The Conversation today has this piece that anyone thinking of applying might
like to look at. I've removed the pictures, so if you are interested go to
The Conversation and look at the real thing.


Scientists at work: stuck in the Antarctic ice we set out to study 

Antarctica is a desolate place. That much we know, but nothing prepares you
for it until you actually get there. It's cold, windy and lonely. Everything
about it is the exact opposite of my normal summer.


1.       <> 

Erik van Sebille

Physical Oceanographer at University of New South Wales


Disclosure Statement

Erik van Sebille receives funding from the Australian Research Council

University of New South Wales does not contribute to the cost of running The
Conversation. Find out more.

The Conversation is funded by CSIRO, Melbourne, Monash, RMIT, UTS, UWA, ACU,
ANU, Canberra, CDU, Curtin, Deakin, Flinders, Griffith, JCU, La Trobe,
Massey, Murdoch, Newcastle, QUT, Swinburne, Sydney, UniSA, USC, USQ, UTAS,
UWS and VU. 

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*       Lecturer / Senior Lecturer in Art Education REF 9828

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On board the wonderful Australian icebreaker Aurora australis. Intrepid

Antarctica is a desolate place. That much we know, but nothing prepares you
for it until you actually get there. It's cold, windy and lonely. Everything
about it is the exact opposite of my normal summer destination. But
scientists value the continent like an uncut gem.

Every bit of data retrieved from Antarctica pushes science forward. Which is
why just over a month ago, we set out on the Australasian Antarctic
Expedition 2013 <> . Our goal was a survey of
the Southern Ocean near a place called Commonwealth Bay, which is unique
because its conditions changed dramatically a few years ago.

Ever since Sir Douglas Mawson first arrived in Commonwealth Bay in 1912, the
place has been ice-free and directly connected to the Southern Ocean in
summer. But in 2010 a giant iceberg (B09B, almost 100km wide) ran aground in
the middle of the bay and since then sea ice has been building up around the
berg. There is now 70km of ice between the ocean and the site where Mawson
sailed in.

Mawson's original Australasian Antarctic Expedition Intrepid Science

Scientifically, the iceberg offers a wonderful opportunity. Climate change
in Antarctica means melting of the ice sheet, but also an increase in sea
ice. While the extra sea ice in Commonwealth Bay is not directly due to
climate change, the site offers a unique glimpse of how it affects the

Commonwealth Bay is as close to a controlled lab experiment as one can get
in Antarctic science. So despite my aversion to cold, I joined a team of
ecologists, glaciologists, ornithologists and oceanographers heading south.
Along with us, we had journalists, teachers and nearly two dozen paying
science volunteers. We set out to study what difference an iceberg makes.

With the birds

I've been at sea before, having spent a total of 15 weeks aboard four
different research vessels, measuring the temperature and salinity of the
ocean. But all of these expeditions were in the subtropics. There isn't much
ice around there.

Taking observations on ice is much more difficult than in open water. Going
off the ship is an endeavour - the Antarctic equivalent of a spacewalk. It
requires careful planning and preparation. Even a short trip requires a full
survival kit, including tent, sleeping bag, freeze-dried food and a plastic
bag to use as toilet. This is because blizzards can trap people in the open
without warning. Fortunately, we never needed to use the survival kit. Nor
the plastic bag.

We returned to the ship with some amazing data. My ecologist colleagues
found that kelp forests are dying in Commonwealth Bay because the sea ice
blocks sunlight. My ornithologist colleague found that penguin colonies are
in decline as the penguins need to walk so much further to get to open
water. And I found that the water below the sea ice has become less saline.

The cyclic freezing and melting of the bottom parts of the sea ice annually
has created a 40m thick freshwater lens. As freshwater freezes more easily
than saltier water, the drop in salinity below the sea ice means that it is
easier to form new sea ice. This is called a positive feedback cycle, and it
means that the bay is likely to remain covered with sea ice for quite some

The Shokalskiy in sea ice Intrepid Science

Testing times

And then we became world news
edition-ice-wait-rescue> . As we packed up our gear and got ready to sail
back to New Zealand, we got caught by a massive outbreak of unusually thick,
old sea ice. Within hours, our ship was surrounded by heavy ice, too thick
for us to break through. We were stuck in our own experiment. Stranded in
the ice we came to study.

Thanks to crews of the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, the French icebreaker
l'Astrolabe and the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis, we were rescued.
Not only did the evacuation they carry out bring everyone to safety, we were
able to salvage our valuable samples and data as well. This data is crucial
for helping us to understand Antarctica better.

Our adventure shows the difficulty of fieldwork in Antarctica. One hundred
years since the first exploration it is still a major endeavour to get to
the frozen continent. But there is so much research to be done - and we need
all the help we can get.


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