Tuesday, December 31, 2013

'Morale high' on stranded Antarctica ship

Morale among the scientists and research volunteers - or tourists - of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 is surprisingly high.

A new year is fast approaching and although that will not be accompanied by a new view for us from the ice-beset decks, preparations are underway for when midnight strikes off Cape De La Motte in east Antarctica.

A special song and dance routine is being written, choreographed and rehearsed for the dawn of 2014.

Meanwhile, expedition scientists have been deploying their instruments from the rear of the Shokalskiy, to measure water temperatures and salinity all the way from 10 metres below the ice to the sea bed.

At our briefing this morning, we discovered that we would be going nowhere for at least another 24 hours.

The Australian icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, is holding its position in clear water beyond the mass of pack ice trapping us. Its two attempts to reach us yesterday failed.

Plans to evacuate us by air are also on hold. Low cloud has made it too risky for the helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker, the Xue Long, to fly out and land next to us on the pack.

The winds are also up too now - blowing between 15 and 25 knots.

When the cloud lifts, helicopter evacuation is now the most likely method by which the expedition will leave the ice.

A hefty Chinese helicopter will land next to us and ferry us in groups of 15 to the ice edge close to the Aurora. We will then be transferred across clear water to Australian icebreaker.

That at least is the most likely scenario, when the skies and visibility improve.

As for the Russian crew, most of them will stay on board the Shokalskiy for what could be weeks, until the ice has weakened enough for an icebreaker to break through.

A huge US icebreaker, the Polar Star, should be in the area in a week to 10 days. We are told that the Polar Star can slice through sea ice six metres thick.

The mood of the Russian crew has also been affected by reports of the bombings in their home country.