Antarctic expedition icebound: Human stasis, not climate change

Pilot error.

In one of those codas you can’t make up, the indispensable Watts Up With That site posted the real scoop, a couple of days ago, on the research ship Akademik Shokalskiy’s ill-fated encounter with Antarctic ice.

WUWT’s Anthony Watts was vectored by a reader onto the log entries being posted by members of the Australian-led expedition.  The logs revealed not only that the ship had been operating in heavy ice for days before becoming stuck, but that the ship’s master was well aware the ice was closing in on them on 23 December, and was trying to get everyone back onboard so he could move the ship.  The problem was that the expedition’s members, scattered across the ice on their various tasks, were dawdling in their progress back to the ship.

It’s certainly a tale made for Hollywood: humans being humans and not moving fast enough for Mother Nature.  Some will be reminded of Bruce Greenwood’s Dr. McLaren, the foot-dragging scientist in the Paul Walker flick Eight Below (Frank Marshall, 2006).  Others will simply recall any group tour they’ve ever been on, and the inevitability of fellow tourists who just can’t seem to get back to the rendezvous point on time.

That said, the expedition’s leader, Australian professor Chris Turney, is adamant that his group wasn’t on a tourist excursion.  The Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) was a scientific mission to study the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.

Fair enough.  Turney makes this fair point as well:

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.

The thing he doesn’t quite clarify is that the sea-ice reconfiguration was an ongoing development (begun when B09B calved in 2010), which the ship’s crew and the expedition’s log-keepers were aware of all along.

It helps to know that, from the mariner’s standpoint, icebreaking is an inexact science, one with narrow operational boundaries and “no-go” conditions that even the most seasoned arctic seaman can sometimes misjudge.  Coast Guard sailors with ice experience could comment in more depth on this.  Was it stupid of Akademik Shokalskiy and the AAE team to get themselves surrounded by ice as they did?  Maybe; but the purpose of Akademik Shokalskiy is to operate surrounded by ice.  Whether given conditions are beyond her limits is a judgment call.


Humanity happens, even in Antarctica.
Humanity happens, even in Antarctica.

Perhaps Akademik Shokalskiy’s master didn’t give himself enough lead time, on one fateful day, to round up his peripatetic passengers and still meet the goals of good judgment.  I wasn’t there, and wouldn’t draw a conclusion without having all the facts.

There are some conclusions we can draw, however.  Many readers will have heard that the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, sent to assist Akademik Shokalskiy, became stuck in the ice herself a few miles from the Russian ship on Friday.  The U.S. Coast Guard is sending USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), a heavy icebreaker, to provide further assistance.  Clearly – Conclusion 1 – there is plenty of sea ice off the coast of Antarctica.

(This article at The Australian, with commentary from an official of the Australian Maritime Safety Administration, provides some perspective on the likelihood of ships getting stuck in conditions like the ones Akademik Shokalskiy faced in Commonwealth Bay.)

We won’t settle here the question of whether increased sea ice in Antarctica is paradoxical, or what it proves, or for that matter what is proven by the resurgence of sea ice in the Arctic since the low-ice years of 2010-11.

But the other conclusion we can draw is that humans will be humans.  Especially when they’re being harder to herd than a passel of alley cats.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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7 thoughts on “Antarctic expedition icebound: Human stasis, not climate change”

  1. The Akademik Shokalskiy was built in Finland as an ice breaker for the Baltic. It’s got less horsepower than a tugboat at less than 1900.

    Funny how this expedition was to the same bay where a sailing vessel landed an expedition in 1913 to commemorate its 100th anniversary

  2. Enjoying the Ship of Fools thing. Shocked to learn that sea ice tends to break up in the summer months!
    More ice: Global Warming, less ice: Global Warming, same amount of ice Global Warming.
    Would like to repeat, I still have Global Cooling T-shirts from the 70’s.
    If you like your ice,………….

  3. They’re very lucky they didn’t encounter “The Thing” from another world.

    I couldn’t stand yet another film in the series.

    1. They all would have approached the monster to see if they could just say the right words or make positive gestures that would have made the invader feel good about himself. It would be racist to defend themselves.
      On another warming note. The children academics put their own ship in danger. They put two other ice breakers in danger. They severely damaged the small landing boat and engine. The Polar Star is on the way to try to clean up the mess.
      Who is going to pay for all of that stupidity. Certainly not the children in their pajamas and hot chocolate. On to the next adventure! Wheee!

  4. Back in 1998 or so, on the old GIGO-SOAPBOX, I wrote an essay about Global Warming and had a string of arguments with a “believer”.

    It was reasoned, and approached the entire issue from a firm science class experiment eye for qualitative and quantitative analysis. It also brought up the rule of significant digits and instrumentality.

    I concluded that the “Anthropogenic Global Warming” ruberic was not a vaild hypothesis because it could not be posed as a true disprovable theory. There was no way to measure the data, no way to record and regularize measurements in any quantifiable/independently verifiable data set, and any such measurements could not be guaranteed for any sort of degree of accuracy. There was also insufficient data from which to draw a reasonable hypothesis. There was no ability to build a control, and therefore no way to prove any difference. No “ideal” state is even known or supposed. The last part of that little problem relates to proxy data from non-instrumental forms (tree rings and ice cores) that have very low degrees of accuracy.

    The upshot of all of it was that weather and climate are all completely chaotic and variable. They are tied to the cyclical nature of inputs, reinforcement, and variability that are completely unique to any one point on an event curve, and could not be replicated in any substantive methodology.

    So, the assertion that the Earth was warming was unprovable. The assertion that the Earth is systemically cooling is unprovable as well. Which all led me to the conclusion that Global Warming/Cooling/Climate changes induced by the feeble activities of mankind is a scientific fraud. Belief in that fraud was a functionally political/social and economic impulse that essentially was a modernest substitute for traditional Judeo-Christian religious faith.

    Paganism in its various forms is the oldest of humanity’s religions. It is time we all recognized it as such, and put it in its place. It is rapidly destroying the secular world, and that is taking the religious/moral world with it.


  5. The climate change,save the trees/everyone return to living in a mud hut crowd are the low info sheep that follow the charlatans at the top of the money pyramid. Mencken was right: No one has ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
    The Pantheists may have been onto something, by the way. It is as ecumenical as it’s gets, but you can’t make any money if everyone is his own savior. No self-respecting entrepreneur would touch it…………. unless you could get a big,fat subsidy from the feds, hire union believers and faithfully tithe to the Democratic Party.
    On second thought, Pantheists/Climate Change/Save Heaven on Earth has a nice ring to it. Cheap store front “shops”, buy a rock for $10, trade in a rock for $11. Holy Pet Rocks if you will. When you have accumulated $1000 in credits, you become a District Manager, I mean Holy Man 1st Grade. Get your stripes for only $50. Get a bonus for every friend you convert. Ask about our franchise opportunities. Hiring Softwear engineers.
    Look for our newest chapter Sling Shots Plus.

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