Heavy sea ice conditions have aborted a science mission from reaching the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica from which a large iceberg broke off in July 2017. A team of scientists, led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS), were travelling on board the RRS James Clark Ross, in sea ice up to 4-5 metres thick, when the ship’s captain made the decision not to continue.
The international team will spend the remainder of their mission collecting seafloor animals, microbes, plankton, sediments and water samples using a range of equipment, including video cameras and a special sledge pulled along the seafloor to collect tiny animals. Their findings will provide a picture of the seafloor biodiversity in this area and provide a timeframe for retreat of ice sheets from the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The research expedition to the Larsen C Ice Shelf is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The giant iceberg known as A68, which is four times the size of London, de-attached from the Larsen Ice Shelf in July 2017. The scientists planned to collect samples from the newly exposed seabed, which covers an area of around 5,818 km2.
Marine biologist and Principal Investigator, Dr Katrin Linse, said:
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 8kms travelled in 24 hours and we still had over 400kms to travel. 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 1000 metres – so we’re excited about what deep sea creatures we might find.