Today's bizarre fact about Antarctica and our voyage of discovery is:
You may have noticed on other parts of the website that there's been some confusion over whether the Aurora Australis is called a ship or a boat? Well Captain Murray has kindly cleared this one up for us, a ship is a vessel which carries other boats. As the Aurora Australis carries a small boat as well as life boats, this most definitely makes it a ship! Thanks for the definition Captain Murray!
The radar viewing screens on the bridge are normally green print on a black background, but at night the mate and watchman switch the screen over to red on black. This is because at night the mate and watchman's job is to look out for other vessels and the best way to do this is to look for their lights. The green screen is quite bright whereas the red screen is dimmer, this means the lights from another vessel are easier to see form the bridge with the red screen as they will stand out more.
It is not known who the first person was to step onto the Antarctic continent. Carsten Borchgrevink, an assistant biologist aboard 'Antarctic' a Norwegian sealing and whaling exploration vessel, claimed to be the first ashore in 1895, however the captain of the ship also claimed to be the first, along with Alexander Tunzleman, a boy who claimed to be first off so that he could hold the boat steady for the captain to alight. However, all these claims are probably irrelevant as it is most likely the continent had already been visited by several sealing ships from various countries.
There are 15 reported but apparently non-existent islands in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, many which appear or have appeared on official maps and charts. These include Aurora Islands, Burdwood’s Island, The Chimneys, Dougherty’s Island, Elizabethides, Emerald Island and Pagoda Rock. Several of the 15 islands have been seen more than once and there’s a chance that 3 of them even existed but have since been submerged doe to volcanic activity. As for the remaining islands – they are a bit of a mystery! Maybe some were planned hoaxes by sealers trying to throw other sealers off their track by having them search for a ‘fantastic’ location for sealing that didn’t exist. Or perhaps the captains of some early ships saw icebergs carrying rocks and moraine and, erring on the side of caution, reported them as islands as any hazard to navigation was extremely important to report.
Antarctica's sea ice cover changes dramatically during the year covering 3 million km2 in February to around 19 km2 in September-October. You can see why scientists studing sea ice wanted to visit Antarctica at this time of year!
A ship's "Brow" (according to the Oxford Companion of the Sea) is a gangway for the use of passengers and crew from ship to shore or in our case ship to ice floe!
Our question to you is why don't they just call it a gangway?
Team oceanpgraphy discovered that in the area we're experimenting in, the water is cold (-1.8 degrees) down to about 500m below sea level but beyond this (450-550m down) the water is around 2 degrees warmer! The warmer water originates in the North Atlantic, before entering the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which travels eastwards around the Southern Ocean. Scientists had measured this warmer water in the summertime in this region but never before in the winter, so this data is very exciting!
The photo shows the CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) instrument the oceanographers lower into the ocean to take their measurements with.
Thanks Team Oceanography for a 'hot off the press' bizarre fact! You can read Team Oceanographys blog to find out more about the Southern Ocean and its impact on global current systems.
Snow is more complicated than you might think. There are 6 major snow types that the scientists find in the winter, they are:
New and recent snow
soft and moderate slab
faceted snow and depth hoar
saline (salty) slush
Not only is snow classified by type but also by wetness. There are 5 different wetness classifications, they are:
dry 0% liquid water
moist <3% liquid water
wet 3-8% liquid water
very wet 8-15% liquid water
Did you know? Emperor Penguins weigh from 23kg to 40kg and grow to be around 115cm tall! The penguins we've seen on our trip so far have all looked very well fed and are probably on the heavier side, however after wintering in Antarctica and going for months without feeding the males would be much lighter!
Pantyhose (stockings or tights to some) play an important role in Antarctic Science! Now this truly is a bizarre fact!! When ice cores are collected, some are slowly melted and filtered in laboratories on board the ship. Filtering is an important step for collecting and analysing different things that are dissolved or suspended in the ice cores. Rather than keeping the filtered water (a bit like the filtered water you might drink at home or at school) the scientists are interested in keeping the stuff that the filter paper removes from the water. Once the filtering of a sample is complete, the water is discarded and the pieces of filter paper are placed in individual containers that are snap frozen in liquid nitrogen to preserve them. In order to lower the tiny containers holding the filter papers into the liquid nitrogen, the scientists put them into pantyhose - knee highs are actually the best! They lower the pantyhose (now holding the valuable samples) down through the narrow neck of the bottle and once they are frozen, the samples are removed and stored in a -70 deg. C freezer until they return to Hobart for analysis. Yet another example of a simple solution to a tricky problem!
Antarctica is home to the Earths most southern active volcano - Mount Erebus. Mount Erebus is 3 794m high making it the highest active volcano in Antarctica!
If one tenth of Antarctica's ice slid into the sea global sea levels would rise by 6 metres!
Antarctica produces 1,250 km3 of ice every year in the form of icebergs!
Antarctica's ice weighs so much that it has pushed most of the land surface of the continent below sea level!
Emporer Penguins can hold their breath for up to 18 minutes and can dive into the freezing Antarctic water reaching depths of up to 200m!
Snow that has been blown back up off the surface of the ice and into the air is called "diamond dust". It can only happen with very dry snow and it is absolutely beautiful. As you can imagine by it's name, it glitters and sparkles like diamonds in the sunlight against the clear blue skies.
Anouncements made over the PA of the Aurora Australis are referred to by everyone as "BING BONGS". Now that is bizarre!
Australia claims as territory nearly half of Antarctica's 13.5 million square kilometers. That is a patch about the size of Australia minus Queensland. This is the largest Antarctic "claim" of any nation.
Antarctica is the only continent with no nations. No single nation controls Antarctica and it has no government and no indigenous inhabitants. In 1958, twelve nations set up over 60 research stations in honour of the International Geophysical Year (IGY). When the IGY was over they decided to stay on and continue research. Representatives of all the nations researching in Antarctica met in Washington in 1959 to draft and sign the "Antarctic Treaty" which dedicated the whole Antarctic continent to peace and science. Since then, many other nations have signed the treaty.
The air in Antarctica is so dry (remember it is classed as a desert) that the air circulating on the ship has to have water added to it via the air-conditiong system. This is important in stopping everything from drying out - especially the people! Despite this, it's still pretty dry on board and you have to use lots of moisturiser and drink lots of water. Also people get lots of static electricity shocks and static hair that stands up on end!
Antarctica contains 70% of the Earth's fresh water in the form of snow and ice but is classed as the world's largest desert. The continent only has 146-192mm of precipitation (in the form of snow) fall on it every year - this is about the same as the Sahara Desert!
Expeditioners aboard the Aurora Australis drink a total of approximately 500 cups of hot drinks (tea, coffee & hot chocolate) every single day!
A group of penguins is called a raft (if it is swimming in the water), a suit (if it is on ice), and larger groups are referred to as colonies or rookeries!
The Aurora Australis uses 50 000 litres of diesel fuel EVERY DAY when it is breaking through Antarctic ice!!!