic (related to the sea floor) ecology and ornithology to share their knowledge about Antarctic ecosystems and physical systems to each other.
Climate change is a constant thread in all the scientific discussions. Everything which is being studied is being affected. Adelie Penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula are in decline as West Antarctica has warmed considerably over the past decades. There are likely to be more giant icebergs like B09B hanging around in a future warmed climate– that means large variation in the extent and location of sea ice. The benthic ecology team have been looking at the decline in invertebrate biodiversity in areas which have had sea ice over them in recent years where they previously hadn’t for most of the last 100 years.
It’s sobering to think that these are the impacts of climate change being experienced here in remote, wild Antarctic right now. It really underlines that no-where on the planet is pristine, unaffected by humans because of our carbon dioxide pollution. This is the biggest experiment being carried out on Earth ever. And it’s completely out of control.
It strengthens my resolve that we just have to keep fighting with all our abilities to stop it. To use our technological skills and brilliance to reduce our carbon pollution to zero ASAP – that means within 20 years. Forget about half hearted ambitions of 25% by 2020, or 60% by 2050 or whatever the current ‘acceptable’ (and despite that effectively ignored) targets are. They don’t cut it. Too much damage will be done by a global temperature increase of 2 degrees, given the damage already being done by 0.7 degrees. We have the renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies; we just need the political will to overcome the vested interests of the resource industries to deploy them.
Everyone has a role in helping to bring this change about. We have to make our democracy work for us, so that Australians, together with people all over the world have global warming utmost in their minds; when they are making decisions at a political level, as well as at a personal and community level. This trip is strengthening my commitment to action – I hope in a small way it can influence yours too.