Research mission to Larsen C Ice Shelf hindered by sea ice

Research mission to Larsen C Ice Shelf hindered by sea ice
© NASA Dick Ewers via Wikimedia Commons

A team of scientists, led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS), have had to abandon plans to reach the Larsen C Ice Shelf as heavy sea ice conditions have hindered the mission to investigate a marine ecosystem that has been hidden beneath the ice shelf.

Sea ice that has reached up to 4-5m thick has slowed progress for the team aiming to reach the Larsen C Ice Shelf that broke away in July 2017.

Marine biologist and principal investigator Dr Katrin Linse, from British Antarctic Survey, is leading the team. She says: “We knew that getting through the sea ice to reach Larsen C would be difficult. Naturally, we are disappointed not to get there but safety must come first. The captain and crew have been fantastic and pulled out all the stops to get us to the ice shelf, but our progress became too slow, with just 8km travelled in 24 hours and we still had over 400km to travel. Mother Nature has not been kind to us on our mission

“But we have a ‘Plan B’, we will head north to areas which have never been sampled for benthic biodiversity. The Prince Gustav Channel Ice Shelf and neighbouring Larsen A Ice Shelf collapsed in 1995. We’ll be sampling deeper than we planned at Larsen C – down to 1,000m – so we’re excited about what deep sea creatures we might find.”

Will sea ice affect the research?

Researchers will spend the remainder of the mission collecting seafloor animals, microbes, plankton, sediments and water samples using a range of equipment. Any finding will provide a benchmark of the seafloor biodiversity within the area.

Plans for future missions to access the Larsen C Ice Shelf are already underway. Linse and colleagues have teamed up with the Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany, to visit in 2019 on their research vessel RV Polarstern.

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