Larsen C Iceberg has finally gone!

After months of intense scrutiny and media attention the Larsen C iceberg (now known by the catchy name A68) finally broke away from the ice shelf.

To hear about just how big this berg is (how big even is Luxembourg eh, The Guardian?) I went on BBC Radio Berkshire to talk about this trillion ton ice cube, you can listen here.

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NERC ATSC Fieldwork Training Part 1- Getting to and ‘surviving’ in the Arctic

Students and tutors in sunny Cambridge, now fully briefed on health and safety, GPS and croquet.

Students and tutors in sunny Cambridge, now fully briefed on health and safety, GPS and croquet.

For me the end of August involved 3 fairly intense but fun days learning about planning fieldwork. Health and safety actually kept us interested for 2 hours, who ever would have thought! Would Scott have survived Antarctica if he’d had a risk assessment? Probably not being seeing how all the mistakes  stacked against him showed the benefits of planning and openness. Soon it was time after exploring the British Antarctic Survey and being fed far too much food for the two groups of 8 PhD students set off to put what we’d learnt into practice at 79 degrees North.

As well as helath and safety we got a chance to explore the British Antarctic Survey archives, poor Angela with her "rather short legs"

As well as helath and safety we got a chance to explore the British Antarctic Survey archives, poor Angela with her “rather short legs”

Our journey took the best part of two days, and included 3 planes, 2 taxis, a bus and 13 hours overnight on a boat… with 7 bunks for 11 people. I didn’t need my maths degree to know that this was not going to be a journey with much sleep involved. Luckily no-one chundered and we all managed to at least get some form of sleep, bonus…

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Beautiful view as we left Longyearbyen

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Loading up the boat. Luckily Ed has sent his approximately 2000 tonnes of GPS gear ahead.

Fortunately the scenery was suitably stunning enough to distract from the lack of sleep and we had many bird shaped friends to accompany our journey as well as fun games of identify the whale/seal/walrus/mystery creature. Our wildlife spotting skills did not improve as a result of the trip- even by the final day Pete Convey (course tutor) was outraged by our confusion between seals and ducks- to be fair they were very far away.

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On the boat, in the sun. Whoever said the Arctic was tough?

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With fewer people than bunks some of us had to get creative with sleeping spaces!

Eventually, after avoiding some icebergs we arrived in Ny-Alesund, the most northern settlement in the world and our home for the next few days, the NERC owned, BAS run (did I get it right?) UK research base. The town used to be predominantly for mining, and much of the mining infrastructure is left over as ‘cultural heritage’. Some of this, such as the abandoned train is quite impressive but there is also a lot of rubble and local opinion of this is quite mixed but the decision was taken to leave it all as a memorial to those who were lost in a big mining accident that ultimately led to the closure of the mines. The town was also used as a starting point for Amundsen’s expedition to the North Pole by airship, you can still see the mast that the airship was attached to.

The base commander, Nick, greeted us at the jetty and soon made us feel at home. The base has endless tea and biscuits and even gin on our first evening where we were fortunate enough to be able to share with Kim Holmén, the international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute who’s stories can probably only be rivaled by our very own Nick.

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Storytime with Nick, the bay provides a handy supply of ice for g&ts.

Storytime with Nick is a key feature of life on the UK base- from life as a base ‘medic’ to the Falklands War he’s seen it all, or at least knows someone else who has.

The base itself is very cosy, I even had my own room which was a nice surprise, and hot showers. Luxury! Radio contact is made often with all field parties so one of our first jobs was to learn how to use the radios, as well as being given a tour of the base and learning all the safety procedures, before getting down to the serious business of washing ice for the gin.

Then to the most important part- food! All the nationalities have their own bases but mealtimes are eaten together in a big dining room with stunning views of the bay, glaciers and frequent wildlife. Eating tea while watching beluga whales is definitely not something I’d expected. There is a lot of choice and I think I could get fat very quickly had I been there much longer.

However, it couldn’t all be fun and games and most had an early night to recover from the boat and be ready for a key event the next morning- rifle training to protect from the very real danger of bears… To be continued!

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My room in the UK base, look Mum, no mess!

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One of many safety mechanisms in place- knowing who is in the field.

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The dining room- all nationalities eat together.

Antarctica in the news: B31 iceberg

Satellite images of the B31 iceberg as it heads out of the Pine Island Bay (original image NASA, edited S.Buzzard)

Satellite images of the B31 iceberg as it heads out of the Pine Island Bay (original image NASA, edited S.Buzzard). The white stuff in the bay in the first picture is sea ice/ cloud, not part of the ice shelf.

 

What is it?

The B31 iceberg (which to use my favorite comparison is half the size of Greater London) hit the news last year when it broke away from the Pine Island Glacier on Antarctica. It hit headlines again more recently as it was observed that it had left the bay around the glacier and is therefore entering open ocean.

The location of Pine Island Glacier (image BBC).

The location of Pine Island Glacier (image BBC).

Is this going to cause sea level rise?

Not directly. The iceberg itself was part of an ice shelf which means that the ice had flowed from the land on Pine Island Glacier and was floating on the water. So at the time it left the land and became part of the ice shelf it displaced water which would have contributed to sea level rise (in the same way that the level goes up in your glass of water (or in my case more likely G&T) when you add ice cubes to it). Ice shelf creation is balanced by other processes taking water out of the system, it’s when the ice shelves collapse or change this can lead to an imbalance, such as was the case for Larsen B.

Schematic of the pine island glacier demonstrating how the ice shelf floats on the water. (Image from antarcticglaciers.org- go there, it's excellent)

Schematic of the Pine Island Glacier demonstrating how the ice shelf floats on the water. (Image from antarcticglaciers.org- go there, it’s excellent)

If it’s not sea level rise then why does it matter?

The issue is that the iceberg is now floating into open ocean, causing a shipping hazard. The iceberg will also end up melting, adding cold, fresh water to the ocean where it wouldn’t normally be, potentially affecting ocean circulation, biological habitat, etc.

Bonus extra bit of cool science

(Yes I used the word cool deliberately here. No I’m not ashamed) The iceberg is being tracked via GPS monitoring devices contained on ice javelins which were dropped onto the iceberg out of an airplane.