Environment Forum

Antarctic weather balloons give climate clues


 Meteorologist Tamsin Gray releases a weather balloon at the British Rothera research station on the Antarctic Peninsula to help record temperature and other data from the freezing air. Apart from helping predict the weather, the balloons are also giving scientists clues to global warming.

As you can see, it starts off about 2 metres across but how big it is when it reaches about 25 km above the ground?

a) it shrinks to the size of a tennis ball

b) it swells to the size of a double-decker bus

c) it drifts off into space unchanged

Gray, of the British Antarctic Survey, says that data from the atmosphere about 5 km above Antarctica are helping to confirm findings by the U.N. Climate Panel that greenhouse gases are warming the planet.

She says that layer is warming three times faster than the global average during winter, or about 0.75 Celsius over 30 years, which is what computer models predict if man-made emissions are to blame for raising temperatures.

“It’s confirming the theory that warming is caused by greenhouse gases,” she said.

In Antarctic soccer: Britain 2, United States 0

 In a rare Antarctic soccer ‘international’, staff at a British base on the Antarctic Peninsula beat the crew of a visiting U.S. research vessel 2-0 on Saturday on a pitch with a view out over mountains and icebergs.

About 30 of us watched from the sidelines of the pitch (actually, the area in front of the aircraft hangar) at the Rothera research station on the Antarctic Peninsula with the occasional snow flurry in temperatures just below freezing. The cheerleaders tried to keep warm by leaping around  (below).  

 Carpenter Chris Hobson (above, in blue) was the hero for Rothera, scoring both goals in the first half — the first from the rebound after a disputed penalty awarded for handball. The second after a goalmouth scramble.

Cracking views of Antarctic icebergs

As a view out of your home it’s hard to match — a constantly changing vista of icebergs just outside the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera research station.

Every day the winds and tides on the Antarctic Peninsula shift them around — some break up  abruptly with a loud splash while many simply slowly grind into ice cubes against the shore and disappear. I’ve tried to take a picture every day from the main balcony here (there’s a metal mast on the right hand side of each photo).

Walking along the shore here you can hear a bubbling as air in the ice melts out into the water. The old ice is the clearest — good for putting in cold drinks. Some form gravity-defying shapes such as arches or big holes — one in the bay a few days ago looked like a giant catamaran.

from Blogs Dashboard:

Antarctic soccer, barbecues and warming

For anyone who thinks (like I did) that Antarctica is a bone-chilling freezer lashed by constant blizzards, a visit to the Antarctic Peninsula is a surprise.

As you can see from the picture, you can even play soccer at the British Rothera research station -- Stuart Mc Dill of Reuters TV (a skilled left winger) and I (unskilled) joined in a game last night and I have the grazes to prove it. Our team managed to win, 4-2, on the gravel pitch outside the plane hangar -- meteorologist Ali Price brilliantly knocked in three, even though he was wearing a pair of clunking hiking boots.

And last weekend, staff had an outdoor barbecue with steaks and a cooler for drinks made from snow scooped up by a bulldozer.

Antarctica and the Princess and the Pea

Even the fussy Princess in the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale might slumber peacefully in an Antarctic tent.

She turned up at a castle unannounced in a storm and married the prince after proving she was royal by complaining of a sleepless night because of a lump in the bed — a single pea the Queen placed as an identity test beneath the 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds.

Above is Daniel Fitzgerald, a field assistant at the British Rothera research station, carrying a bag that contains a foam mat, sheepskin rug, sleeping bag and other layers used to spend a night out in bone-chilling temperatures – in total there are 10 layers separating you from the ice and snow.

First aid, Antarctic style

This won’t hurt, I promise….

Training for a couple of weeks’ stay in a British Antarctic Survey research base on the Antarctic Peninsula, Reuters Television reporter Stuart McDill and I have learnt emergency first aid ranging from how to wield a scalpel to ways to bind up a person’s neck injured in a plane crash.

We’ve also learnt the basics of how to sew up wounds, insert tubes into people who cannot breathe and even get the air out of a punctured lung — jabbing in a giant needle between the ribs just below the collar bone to release the pressure.

Most doctors spend years studying to be allowed to do any of these procedures. But safety is a top priority in Antarctica where things can very easily go wrong — the theory goes it’s better for people to have an inkling than no idea at all.

On Antarctic safaris, remember to bring a microscope

Many people hope to come back from a wildlife safari with close-up pictures of lions or elephants – this picture below is my best attempt from a search for the largest land animals in Antarctica.

If you look hard you can see a reddish blob at the tip of the thumb — it’s Antarctica’s most aggressive land predator, an eight-legged mite known as Rhagidia.

Pete Convey, a biologist at the British Antarctic Survey (that’s his thumb), says that such tiny creatures evolved in Antarctica over tens of millions of years — they can freeze their bodies in winter in an extreme form of hibernation.

Of science and stuffed polar bears in Antarctica

The U.S. Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel has just set off for Antarctica where it will deploy a tiny unmanned yellow submarine beneath an ice shelf to seek clues to rising world sea levels, and carry out a series of other research projects. See story here.

Palmer was an explorer and seal hunter who was among the first people to spot Antarctica in 1820 — part of the Antarctic peninsula is named after him.

The 94-metre ship, operated for the National Science Foundation, has been in Punta Arenas at the southern tip of Chile preparing for the voyage.