Is Antarctica gaining ice?

What’s behind this story and why this publication is highly questionable.

By Bianca K.

Last week a newly published paper ( stated that the Antarctic Ice Sheet is actually gaining and not loosing ice. A statement that is quite the opposite to pretty much every other scientific study on this topic.

No need to mention that this sparked a new debate and released a media storm.

Continue reading “Is Antarctica gaining ice?”

It’s a plastic world

By Biance

Following previous blog posts about plastic in our world, this is a new video everyone should see and share.

We are living in a world where everything is wrapped in plastic, quite often unnecessarily in tons of plastic.

I remember when we bought some cutlery and discovered at home that every single fork, every single spoon and every single knife was packed into it’s own private plastic bag just to be wrapped once more into a larger bag to bundle all forks, all spoons and all knifes to pack them once again in a plastic bag. It was not just a total waste of plastic it was also very annoying to unpack.

Maybe I shouldn’t have unpacked it, maybe I should’ve just give it back and try a different company but hey, who knows how often I would’ve need to return the new cutlery until I find a company that doesn’t use that much plastic?

A lot of plastic

Unfortunately, these days, because we have it and we can do it, companies just use it, everywhere and for everything. They don’t care about the environment as long customers buy their products. And that is where we can change things. It might seem like nothing, it might seem like there won’t be any change if we, as an individual person, act ecologically but if we all start thinking about the way we live and start to take care of our environment it is not just one single person but many of us and that can make a difference!

And yes, I should have given the cutlery back and try a different company! But at least I kept the plastic wrap somewhere at home in a corner so I can reuse it should I ever need some wrapping paper, whether it’s for cutlery or something else but this way I’ll not have to buy any more plastic for quite a while!

The Amazon rainforest tipping point

By Biance

Last night I watched an interesting documentary on the Amazon rainforest dealing with the consequences of a changing climate. The documentary is part of the 6-prt TV climate series ‘Tipping points’ and investigates how the rainforest manages to deal with our shifting climate.


Parts of the forest show first signs of changes, with big trees dying and fewer growing as these trees need a lot of water to stay healthy. While the death of such huge trees causes a fair bit of destruction, new trees emerge in the gaps. However, these are smaller trees that need less water and grow less high. Together with deforestation, fires and more frequent draughts it is a first step towards an ecological tipping point where our rainforests could turn into savannahs.

Often rainforests are described as our lungs, as they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce oxygen and keep our atmosphere in balance by doing so. Recently NASA found that the Amazon inhales more CO2 than it emits and the forest therefore reduces global warming. However, when dying the forests releases CO2 into the atmosphere, which is estimated to be 1.9 billion tons each year.

Deforestation and fires to clear forest for farmland has already changed the regional climate drastically in terms of rainfall patterns and distribution.
Furthermore, the climatic phenomenon of the El Nino Southern Oscillation is associated with dry conditions in Brazil and the northern Amazon and its frequency increased in the past years and is expected to further increase in the future.

This is a drastic change for nature and for humans as we rely on these forests to somehow keep our atmosphere in balance.
The rainforest stores an equivalent of about 15 years of human-caused emissions in its soil and biomass and a massive die-back could greatly accelerate climate change. About 2 billion tons of CO2 are taken out of the air each year by the rainforests photosynthesis, however, during draughts in 2005 and 2010 this process reversed with 3 billion tons of CO2 emitted by the Amazon. This caused a net 5 billion ton increase in CO2 to the atmosphere.
Our changing climate, fires and more frequent draughts in change with sudden floods are pushing the Amazon to a tipping point and we are closer than you would think, with large areas dying or being already dead. If we loose the rainforest, the climate will change drastically and nature will never be the same, as we know it now.

The A-factor

Akademik Shokalskiy stuck after weather conditions changed and sea ice closed down behind the vessel.
Akademik Shokalskiy stuck after weather conditions changed and sea ice closed down behind the vessel.

By Bianca

I just stumbled over a detailed media report about the Russian Akademik Shokalskiy that recently had to be rescued out of Antarctica’s sea ice, and have been reminded about our excursion to the continent.

Although I do agree that a lot went wrong on their expedition, and human failures played an important role, it has also be admitted that you simply can’t change the A-factor and you need to adapt to it as much as possible.

The A-factor simply stands for the Antarctic-factor and is a common saying under Antarctic expeditioners as the climate is so unpredictable and weather conditions can change quickly. Continue reading “The A-factor”

First days on the Antarctic continent

By Bianca,

After our arrival near Davis station we got flown out by a helicopter to catch our plane to Mawson. The Aurora can only park in the sea ice, around 3-4 km away from Davis station and usually people just walk over the sea ice. However, due to the delay we already had, people who weren’t staying at Davis got rushed out,

Icebergs in the sea ice in front of Davis station
Icebergs in the sea ice in front of Davis station

to fly 2,5 hours to Mawson. One of the reasons was the fantastic weather we have had these days, with a blue, sunny sky and almost no wind. Arrived at the station we got loaded with work, which was a sudden change to the lazy and relaxed life on the Aurora. After some more information and briefings we got our equipment and started our overnight field and survival training on the next day. We mainly got trained on how to survive in case of a sudden weather change and the risk of getting lost. Under really bad conditions you can miss your team colleague or the hut even when it’s just 20m beside you and finding shelter, without falling into a crevasse would be your main concern. We walked over the sea ice in Mawson bay, did some mapping and GPS reading exercises, drilled into the sea ice to check the thickness, exercised whiteout conditions by finding an object walking with a pillow case on our heads and carved our bed for the night into the snow. This night was an exercise to survive in an emergency just with your survival gear (warm clothes, map, compass and GPS, ice axe, sleeping bag and bivvy) by

Bivvying in the snow as part of the survival training
Bivvying in the snow as part of the survival training

quickly setting up a shallow hole where you can place your bivvy. The night was rather cold (ice formed inside the bivvy) and we were all happy when we went back to the station early on the next morning.

After arriving back at the station we had some breakfast, a shower and some more sleep before we started our day. We began to organise the food for our camping trip and the field equipment that will be required (a bit more luxury than the survival night). In the evening we were lucky to get a ride in one of the Hägglund (Hagg) with the chief of the station up to one of the mountain huts. That means going up the big Antarctic plateau, all just pure ice. We got an incredible view over the plateau, mountain ranges and the sea with its icebergs, and the thought about the fact that you were standing on

The Hägglund we used on our trip up the ice plateau. The front door got blown inside the Hagg by the katabatic winds and had to be repaired after our trip
The Hägglund we used on our trip up the ice plateau. The front door got blown inside the Hagg by the katabatic winds and had to be repaired after our trip

almost a kilometre of pure ice was, and still is, just unbelievable. After a couple of hours and a tea in the hut, we went back to the Hagg to go somewhere else…and learned why you have to be prepared for everything here in Antarctica. The Hagg didn’t start for any obvious reason and could not be fixed. Meanwhile the katabatic winds started to blow and within five minutes conditions changed from beautifully calm and mild to windy and freezing. Considering weather conditions and time (by then it was 9.30pm) the decision was made to stay in the hut.

Fortunately, it was a surprisingly comfortable night, with a real bed, a little kitchen and plenty of food (all kinds of food, as everything survives in the cold). On the next morning, after the loss of one of the Hagg doors due to the very strong katabatic wind and some more hours of trying to fix the Hagg we were successfully on our way back to the station.

On the following day we decided not to go anywhere, with the hope to finally sleep in our bed at the station. The weather has been really good again, although we had strong winds. Tomorrow we are likely to start our field work, if the weather doesn’t change we will fly out to set camp at Richardson Lake in Enderby Land and to set up our GPS stations (previous blog post).

View to the mountain ranges from Mt. Henderson
View to the mountain ranges from Mt. Henderson

Icebreaker versus sea ice

View from the bow of the Aurora
View from the bow of the Aurora

By Bianca

More than a week after the estimated arrival time we are still fighting our way through Antarctica’s very thick sea ice.

With ice conditions as tough as it can get (10 out of 10) our progress was more than slow and the outlook of arrival had been uncertain for a long time. New rumours started to spread daily, including that we would have to turn around and go back. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and by now we are close to Davis and actually just got told that we are likely to arrive tonight. Continue reading “Icebreaker versus sea ice”

Life on the Southern Ocean

The Aurora Australis docked in Hobart
The Aurora Australis docked in Hobart

By Bianca

We are now somewhere around 60 degrees South, heading along Antarctica’s sea ice coastline until we will start breaking through the ice somewhere near Davis station.

We started our journey on the Aurora Australis last Tuesday, already with a two hour delay, due to cargo, and a further delay has occurred due to strong westerly winds. As soon as we left the protecting shores of Tasmania we quickly learned what’s lying in front of us: the forties and fifties of the Southern Ocean, famous for their roughness. Out on the open ocean we immediately hit a stormy sea with swells up to 6 meters. Good thing we all went to bed and our bodies could get used to it during a night sleep. The next day things didn’t seem too bad.

Stormy weather on the Southern Ocean Image: British Antarctic Survey
Stormy weather on the Southern Ocean
Image: British Antarctic Survey

That however only lasted for a day until we hit another stormy weather front with waves up to 12 meters. That afternoon many of us didn’t feel too good and I think I figured out why. If the ship rolls left to right, which is quite normal, everything is fine. As soon as it starts rolling in all directions, i.e. forwards and backwards and up and down, that’s where you find most people in bed… Continue reading “Life on the Southern Ocean”

And so the adventure begins…

The Aurora Australis on its way through the Antarctic sea ice.
The Aurora Australis on its way through the Antarctic sea ice.

By Bianca

By the time you read this post I will be already in Hobart to start my days early at 8.30am with some special training. Training to prepare us for life in one of the roughest places on Earth – Antarctica.

Despite spring slowly coming upon us, temperature will be well below freezing and weather conditions can change quickly from a blue sky to wipe-out conditions. All that and more is what we will be trained for at the Australian Antarctic Division in Kingston, Tasmania. Continue reading “And so the adventure begins…”

Chasing Ice

chasingBy Bianca

If you don’t believe in climate change, that’s okay. If you don’t believe scientists that climate change is real, that is okay too. But surely you will trust your own eyes…or will you?

That is how it begun for James Balog, an environmental photographer who started an assignment for National Geographic. Despite the fact that he has been sceptic about climate change, Balog committed to the task of capture images of our retreating glaciers and realised that the ice is disappearing at a breathtaking rate.

Chasing ice captures images you wouldn’t believe, if you hadn’t just seen it with your own eyes. The observations that have been made are a fact, simply observed by cameras, and reveal that the changes in our glaciers are tremendous. Continue reading “Chasing Ice”

The Great Barrier Reef faces destruction

reefBy Bianca (guest blogger)

Australia’s new prime minister has given the green light for mining companies to destroy Australia’s natural wonder and UNESCO World Heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 2300 km along the coast of Queensland and is home to around a quarter of all species that can be found in the world’s oceans. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981 the reef recently faces one of its hardest battles: a changing climate.

Sediment and algal overgrowth have overtaken this once-healthy reef. (Courtesy Emre Turak/Australian Institute of Marine Science)
Sediment and algal overgrowth have overtaken this once-healthy reef. (Courtesy Emre Turak/Australian Institute of Marine Science)

Rising ocean acidity due to high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and increasing water temperatures damages the corals; floods and storms flush mud, pesticides and fertilizers from farmland into the ocean and mining companies pollute the reef by dumping silt into the ocean and letting their freighters pass through. Continue reading “The Great Barrier Reef faces destruction”

Temperature distribution in snow, firn and ice

firnBy Bianca

The temperature plays an important role in the behaviour of snow.

If it’s too warm the snow will just melt, but if it’s cold enough the snow turns into firn and eventually, into glacier ice. How long the transition from snow to ice takes strongly depends on the temperature.

The temperature that has occurred at the surface can take up to millennia to propagate through the glacier ice. That means temperature with depth can provide information on past variations in surface temperatures.

For my study of a firn compaction model, the temperature plays an important role in the speed of snow densification, and so we need to find a way to calculate the temperature distribution with depth. Continue reading “Temperature distribution in snow, firn and ice”

The journey of a snowflake – from snow to ice

GlacierBy Bianca

Have you heard about firn? No? Well, then maybe you don’t know as much about snow as you thought you do. At least that’s how it was for me before my research taught me more about glaciers.

IceCrystalsThe transition from snow to ice is easy. It all starts with the fall of single snowflakes in an environment cold enough for it not to melt – the first step in the formation of glacier ice. Once the snow settled it is exposed to changes and the little crystals of the fresh powder snow soon transforms to a different material due to climatic conditions.

Here we are, you just learned what firn represents. Continue reading “The journey of a snowflake – from snow to ice”

Antarctica – a general introduction

Bedrock map of Antarctica obtained by the BEDMAP2 project of the British Antarctic Survey
Bedrock map of Antarctica obtained by the BEDMAP2 project of the British Antarctic Survey

By Bianca

There have been quite a few articles about Antarctica by now, but none of them actually about Antarctica itself.

For most people the seventh continent is isolated from everything, and that is actually true. Located at the South Pole, it is not easily visited. Not only because it is at the South Pole, but also because we are talking about an area almost double the size of Australia, with 98% of its area covered in ice throughout the year.

But it’s not only the ice coverage that makes the continent so unpleasant and fascinating at the same time. With an average temperature of -49°C, Antarctica is the coldest place on Earth and holds, with -89°C at Vostok, the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded on our planet. Continue reading “Antarctica – a general introduction”

Europe’s extreme weather chaos

skyBy Bianca

Coming from Germany I try to keep myself informed about European news and it’s becoming more and more obvious that there is especially one type of news: the weather.

This year Europe has been experienced a fair bit of freak weather, and it looks likely to be continued.

The year started with one of the longest winters experienced so far. With an average of only 100 sun-hours it was simply dark and miserable. It wasn’t necessarily freezing cold the entire winter (Christmas was unusually warm in some parts) but it wasn’t warm either and by Easter, normally a time with comfortable spring temperatures and sun, Germans had to hide their Easter eggs in the snow (easy to hide, difficult to find). All together it was the darkest winter since records began, with snow until the beginning of April (in the previous years April was the month of record breaking heat waves). Continue reading “Europe’s extreme weather chaos”

Climate change is not only about global warming

snowBy Bianca

The first thing people think about when hearing the words climate change is global warming and that the Earth’s surface temperature will continue its rapid warming over the next few years, expecting to continuously experience warmer temperatures throughout the year.

But how can we believe that the Earth is warming if we look at the extreme low temperatures in North Europe and North America at the moment? Continue reading “Climate change is not only about global warming”

The end of deforestation in Indonesia?

forestBy Bianca

This week, fantastic news has come out of Indonesia. After many years of battles, negotiations and hard work, one of the world’s largest paper companies commits to end deforestation in Indonesia. This is very good news, considering that our Earth’s rainforests are decreasing by an area of the size of Panama each year!

After losing their costumers over the years and having their sister company Golden Agri Resources (GAR) commit to stop deforestation, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) has finally followed. This is a major breakthrough and we can only hope that many more companies will follow suit very soon. Continue reading “The end of deforestation in Indonesia?”

Ignoring planetary peril

QatarBy Bianca

After two weeks of climate talks in Dohar, 194 countries have agreed to implement a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, or have they?

In a last minute decision Qatar decided almost on its own to extend the Kyoto Protocol for another seven years.

With only Europe and Australia agreeing to sign on for the second and final phase the results are rather depressing. Although the Kyoto Protocol has been extended, negotiations will be until 2015 and further global emissions reduction agreements won’t take place before 2020. Not unjustified, scientists warn that any deal that goes into effect in 2020 comes too late and that we have to act now. Continue reading “Ignoring planetary peril”

Sea-level rise faster than predicted

By Bianca

After I have just written the article about the use of satellite missions in monitoring the polar ice caps, I just came across the news that satellite measurements show a much faster sea-level rise than previous models have suggested. Satellite altimetry, such as the ICESat mission is the most common method used to monitor sea-level height changes over time. The study, by the German oceanographer and climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf, found that sea-levels are rising at an annual rate of 3.2 mm, which is 60% faster than the best estimate of 2 mm.

At the same time I found another article that has been just published, using the GRACE space mission, saying that ice sheet melting has been massively overestimated. Improved measurement analysis of the GRACE data suggest that the Greenland ice sheet is melting at a lower rate than expected, and is predicted to have melted completely in about 13,000 years (at the earliest) and to cause a global sea-level rise of 5 cm by the year 2130.

Now, just a day later, a new paper has been published with the news that Greenland is melting five times faster than it was in the 1990s. 47 scientists from 26 key labs have contributed to this study, using results from 10 different satellites. Their estimations are named to be the most reliable to date, providing the clearest evidence of polar ice sheet losses. Continue reading “Sea-level rise faster than predicted”

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