Critter-finding mission to Antarctica’s Larsen C iceberg scrapped

Too much ice prevented the research vessel from reaching the calving site

Antarctic ice

PACKED ICE  Floating ice — 4- or 5-meters-thick in some places — choking the Weddell Sea ended a British Antarctic Survey research vessel’s mission to the Larsen C ice shelf in February. The mission planned to explore seafloor life newly exposed after a giant iceberg split off from the shelf last July.

Susie Grant/BAS

Thick sea ice has thwarted researchers’ plans to explore what creatures lived beneath an Antarctic ice shelf. A mission to study seafloor life suddenly exposed by the breaking away of the Larsen C iceberg last July was delayed as it tried to navigate through floating ice, some chunks as thick as 5 meters. With 400 kilometers still to go, the captain of the vessel, the RRS James Clark Ross, canceled the mission February 28.

“It was nature [that] defeated us,” said principal investigator and marine biologist Katrin Linse of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge in a video released by BAS March 2. “We knew this mission was high risk and high reward.”

Not all is lost, though. The vessel is now heading to the nearby Larsen A ice shelf, where an iceberg broke away in 1995. There, researchers will study a never-explored deep-sea seafloor ecosystem 1,000 meters beneath the ocean’s surface.

Linse will have another opportunity to visit Larsen C, however. She’ll join a 2019 expedition led by the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany.

Carolyn Gramling is the earth & climate writer. She has bachelor’s degrees in geology and European history and a Ph.D. in marine geochemistry from MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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