Australia has sent its largest and most ambitious expedition, comprising 60 scientists, to Antarctica over Christmas to follow up the scientific work done by Sir Douglas Mawson one hundred years ago. The measurements that Mawson collected are perceived as being vital as part of the charting of global warming.
The necessary ground work currently being done, combined with the vast quantity of Mawson data, is necessary to build computer models.
The Russian research vessel Akademik Skokalsky, commissioned to convey the scientists, became trapped in the heavy pack ice on Christmas day. There were concerns that a Chinese ice breaker Xue Long in an heroic attempt to reach the stricken vessel was also trapped in the ice. The Chinese ship’s helicopter transferred the group of scientists from the Akademic Shokasky to ice near the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis. The Aurora suspended the resupply of Casey Station to rescue the 52 passengers from the Russian ship.
On one of the occasions when I was exhibiting with Kym Bonython in Adelaide and staying with my great aunt Paquita, who was the widow of the great explorer, she recalled that Mawson had told her. “Down South you attend to every detail but predict the unexpected.” Lady Mawson had to wait anxiously for news from Antarctica unlike the more fortunate connected families of today’s scientists. The rescue mission has been a success. We all hope that this drama resolves itself quickly and that all the icebreaker mariners and scientists from the countries involved come home safely.
We are reminded that a century after the Mawson expedition and the associated tragic loss of life, the ice continent remains hazardous in the extreme.
It appears that leopard seals have shrunk in size over the intervening century possibly because of environmental change. There is so much we need to know on their behalf and our own.
I see the seals and penguins diving on the edge of the ice floes, oblivious in their natural environment to the dramatic events that have unfolded nearby.