Life in Antarctica is and has always revolved around scientific study and discovery. When Captain Scott proposed his expedition to the South Pole in 1910 he felt that the primary purpose of the expedition was scientific study. He commented in his journals that if they reached the pole then people would pay attention to their scientific research. If they failed to reach the pole then their expedition, with all of its discoveries, would be largely ignored.
Wilson and Bowers check the thermometer on the ramp. 7 June 1911 © Scott Polar Institute
Today science is still the driving reason for work in Antarctica. The American McMurdo station is run by the National Science Foundation and New Zealand’s Scott Base, run by Antarctica New Zealand, is used primarily as a staging area and support base for a variety of scientific projects each year. Now, as then, much of the research done on this continent is environmental study. Researchers here study the movement of the Polar ice sheets, particulate concentrations in the upper atmosphere, air and water temperatures, weather patterns over the polar region, biology of the marine life, and any number of other subjects that may have subtle but wide reaching implications for the world in general.
Mike and Tim check the thermometer on the ice. © Josiah Wagener
As a part of that research, the staff here at Scott Base periodically measure the thickness and temperature of the sea ice in this arm of the Ross Sea. A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to join Scott Base staffers Mike and Tim for an evening trip to check on one of the sea ice probes in the bay. We travelled about 25 kilometres by Hagglund to reach a small instrument table anchored far out in the middle of the ice. Without a GPS it would be difficult indeed to find this one speck in the middle of the vast white flat. They downloaded the recording from the array of thermometers buried through the depth of the ice, changed the batteries in the device, then drilled a new hole to check the current thickness of the ice and of the layer of soft ice crystals forming on the underside of the sheet.
Drilling a hole to measure ice thickness. © Josiah Wagener
As we left the remote site we had a beautiful view of sunlight piercing through the clouds onto one of the glaciers that feed ice into this sea.
Sunlight on mountains and glacier © Josiah Wagener