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Ship of Fools

Like many others, I’ve been intrigued by the misadventures of the Ship of Fools. Dozens of tourist vessels visit the Antarctic without becoming trapped by ice. So it’s entirely valid to inquire into why the one tourist vessel led by a “climate scientist” became trapped by ice.

The leader of the expedition, Chris Turney (also a secondary Climategate correspondent and co-signer of Lewandowsky’s multisignatory letter in the Conversation), claimed that the incident could not have been predicted. He said that they were trapped by a sudden “breakout” of multi-year ice (“fast ice”) that had previously been part of the ice shelf and that there was no way that they could have anticipated this. Turney’s claim has been uncritically accepted by the climate community e.g. Turner of the British Antarctica Survey here.

However, like other recent claims by Turney, this claim is bogus. In fact, Turney was trapped by sea ice that had been mobile throughout December 2013. This can be easily seen by examining readily available MODIS imagery (see MODIS here) leading up to the incident, as I’ll do in today’s post.

December 3, 2013
In this first image, I’ve shown the (very clear) MODIS image for December 3, 2013 with annotations. The image has been oriented to be vertical north at 144E. The location of the Mawson Huts on Commonwealth Bay is in cyan; the Mertz Glacier (cyan label) is to its east.

The two tones of grey at the bottom show a land mask, with glaciers being shown in slightly less dense grey. The black shows open water. The “permanent” multi-year ice shelf is a relatively solid white. Although Mawson was able to navigate into Commonwealth Bay in 1911-12, it is now completely filled with permanent ice. This is relatively recent – dating from only 2010. The permanent ice shelf continues to the east of Mertz Glacier, a location that will subsequently be important to analysis of Turney’s assertions.

White in the polynya shows both mobile ice floes and clouds – the textures are somewhat different. It is evident that there is a lot of mobile sea ice in the polynya on December 3 – a point that becomes important as we move through the month.

I’ve also plotted the location of subsequent events on this map for orientation. The red dot to the northwest shows the location of the December 19 landing for the Argo expedition over the ice shelf to the Mawson Huts.

The red plus-signs show the location where the Akademik Shokalskiy subsequently landed on December 23 and where it got stuck (slightly to the north). The magenta plus sign shows where the Xue Long got stuck and the cyan plus signs the locations of the Aurora Australis from Dec 30 to Jan 2 (evacuation date).

The yellow arrow shows where Turney placed the origin of the “multi-year” ice that later pinned the vessel. It is obvious that there isn’t any as of the beginning of December. This image, by itself, refutes Turney’s explanation of events, as will be seen below.

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Figure 1. MODIS December 3, 2013. Latitude and longitude are approximate (but close). For the purposes of this graphic, I haven’t shown curvature.

December 7
After a few stormy days, there was another (fairly) clear day on December 7. You can see that there is still lots of mobile sea ice in the polynya and that there is no fast ice in the location to the northeast of the Mertz Glacier. Note that the mobile sea ice and ice floes have blown many kilometers in only a few days, with many more ice floes on the southwest coast of the polynya where the Akademik Shokalskiy will later land.

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Figure 2. December 7, 2013.

December 15
Bewtween December 7 and December 15, there was another stormy week with the clear image of December 15 showing massive rearrangement of the mobile sea ice, which is now mostly packed against southwest shores of the polyna in two main packs. One pack abuts the extended Commonwealth Bay fast ice, including the locations where Akademik Shokalskiy, Xue Long and even Aurora Australis would be later in the month. There was also a major accumulation perched to the northeast of the Mertz Glacier – see yellow arrow which is in the same location as the December 3 image. Visually this accumulation appears to be relatively unstable in that it could be readily blown to a new location by winds from a different direction.

20131215 annotated
Figure 3. Polynya as at December 15, 2013.


Turney’s December 15 Map

On December 16, Turney wrote a blog post about the process of selecting a route to the Mawson Huts. In this blogpost, Turney showed an image that is clearly derived from the December 15 MODIS image (though Turney’s image contains some erroneous labels). Note that both longitudes and latitudes are incorrectly labelled in Turney’s map: 140E is right, but 146E should be 144E. Similarly 67S is right, but 65S and 63S should be 66S and 65S respectively.

In Turney’s later efforts to attribute the vessel entrapment to a sudden breakout of multi-year, he changed to a different (and in my opinion, far less informative) satellite imagery, but this example shows that he had consulted MODIS imagery (which is very conveniently available online.)

mawson 20131215 wide
Figure 4. Turney map from http://www.spiritofmawson.com/southward-ho-16-dec/.

In Turney’s December 15 blogpost, Turney, who, to my knowledge, had no previous maritime experience in the Antarctic, was fascinated by the experience of picking a route through the sea ice, observing:

It is a fascinating experience going through the same decision making process as the expedition of 100 years ago. What Mawson’s captain Davis achieved with so little is extraordinary. Using just observations from their vessel the Aurora, the original AAE explored thousands of kilometres of ocean, much of it by working their way through the pack, probing for gaps and hoping they did not close up behind them. It takes incredible courage to do this. One mistake and the ship could be trapped in the ice – with no one in the outside world really knowing where they were. It’s hard to imagine this scenario today. We have all the advantages of modern technology. Daily satellite reports provide images of what lies ahead, the Australian Antarctic Division are kindly sending us daily weather reports for the region from Casey station (thanks Jane!) our location is publicly available, and if we get into serious trouble we can pick up the phone for help (albeit a last resort). That’s not to say we can be complacent. Even today, it is all too clear this is an unforgiving environment and conditions can change very quickly.

The Mawson Hut Trips
On December 17, Turney moored the vessel in the polynya to the northwest of the Mawson Huts. On December 19 and 20, two excursions were made from the vessel to Mawson’s Huts.

On December 19, Turney and 5 others traveled to the Huts. Turney and Ben Fisk (a rural medicine specialist) worked on the AWS station; Ian [MacRae ?] and Jon [?] of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation worked on maintenance of the huts themselves; while Chris Fogwill and Eleanor Rainsley “looked for geological samples to reconstruct former shape and extent of the ice sheet”. Turney and Fisk both later described the trip with considerable exhilaration.

The next day (December 20), a second crew visited Mawson’s Huts. This crew included Alok Jha of the Guardian, three biologists (Kerry-Jayne Wilson of the Blue Penguin Trust, Ziggy [Marzinelli] and Graeme [Clark] and passenger Estelle Blair. Wilson inspected the penguin rookery. Like the earlier trip, this expedition returned after midnight.

Move to the Mertz Glacier Polynya

Following these two trips, Turney directed the vessel to go to the Mertz Glacier polynya about 80-100 km to the east. To do so, they had to travel around the B9B iceberg and attached ice. Two of the passengers reported on December 22:

The journey today is to move east around the large B9B iceberg. This will take all day and into tomorrow, hopefully placing us at the shore edge of the Mertz glacier and Stillwell Island area, and providing the opportunity to step onto the Antarctic continent.

On December 22 (21:37 NZT; 3:37 North American twitter time), Turney tweeted that they were passing some “fantastic ice bergs!”.

MODIS images for December 21 and 22 are not very clear, so I’ve shown December 20 below. The vessel presumably traveled north from the first landing and around the Commonwealth Bay fast ice into the Mertz Glacier polynya, eventually mooring at 144.30736E 66.92648S, about 5-8 km from land. Note that in the few days between December 15 and December 20, the pack ice in the area of the second landing was noticeably notched out, thereby permitting the vessel to penetrate somewhat deeper into the pack ice. The MODIS image has a considerable amount of cloud, but the pack ice (formed a week or so earlier) to the northeast of Mertz Glacier is clearly visible (yellow arrow).

20131220 annotated
Figure 5. Mertz Glacier Polynya, December 20, 2013.

December 23
December 23 was the critical day. The Akademik Shokalskiy had moored in the Mertz Glacier polynya on the east face of the Commonwealth Bay “permanent” ice about 8 km from the Antarctic coast. Watt Bay is to the southwest.

Sources include several contemporary or near-contemporary blog posts: Turney here; Kerry-Jayne Wilson of the Blue Penguin Trust here; Green politician Janet Rice here and Robbie Turney here. The normally active twitter accounts from Turney, Guardian Antarctica and Alok Jha of the Guardian are surprisingly silent on events of December 23 ( Guardian posts from December 23-24 instead document the December 19-20 expedition to Mawson’s Huts.) Shub Niggurath also did a chronology of events on this day, which is consistent on overlapping points.

A blizzard on December 23 had been forecast (Janet Rice here). Conditions in the morning of December 23 were already very bad. Turney posted a tweet in the morning of December 23 (estimated 9:48 New Zealand time) [North America twitter time December 22 15:48]. Turney reported that they were in a “Blizzard. -4degC, -15degC wind chill”, a description that is inconsistent Turney’s subsequent claim that they had set out under “good conditions”. Kerry-Jayne Wilson also reported that they had set out in “blowing snow and near gale winds” and that it subsequently got worse.

Our week of calm sunny weather came to an end 36 hours ago. Yesterday we visited a small island only 8 km from the fast ice edge to assess penguin condition there, the birds were much more healthy but we had to beat a fast retreat back to the ship as the weather deteriorated further. We set out in blowing snow and near gale winds; it got worse.

Despite these very poor conditions, Turney authorized passengers to leave the vessel for an excursion to the mainland, where three science “projects” were carried out.

The offloading of the Argo vehicles was problematic: one of the vehicles got into the water and could not be used. Both the botched offloading and lack of a third vehicle further delayed the day’s activities (see Janet Rice’s facebook entry, cited in several discussions)

A couple of days later, Turney described the day’s events in a self-serving report that made no mention of the morning’s impending blizzard. Instead, Turney claimed that there had been “good conditions” on December 23 and that these “good conditions” permitted Kerry-Jayne Wilson to inspect a penguin rookery, Tracey Rogers to sample seal blubber and Eleanor Rainsley to collect geological samples. Turney said that conditions closed in during the day and that they “quickly” loaded the vehicles onto the vessel, but were unfortunately trapped:

Good conditions allowed the team to reach the Hodgeman Islets to continue our science programme and make comparisons to our findings around Mawson’s Hut. We managed to collect a range of samples for three of the science teams on these rarely visited islands; a fantastic result. The distance from the land to the sea ice edge is only 5 kilometres, providing an excellent test of the impact of the large sea ice extent around Cape Denison. Supported by volunteers on board, our teams investigated marine mammals, ornithology, glaciology while oceanographic work continued on board. Kerry-Jayne Wilson of the Blue Penguin Trust found the penguin colony on the Hodgeman Islets is thriving, demonstrating the distance the Mawson Hut Adelie penguins have to travel is a major factor in the fall of numbers. Tracey Rogers of UNSW also obtained the largest number of seal blubber samples on the expedition while Eleanor Rainsley collected geological samples that will provide an invaluable insight into the history of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Returning to the Shokalskiy, conditions started to close in and we quickly loaded the vehicles on to the vessel.

Unfortunately proceeding north we found our path blocked by ice pushed in by an increasingly strong southeasterly wind. On Christmas Eve we realised we could not get through, in spite of being just 2 nautical miles from open water.

Obviously; Turney’s retrospective claim of “good conditions” in the morning of December 23 is inconsistent with Wilson’s report and Turney’s own contemporary tweet.

At least six passengers accompanied the three scientists on this outing, including Green politician Janet Rice, Turney’s 12-year old son Robbie, Mary [Regan], two “skiers” Peter [Stevenson?] and Steve [Lambert?] and Ben [Hines, Fisk or Maddison].

The impending gale did not deter 12-year old Robbie Turney, who described the day’s events as the “most fun that I’ve ever had outdoors before”:

Today was absolutely stunning. This was the day we got a full on drive in the Argos, along the fast ice and straight to the continent. It was very enjoyable, possibly the most fun I’ve ever had outdoors before. The ride was really bumpy and we were going up and down getting some jumps when at full speed. … Once we got to the continent we saw a massive towering rock that was home to a colony of Adelie Penguins which were all laying on their eggs. This made great photos but they were pretty aggressive because of it. But that pretty much wraps it up for the day.

Meanwhile, according to Janet Rice, the Captain became very concerned about the closing weather, but was unable to immediately recall the passengers. The vessel appears to have left at least several hours after the captain’s already risky target.

The third drama of the day is the one which is still unfolding. Because of the Argo mishap we got off late, and had one less vehicle to ferry people to and fro. I’m told the Captain was becoming rather definite late in the afternoon that we needed to get everyone back on board ASAP because of the coming weather and the ice closing in… I’m sure the Captain would have been much happier if we had got away a few hours earlier. Maybe we would have made it through the worst before it consolidated as much as it has with the very cold south- easterly winds blowing the ice away from the coast, around and behind us as well as ahead.

The precise time of departure is not presently reported. The vessel managed to move several kilometers north, but by 1 a.m. December 24 (~NZT), the vessel had become stuck in the ice. At first, the vessel was pinned by a kilometer or so of pack ice, but within a few days, it had increased to over 20 kilometers.

The reaction of the passengers was quite varied.

Guardian photojournalist Laurence Topham became despondent, mourning the narrowness of his bed and, in particular, the unavailability of peanut butter and banana milkshakes, a circumstance which, in an uncanny, almost eerie, coincidence, replicated the circumstances of the original Mawson expedition, which also lacked peanut butter and banana milkshakes.

Others partied raucously:
party

Blizzard conditions continued and within a week, there was another major remobilization of sea ice, with virtually all the sea ice in the polynya being blown against the western shores of the polynya. Over 20 km of pack ice accumulated in the area where the Akademik Shokalskiy had been pinned. The Xue Long icebreaker (magenta +) managed to get within approximately 20 km of the Akademik Shokalskiy, before it too got pinned.

By January 2, the Aurora Australis icebreaker (cyan +) had broken through enough pack ice to get close to the Xue Long. On January 2, the helicopter from the Xue Long evacuated passengers from the Ship of Fools to an ice floe near the Aurora Australis, from which they boarded the Aurora Australis. The Aurora Australis then proceeded to open waters, leaving the Xue Long and Akademik Shokalskiy still pinned. The polyna’s ice floes were now packed against the west shore of the polyna.

20140103 annotated
Figure 6. January 3, 2014. The Akademik Shokalskiy is now well within the pack ice.

The Vessels Escape
Five days after the passengers were evacuated, the sea ice underwent another re-arrangement. On January 7, a large north-south crack in the sea ice developed (see January 8 image below) and the Akademik Shokalskiy and Xue Long both picked their way out of the pack ice into the polynya (stuck positions shown below). Ironically, the passengers would have arrived back in New Zealand sooner, had they stayed on the vessel rather than evacuating, though there was, of course, no way that this could have been predicted at the time of evacuation.

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Figure 7. Polyna as of January 8, 2014.

Turney’s Excuses
By this time, many questions were being asked about the Turney expedition. While gradual increase of Antarctic sea ice (in contrast to the Arctic) had been widely discussed by skeptic blogs over the past few years, Turney’s plight drew attention to the remarkable fact (not previously known to skeptic blogs) that Mawson had sailed directly into Commonwealth Bay, which was now blocked for 60 km by permanent ice, with Mawson’s entry to Commonwealth Bay even being recorded in an early movie. While the expansion of Antarctic sea ice in this area was well known, the irony of a vessel of warmists being trapped by Antarctic sea ice attracted attention far beyond skeptic blogs.

This unwelcome attention did not and has not amused the academic climate community, which, for the most part, tried to dismiss the expedition as a tourist, rather than science venture, a framing that Turney has stoutly resisted.

Even usual supporters began to ask questions. For example, Andy Revkin wondered about the wisdom of landing the Akademik Shokalskiy in the polynya when “any satellite image could show you was surrounded by sea ice that could move.”

Turney defended himself against such questions, by arguing that the pinning sea ice did not come from mobile sea ice, but from a sudden “breakout” of multiyear ice, an untrue excuse that has been too readily accepted by specialists (e.g. John Turner of the British Antarctic Survey in a BBC interview here ^).

Turney’s defence was first set out in a December 30 blogpost as a commentary on the following graphic purporting to show events that could not possibly have been anticipated or mitigated. Turney’s satellite imagery is said to have been provided by the Australian Antarctic Division (“AAD/ACE CRC Sea Ice Group in Hobart, Tasmania”). It is obviously related to the MODIS imagery that Turney had used on December 16, but also has important differences, which I will discuss below. I have been unable to locate any online provenance of Turney’s images: they appear related to Bremen satellite imagery style, but differs in detail from the online Bremen images.

It seems evident to me that this particular imagery conflates data that is distinguished in the MODIS image, a conflation that Turney used to derive incorrect and unwarranted conclusions. The image on the left is from December 20 (before getting pinned) and on the right is from December 27 (after). The left graphic is oriented approximately 36 degrees counterclockwise from the right graphic, confusing the comparison – a comparison further confused by different scales. The grey area shows the land mask, which bizarrely is incorrect in the red box area of greatest interest. (I’ll show this shortly.)

blogpost 20131230
Figure 8. Illustration from Turney, Dec 30, 2013 ( see http://www.spiritofmawson.com/one-week-on/ )

The next figure compares Turney’s map for December 20 with the MODIS image of the same date (previously discussed above) cropped to closely match the Turney map. Turney’s land mask obviously has major differences with the accurate MODIS land mask: in particular, Turney’s land mask continues to show the 2009 dimension of the Mertz Glacier tongue, even though this was knocked out to sea in March 2010 (an event widely reported at the time.) The false tongue conceals open polynya that is clearly visible in the MODIS image. In this image, solid purple can denote both multi-year “permanent” shelf ice and thick pack ice. For example, within the red box, the more southerly purple unit shows multi-year “permanent” shelf ice, but the more northerly purple unit shows pack ice that was blown onto the southeast shores of the polynya the previous week (see discussion of December 20 above.) The MODIS tones of pack ice tend to be slightly different than “permanent” ice, a distinction lost in the satellite imagery shown by Turney.

mawson 20131220 20131220 cropped

Figure 9. December 20, 2013 images. Left – Turney; right – MODIS.

As discussed above, between December 20 and 27, the pack ice perched to the northeast of the Mertz Glacier (blown there the previous week) – the northerly area colored purple in the red box – was blown onto the west shore of the polynya pinning the Akademik Shokalskiy, while the “permanent” shelf ice (the southerly area colored purple in the red box) remained where it was.

However, Turney reached a different interpretation, which, by strange coincidence, was far more self-serving. Turney wrote as follows:

The wind is not unusual but what is unexpected is the major reconfiguration of thick multi-year sea ice to the east of the Mertz Glacier. In 2010, a large iceberg known as B09B, calved from the continent and collided spectacularly with the extended tongue of the Mertz Glacier. The knock-on effect has been that Commonwealth Bay has filled with sea ice (termed ‘fast ice’), preventing direct access from the sea to Mawson’s main hut at Cape Denison. Unfortunately for the AAE, it appears the region has just undergone a massive reconfiguration of sea ice, years after the loss of the Mertz Glacier tongue. This has been revealed by new satellite imagery which arrived today from the AAD/ACE CRC Sea Ice Group in Hobart, Tasmania. The satellite maps show the comparison before and after the event, with deep purple signifying 100% sea ice cover and dark blue, open water. (Note: the outline of the Mertz Glacier tongue is shown on the maps but disappeared following the collision with B09B). Crucially, these images show the extensive, thick multi-year sea ice along the eastern and southern edge of what was the Mertz Glacier Tongue (outlined by a red box) has been blown out in the last week and driven against our position by the persistent southeasterly winds. It is too early to identify the cause of this remobilisation of ice but we may be looking at the future long-term expansion of fast ice to the east of Commonwealth Bay.

Crucially, these images show the extensive, thick multi-year sea ice along the eastern and southern edge of what was the Mertz Glacier Tongue (outlined by a red box) has been blown out in the last week and driven against our position by the persistent southeasterly winds. It is too early to identify the cause of this remobilisation of ice but we may be looking at the future long-term expansion of fast ice to the east of Commonwealth Bay.

Turney’s invocation of the B09B iceberg is totally irrelevant to the movements of the sea ice between December 20 and 27 and must be disregarded. (As too often with climate scientists, one has to watch the pea.) Most importantly, as discussed above, the Akademik Shokalskiy was pinned by non-permanent pack ice that had been blown by the blizzard against the southwest shore of the polynya and not by a rupture of “permanent” shelf ice. The distinction is important for Turney’s efforts to exonerate himself: one can hardly consider the remobilization of pack ice perched to the northeast of the Mertz Glacier by an easterly gale as unpredictable.

Turney in the Guardian and Nature

Shortly after being evacuated to the Aurora Australis, Turney published highly self-serving accounts events in the Guardian and Nature.

In an article in the Guardian on January 4, 2014 (covered by Australian ABC here), Turney said that “no amount of preparation could have mitigated” the events and that there was “nothing” to suggest that re-arrangement of sea ice in the Mertz Glacier polynya was imminent:

Unfortunately, events unfolded which no amount of preparation can mitigate. To provide a comparison with the samples we collected in the Mawson Hut area, we relocated the vessel to the Mertz Glacier area in the east, a major driver of ocean circulation and importantly an area where the continent is closer to the sea ice edge. Late on 23 December, we returned to the Shokalskiy. We had completed our work programme on the continent and were heading north into open water to continue the oceanographic work on the return home.

Unluckily for us, there appears to have been a mass breakout of thick, multiyear sea ice on the other side of the Mertz Glacier; years after the loss of the Mertz Glacier tongue. There was nothing to suggest this event was imminent. We have had regular updates on the state of the sea ice in the area and had been monitoring the region for the last year.

The forecasts were correct, but it was soon clear that the armadas of ice that started to appear were thick and old. Captain Igor tried to beat a path to open water but the size of the sea ice overwhelmed the Shokalskiy. In places the ice was three metres thick with little open water to push aside. With the southeasterly winds, the ice would not budge and we were caught just two to four miles from the sea-ice edge….

Let’s be clear. Us becoming locked in ice was not caused by climate change. Instead it seems to have been an aftershock of the arrival of iceberg B09B which triggered a massive reconfiguration of sea ice in the area.

Again, one has to watch the pea. Iceberg B09B landed in Commonwealth Bay in 2010. It did not change location during Turney’s expedition and its invocation is simply irrelevant. Nor was there any “mass breakout” of ‘permanent’ ice shelf “years after the loss of the Mertz Glacier tongue”. More misdirection.

Nor is it right to say there was “nothing to suggest this event was imminent” with the development of an easterly gale. Any serious examination of the MODIS imagery of the area shows that the polynya sea ice is highly mobile. The “peninsula” of pack ice to the northeast of Mertz Glacier was highly exposed to change of wind and blowing of this pack ice onto the westerly shore ought to have not only been considered a possibility, but a virtual certainty.

Turney’s Fanciful Nature Article
With escalating derision towards Turney’s expedition, Nature rushed another self-serving account of the events into print on January 6, apparently without the slightest peer review, quality control or due diligence.

In this article, Turney’s claims became even more fanciful and untrue.

Turney falsely stated that the Akademik Shokalskiy was an “ice breaker”, even though it was merely a passenger ship that had been ice strengthened.

Turney falsely claimed that the “science case” for the tour had been “approved by the New Zealand Department of Conservation, the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service and the Australian Antarctic Division”, an assertion that was quickly denied by the head of the Australian Antarctic Division, who accused Turney of misrepresentation and said that he had written to Turney asking him to cease such misrepresentations.

In respect to the entrapment incident, Turney re-iterated the false assertion that they had been trapped by a “mass breakout” of “multiyear ice”, whereas, as discussed above, they had been trapped by mobile pack ice within the polynya:

Could this have been avoided? The satellite data leading up to our arrival in Antarctica’s Commonwealth Bay indicated open clear water, and the area seemed to have been that way for some time. As the Shokalskiy attempted to leave, however, we found ourselves surrounded by a mass breakout of multi­year ice. This was a major event, with the vessel surrounded by blocks of sea ice more than three metres thick, apparently arriving from the other side of the Mertz Glacier. Despite the best efforts of our captain, we could not find a route out. It was deeply frustrating. We had been caught just 2–4 nautical miles (3.7–7.4 kilometres) from the edge of the sea ice. And with pervasive southeasterly winds battering our location, this distance increased to 20 nautical miles within 48 hours.

John Turner of the British Antarctic Survey accepted Turney’s diagnosis:

I think the problem with this expedition was there was a breakout of fast ice. Fast ice is multi-year ice that is quite thick – two, three, four metres, perhaps, held fast against the edge of the Antarctic continent. And a strong storm moved that out. And that’s almost impossible to predict. We can predict the weather several days ahead with some accuracy these days, in the Antarctic. These breakouts are very difficult, and so it was quite an extreme event.

Update – Jan 22. Turney has now returned to Tasmania, where he purported to link the incident to climate soft-porn talk of extremes, proclaiming that the blizzard was an “extreme event”

Professor Turney said the expedition had not taken unnecessary risks.
“It was an extreme event and it caught us,” he said.

Discussion
Back to the original questions.

First, while Turney has repeatedly described his expedition as a “scientific” expedition, its technology was that of adventure tourism and was not what, for example, would have been used by the Australian Antarctic Division. The Akademik Shokalskiy is an ice strengthened vessel used in adventure tourism, whereas the AAD uses ice breakers. In addition, the AAD does not try to carry out scientific missions by a couple of hit-and-run day trips with an eye on the clock. They maintain permanent Antarctic bases equipped with helicopters. Alternatively, scientists (such as Turney’s own prior work) will travel by air from Puntas Arenas to an airfield in Antarctica, with onward transportation to their site by helicopter, with logistics being handled by professional logistics companies.

Some scientists have blamed the events on tourism, but while Turney used the technology of adventure tourism, he did a number of things that seem unlikely to have been done in a responsible adventure tour. (On this point, I note that co-leader Greg Mortimer, a distinguished mountaineer, was a highly experienced operator of adventure tourism in the Antarctic. None of us knows the precise allocation of decisions between Turney and Mortimer.) Most Antarctic adventure tours go to the Antarctic peninsula and do not venture into more problematic polynya, especially ones in a region known for gale winds (Commonwealth Bay has among the world’s highest winds and was named by Mawson as the “Home of the Blizzard”). The Scott Polar Research Institute’s Robert Headland said that such areas require ice breakers, rather than ice strengthened passenger vesselss, and even then, are risky. Further, Turney clearly had no maritime experience with such polynya. His prior Antarctica experience appears to have been via airlift and helicopter, experience which may not be much more relevant than having stayed in a Holiday Inn (note – this is an allusion to a North American advertisement). Nor is it certain that co-leader Mortimer, a distinguished mountaineer and experienced adventure tourism leader, had maritime experience with polyna either.

Even if an adventure tour ventured into a polyna, it is doubtful that a tour leader would decide to moor the vessel on the exposed shore of the polyna with an impending easterly gale. Or if such a decision were made, to allow passengers to disembark. But the most startling aspect of the affair is surely Turney’s decision to authorize passengers to go well out of immediate contact with the vessel so that they were not immediately recallable in a matter of minutes. As discussed above, it seems beyond dispute that Turney was pinned by pack ice that was unstably perched to the northeast of Mertz Glacier and not by a sudden break of more or less ‘permanent’ shelf ice; that this “peninsula” of pack ice was highly exposed to the easterly gale that had already developed; and that heavy blowing of this (and other mobile ice) onto the southwest shore of the Mertz Glacier polynya was not only a possibility, but a probability, if not, near certainty.

One can see why Turney wants to characterize the movement of sea ice as something that could not have been predicted or mitigated, but there is no reason why anyone else should accept Turney’s characterization and many reasons to reject it.

Source: 
Climate Audit

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