Environment Forum

Penguin chatter heralds Antarctica’s ‘White Christmas’

Penguins’ chatter outside my tent woke me to Christmas Day in Antarctica, but instead of Santa’s sleigh there was just the usual run to ensure our human waste doesn’t permanently become part of this frozen wilderness.

TonySWith 24 hours of daylight it was, needless to say, very different from the traditional Christmas most of the ten members of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation living in East Antarctica are familiar with.

It was probably not the ‘White Christmas’. I would have imagined as a child growing up in Ireland and very different to the hot Australian festive season I have become used to, marked  by barbecues and often bushfires.

However, it was a fairly typical day for Antarctica, and for this icy plateau.

Here we are about 3,000 kilometres from the nearest part of the Australian mainland, working with a team who are trying to preserve the relics of the legendary 1911-1914 expedition of Antarctic pioneer Sir Douglas Mawson.

Mawson was lucky to survive that expedition, and basic though our living conditions may seem, they are a far cry from what he and his men endured.

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.

Yellow submarine to explore Antarctic glaciers

A yellow robot submarine will dive under an ice shelf in Antarctica to seek clues to world ocean level rises in one of the most inaccessible places on earth, reports our environment correspondent Alister Doyle. You can see his story here.

The 7-meter (22 ft) submarine, to be launched from a U.S. research vessel, will probe the underside of the ice at the end of the Pine Island glacier, which is moving faster than any other in Antarctica and already brings more water to the oceans than Europe’s Rhine River.

Scientists have long observed vast icebergs breaking off Antarctica’s ice shelves – extensions of glaciers floating on the sea – but have been unable to get beneath them to see how deep currents may be driving the melt from below.

  •