Writer says global warming has aberrations
To the editor:
The letter on global warming as another political agenda (Letters, Jan. 16, 2014) contains a lot of truth regarding public reaction to the current buzzwords of climate change and anthropogenic causes, among other attention-getters by journalists who know how to attract readers to stories by using sensational headlines.
What caught my attention recently was the incident of the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy that involved a private expedition to revisit the history of the Australian explorer Douglas Mawson in the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 100 years ago.
The objective of duplicating some of Mawson’s measurements of weather and ice conditions ran afoul when the ship became beset in unusually densely packed sea ice. The Shokalskiy, an ice-strengthened ship, not an icebreaker, was never in any trouble except for an unknown delay before an icebreaker might reach the ship and break out the ice around it. A Chinese icebreaker came to help, but got stuck in nearby ice. Shokalskiy freed itself independently when wind and current conditions changed. Aside from experiencing less ice as a result of “global warming,” the ship got ‘Gored’ in dense pack ice (note the invented word for this occasion).
I was especially interested in the predicament because of my personal experience in ship travel in sea ice during the past 30 years, most of it on Russian icebreakers in Antarctica and also to the North Pole, totaling many hundreds of miles of breaking ice. I was also interested in the Shokalskiy’s predicament because of my position as advisor to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), an organization that prides itself on environmentally safe travel to Antarctica for tourism purposes.
IAATO-member operators conduct their activities with safety in mind, and environmental protection a foremost objective with respect to wildlife such as penguins and marine mammals. The Shokalski was under private charter for this particular voyage, not as a IAATO member, although the ship had been conducting tours in Antarctica beginning in 1994 by a IAATO member.
What went wrong? Nothing unusual for what might have been a cyclical event in sea ice production during the winter and circumpolar currents concentrating ice locally and producing pressure ridges that make progress difficult to the point that even powerful icebreakers avoid them. Whether advance notice of the conditions could have been predicted from satellite imagery is inconclusive.
Parties to the Antarctic Treaty are obligated to assist any vessel in a like situation, but often at the expense of research time and logistics that are carefully scheduled for a relatively short operating summer period. Finger-pointing and harsh words are likely to emerge at the next meeting of the Treaty Parties, scheduled for Brasilia in May 2014.