The Akademik Shokalskiy remains trapped in thick ice after a third rescue attempt failed to free the Russian ship. Since Christmas Eve about 74 tourists and scientists mostly from Australia and 22 Russian crew members have been trapped aboard the vessel in sea ice slabs up to 10 feet thick. Chinese ice breaker Snow Dragon made the first rescue attempt but had to turn back 6.7 nautical miles from the Akademik Shokalskiy after encountering ice that was too thick for it to break through. It is holding position now in clear waters, with plans to attempt a helicopter rescue of the tourists and some of the crew when weather permits. Currently high winds and snow have grounded the on board helicopter except for a short surveying mission and forced the Snow Dragon to remain in clear waters.
The Australian ship Aurora Australis made another attempt to reach the stranded ship after the helicopter returned to Snow Dragon on Sunday, beginning with news that ice around the Shokalskiys bow was beginning to crack, but as the mission got underway weather deteriorated to the point that visibility became dangerously low. The mission was aborted due to safety concerns for crew and passengers of both ships. Information gathered by the helicopter crew showed only small traces of the tell tale deep blue of open ocean water, with most of the landscape scrubbed with white blinding ice and snow. Realizing just how thick and dense the ice slabs are, rescue operations on both ships have been put on hold until a new plan can be concocted. Aurora Australis is currently 10 nautical miles from the Akademik Shokalskiy in open water. Although Akademik Shokalskiy remains trapped in thick ice after a third rescue attempt, morale remains high among both the tourists and crew. Many have uploaded video diaries to YouTube and say they are planning to dance on the ice for a New Year’s Eve celebration.
Since the Akademik Shokalskiy remains trapped in thick ice after a third rescue attempt, researchers have taken the time to try to analyze what may have caused the unusually dense build up of ice. The most established theory is that the slabs of ice are the still drifting remains of a massive 75 mile iceberg that was recently dissolved. Weather has remained stormy, as is to be expected at the bottom of the world, where temperatures can reach minus 23 degrees, and winds scream past at 60 miles an hour. The Shokalskiy became trapped while re-enacting the voyage of Douglas Mawson, an Australian geologists who explored Antarctica. This is the 100th anniversary of one of the earliest Antarctic expeditions. Many people have expressed concerns over the massive amount of ice floating free in the Antarctic ocean, when most large pieces are found in large sheets closer to shore. The high density of such large free-floating pieces has been taken as evidence for global climate change, although critics wonder how climate change can responsible for retracting Arctic ice, and expanding Antarctic ice at the same time.
By Daniel O’Brien