Stanford University PhD student Cassandra Brooks recently spent two months sailing through Antarctica’s Ross Sea aboard an ice-breaker. Rarely a dull moment by the looks of it, including even the occasions the vessel was temporarily trapped by the sea ice.
The premise of Ben Affleck’s new thriller Argo (opening in Australian cinemas today, by the way) sees a would be Canadian film crew travel to Iran during the 1979 US Embassy hostage crisis on the pretext of searching out locations for a science fiction movie they are (not) making.
In reality they are using the cover to smuggle six US diplomats – who managed to reach the Canadian ambassador’s residence in Tehran and go into hiding – out of the country.
Few of us are ever likely to visit Antarctica, so looking up Google Street View images may be the only way to experience the southern polar continent. If nothing else, Street View images are candid, thus offering an insight into the real Antarctica.
Wildlife watchers near Aurora Australis’ bridge first thought it was a relaxing seal but it was soon apparent it was rectangular in shape. How it got to such a prominent position, instead of just floating around, is anyone’s guess.
Oxygen rich Lake Vostok, which lies sealed some four thousand metres below Antarctica, and has been completely isolated from the rest of the world for the last 14 million years, stands to reveal much about life on Earth long before the first humans arrived, according to Russian scientists who are currently drilling towards it.
Conditions in the lake are also similar to those on some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and should Lake Vostok contain any lifeforms, such as extremophiles, hardy organisms able to live in very harsh environments, their discovery may boost the likelihood that life exists elsewhere in the solar system.
Life in Lake Vostok would need adaptions to the oxygen-rich environment, which could include high concentrations of protective enzymes. The conditions in Lake Vostok are very similar to the conditions on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, so the new data could also strengthen the case for extraterrestrial life.
Coming home after a rocket vacation – a trip into space aboard one of the soon to be plentiful commercial space flight services – could prove far more costly than the exorbitant fare ($200,000 anyone?) for taking the trip, as each flight will increase soot levels in the upper atmosphere, eventually promoting the melting of Antarctica’s ice sheets.
In the case of vacation rockets, this would mean a layer of accumulated soot in the stratosphere about 25 miles (40 km) high, or three times the altitude at which commercial airlines fly. The AGU’s computer models showed that by blocking sunlight, the soot could actually cool much of the surface of the planet by 1.2°F (.7°C), which seems like a good thing in the face of global warming. However, it would warm Antarctica by 1.5°F (.7°C), which is exactly what the rapidly melting southern ice does not need.
The whisky Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton took to the South Pole must have packed some clout… despite being recently unearthed after more than 100 years on the icy continent, in storage crates that themselves were frozen solid, the whisky itself was said to be quite liquid.
Though the crate was frozen solid when it was retrieved earlier this year, the whisky inside could be heard sloshing around in the bottles. Antarctica’s -30C C (-22F) temperature was not enough to freeze the liquor, dating from 1896 or 1897, and described as being in remarkably good condition.
While a reasonable quantity of the alcoholic beverage was recovered, it is unlikely to be consumed. Whisky makers will however be able to study samples in the hope of working out its formulation and recipe.
But now, as I said, the cash is all recycled, it’s done by the employees there that work at McMurdo Station… and the other ATM… we have two ATMs there… one is operational at a time. The other is one that they can sort of cannibalize, if you will, for parts or spare things that they need to make the other one live and operational. We do send a vendor down about once every two years to do some preventative hardware maintenance on both of the ATMs, to make sure they’re operational, change out the belts and that kind of stuff, provide new cartridges… anything else hardware-wise that we would need to make sure that it runs. But as you can imagine getting somebody down there is quite a feat.