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January Update

31 January 2023

Divers return to Lake Fryxell. It's changed.

Here's the first pictures from the diving camp at Lake Fryxell in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, where a US-NZ team has been able to resume long-term ecological monitoring this season. Rising temperatures are increasing the flow of water into these lakes, changing the environment. In some locations unique microbial structures have been lost, while in others new ones are developing. After more than three years away from this lake, the divers were shocked to find that the ice had thinned by 1.2 metres since 2018, causing more light to reach the lake floor, thus causing big changes to microbial communities. In addition to their planned work, the team scrambled to develop a program to document and understand this unforeseen event.

Ian Hawes Lake Fryxell diving By Anthony Powell Medium
Ian Hawes prepares to dive at Lake Fryxell Jan 2023 by Anthony Powell

Lake Fryxell (top), Waikato University's Prof Ian Hawes resurfaces through the ice after retrieving the gizmo on the left (nicknamed HAL), which had been underwater for a week measuring photosynthesis. Although the ice has thinned, the team still needed to drill 2.4m to reach water. Photos: Anthony Powell

SWAIS2C drill arrives on ice

The SWAIS2C project hit a milestone this week, with the drill rig arriving in Antarctica on the MV Ocean Giant. The new drill is designed to uncover environmental secrets hidden beneath Antarctica’s vast Ross Ice Shelf, with the ultimate goal of helping us understand the impact of a changing climate on melting Antarctica’s ice sheets, rising seas level, and ultimately consequences for coastal communities around the world. GNS Science has profiled the drill system's journey, from its development and construction in Wellington, to its departure for the ice. You can read about this exciting project in depth on the SWAIS2C website, which is now live, and follow progress on these social media platforms: Instagram - Mastodon - Twitter - Vimeo - LinkedIn

Darcy Mandeno checking drill Medium
Drill packaged up Medium
Mc Murdo pier Ocean Giant screen grab

Victoria University's Darcy Mandeno checks the drill before it was packed to head south. Photos: GNS Science and USAP's McMurdo pier webcam

Tangaroa voyage update

All Antarctic ocean voyages are at the mercy of sea ice, which can block vessels as they navigate southern seas. We've hoped NIWA's research vessel, the Tangaroa, can access enough nearshore water to complete planned research into coastal benthic biota - good news has come through that this has already begun, with imagery and samples collected when the ship was close to the Possession Islands in the last few days. Catch up on the latest update from shiphere

The science behind the floods

While scenes of extraordinary flooding continue to unfold, Prof James Renwick has written this article in The Conversation, The Auckland floods are a sign of things to come – the city needs stormwater systems fit for climate change. Ka pai, James - thanks for helping everyone to better understand this far-reaching event. Stay safe, everyone.

In case you missed it: Antarctic science in the news

Half of glaciers will be gone by 2100 even under Paris 1.5C accord, study finds If global heating continues at current rate of 2.7C, losses will be greater with 68% of glaciers disappearing. The Guardian

Saving Antarctica’s Emperors: Technology Follows Penguins’ Every Move Emperor penguins are being kitted out with the latest GPS technology, using trackers that scientists say are "a lot like a Fitbit". It's part of a New Zealand-backed study to monitor their feeding grounds in the Ross Sea as climate change continues to close in. TVNZ 🎥 3’01
See also, Forget 10,000 steps - Fitbit-style trackers show how many waddles penguins take in Antarctica Stuff 🎥

The woman who hugs penguins In a remote part of Antarctica, there are emperor penguins wandering around with GPS trackers like fit bits so researchers can learn more about their feeding patterns and protect them from environmental threats. Physiological and behavioural ecologist Dr Birgitte McDonald from San Jose University is part of the five-year US-NZ study. RNZ, 11’40”
Also see, Yahoo! News via Fox (US); 🎥 3’18”, NBC Bay Area, 🎥 1’59”

Kiwi scientists involved in drill to uncover secrets of Antarctica's past New Zealand scientists are planning to drill nearly a kilometre through Antarctic ice and into the earth below, in a bid to answer how much warming the ice sheet can withstand. If they get past 0.6 metres into the ocean bed, they'll already have gone deeper than anyone has before - and they want to hit 160m. There's another catch: the ocean bed sits beneath 700 metres of ice and another 40 metres of water. RNZ

Unlocking carbon secrets in Antarctica In a collaboration with Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), Kiwi scientists are heading into the final season of a four-year work programme in the Dry Valleys investigating the levels of greenhouse gases stored in Antarctica's frozen ground. The team will take gas samples from the Taylor and Wright valleys, 70km from Scott Base, using probes and chambers to test the type of gas and how much is there. TVNZ 🎥 2’39”

Australian team sets off on Antarctica mission to drill for ‘oldest ice core ever obtained’ Australian researchers have set off on their most ambitious polar expedition in two decades, aiming to drill down into million-year-old ice to learn about climate change. A convoy of five specially designed tractor trains intends to traverse 1,200km to Little Dome C in Antarctica, where – if successful – they will set up a camp for scientists to start drilling as early as next summer. The Guardian, AAP

The Southern Hemisphere is stormier than the Northern, and we finally know why The first concrete explanation for the difference shows it's getting stormier over time….When the scientists flattened every mountain on Earth [in modelling], about half the difference in storminess between the two hemispheres disappeared. The other half has to do with ocean circulation. Water moves around the globe like a very slow but powerful conveyor belt: it sinks in the Arctic, travels along the bottom of the ocean, rises near Antarctica and then flows up to the surface, carrying energy with it. When the scientists tried eliminating the conveyor belt, they saw the other half of the difference in storminess disappear. NSF

Research linking soot in Antarctic ice exclusively with early Māori fires was flawed – there were other sources elsewhere When a recent study implicated forest fires set by early Māori in a hemisphere-wide rise in emissions, it ignited controversy. The incriminating evidence comes from Antarctic ice cores containing so-called refracted black carbon – essentially far-flung soot derived from wildfires in the southern mid-latitudes. The strongest response, coming from Māori scholars, raised concerns about ignored local knowledge and cultural perspectives. The Conversation

Runaway West Antarctic ice retreat can be slowed "The idea that once a marine-based ice sheet passes a certain tipping point it will cause a runaway response has been widely reported," said Dr. Frazer Christie from Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute, the paper's lead author. "Despite this, questions remain about the extent to which ongoing changes in climate still regulate ice losses along the entire West Antarctic coastline."