Norwegian Scientists Plan To Freeze Themselves In Polar Ice

A hundred and twenty years ago, Norwegian scientist Fridtjof Nansen started a journey that made him one of the greatest explorers of all time. He set out to purposely get his ship frozen in the polar ice.

The reason? To study polar currents. His ship, the Fram, was purpose-built for the task. It needed to be; many crews had perished in the far north when their ships got frozen and then crushed by ice. The Fram spent three years stuck in the ice as the crew studied currents, took soundings and gathered a host of other scientific data that researchers are still sifting through. Not content with this adventure, Nansen set off on skis in a failed bid to be the first to the North Pole.

Nansen (1861-1930) was fascinated with the world of the Arctic. He was the first to ski across Greenland in 1888 and wrote about his adventures in The First Crossing of Greenland. This was the first of many exciting travel books he’d write. His most famous is Farthest North, his account of the Fram expedition. Nansen went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work helping refugees after World War I, including the many victims of the Armenian Genocide. His ship is preserved at The Fram Museum in Oslo.

Now researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute want to get their own ship frozen in the ice. They’re hoping to take an old Arctic research vessel that’s slated for the scrapyard and get it stuck in the ice during the winter of 2014-15.

They plan on studying the conditions of the ice, conditions that have changed markedly in the past few years. With the warming of the poles, most ice is only a year old, instead of being several years old like the ice that Nansen studied. This young ice is thinner, more saline, and has different reflective properties than older ice. Such a study may yield important data on how the Arctic is changing due to global warming.

You can read more about Nansen and the proposed project in an excellent two-part series on Science Nordic.

NASA Removes The Ice From Antarctica For Our Best View Of The Continent Yet

Thanks to an incredibly thick layer of snow and ice, the topographical layout of the Antarctic continent has always remained shrouded in mystery, leaving geographers to ponder what exactly it looks like. Back in 2001, an extensive survey using modern technologies gave us our first real glimpse at Antarctica without the ice. That project resulted in a map called “Bedrock” that provided the most detailed view of the Antarctic surface ever seen, showing mountains, valleys and other hidden features.

Since then, NASA, along with the British Antarctic Survey, has been using satellites and specially equipped planes with laser-powered terrain sensors to fill in even more detail. Last week they released “Bedrock2” to truly show us how Antarctica would appear if all of the ice were removed. Judging from the images shown in the video below, the frozen continent is a wild, mountainous place that would remain rugged and demanding even if it weren’t buried under a mile of snow and ice.

#OnTheRoad On Instagram: Sweden

This week on Instagram we’re off to Sweden, and since I’m at the helm you can expect a lot of bike and food photos. And some good sun shots on ice, because this time of year, in good weather, the landscape can be simply stunning.

With family in Sweden, I have spent a lot of time in the land of pickled herring, meatballs and Abba. It’s a place that I come back to in order to refuel, reconnect with family and find new inspiration. Having spent every summer in Sweden as a child, and much more time as an adult, for me, traveling to Sweden isn’t a novel thing as it would be for most people. It’s simply returning to a place that I know and love.

But this week I am excited to put a new eye to things, to feature all the things that I love about Scandinavian culture – the obsession with the coffee break for example – and give you a look into what life in the cold north really looks like.

Snap a photo worth sharing? Mention @GadlingTravel in your own photo AND use the hashtag #gadling, and your photo will be considered for our Photo Of The Day.

Photo Of The Day: Trekking Chadar

Today’s Photo of the Day sort of resembles what many of us will experience when traveling over the coming holiday week, or at least, it can feel like a trek. Flickr user arunchs shot this on the famous Chadar Trek, one of the most majestic but challenging in the world. These people are actually crossing the frozen Zanskar River in India, walking over the slippery and icy surfaces of the Himalayas, often carrying luggage on their backs in inhospitable conditions. Some Buddhist monks will walk across the chadar (ice) in their bare feet, so consider that next time you complain about removing your shoes for airport security.

Want to wow us with your travel photos? Add them to the Gadling Flickr pool for another Photo of the Day. Happy holiday trekking!

[Photo credit: Flickr user arunchs]

Bowermaster’s Adventures: The winds of change in Antarctica

We spent the morning watching and following big groups of swimming/feeding penguins on the backside of Pleneau Island, about halfway down the Antarctic Peninsula.

It was one of the most prolific wildlife scenes I’ve ever witnessed here. The skies were dark, hinting snow, but the incredible beauty of the scene kept us out on deck all morning. Literally thousands of Gentoos swimming and porpoising surfaced in one big pack after another. In single file they would surface, jump one at a time onto a tiny piece of ice, which quickly disintegrated under their accumulated weight. Others seemed savvier, popping up onto bigger icebergs, which they scampered up and over, again in single file, before diving one at a time off the opposite side.

As well as gathering krill and small fish for their by-now two-month old chicks, I’m convinced whenever I see penguin action like this they’re also out horsing around, having some fun. It’s summertime, after all. In another month or two this scene will be dramatically different, frozen and iced-in, and all of Antarctica’s wildlife will be pushed to the ice edge.

It’s an interesting year to talk about ice along the Peninsula. Every year the sea around Antarctica freezes solid, essentially doubling the size of the continent. And every year with spring and summer most of that frozen sea either melts or breaks into smaller pieces and is blown away, offshore.

This year is different. Though summer is two-thirds over still-thick sea ice borders the coastline and encases many of its just offshore islands. It’s more ice than any of us who’ve been visiting the Peninsula for the past couple decades have seen in fifteen years or so.

After watching the penguins hunt for a couple hours we sailed south, to Petermann Island, a traditional summer stop, home to nesting Adelie, Gentoo and blue-eyed Cormorants. For several years the Washington, D.C.-based environmental group Oceanites had put up tents here, allowing its volunteers to come and live for an entire season, documenting wildlife. On an average day all season long one or two tourist ships would land passengers on Petermann for a walk around.

No one has visited the island this year. We attempted to chug through the two miles of thick, slushy ice separating the island from a clear channel. Several times our boat’s engine overheated due to the thick slush being sucked into the intake, requiring us to turn off the engine and plunge it out to prevent it from stopping for good.

%Gallery-147996%Through binoculars we could make out the fuel storage tank at the Ukrainian science base of Vernadsky in the Argentine Islands. We’ve stopped there many times in the past, to anchor in the calm creek that sits behind it and to share a meal and home-brewed vodka with the 14 scientists based there for 12 straight months. This year, thanks to all the ice, no one has been able to reach the base. The Ukrainians have been iced-in for nearly one year. We raise the base commander on the VHF and he assures us all is good; they had recently celebrated the Ukrainian New Year with a big dinner … but admitted they were anxiously hoping their 14 replacements would be able to reach the base in another month.

Sailing back to the north, heading towards a safe anchorage at Pt. Charcot, near where we’d watched the penguins — and leopard seals! — frolic earlier in the day the wind came up, the seas darkened and the ice that surrounded us began to move. It was pushing towards land, filling in any open gap in the sea.

As Skip Novak piloted the boat in, around and through the ice I sensed worry. If we were to anchor at Pt. Chacot and the wind kept blowing out of the west as it was predicted, it was very likely we’d be stuck, unable to move or get off the boat, for many days.

Standing outside in the blow we talked — actually shouted over the wind — about our options. It was actually a very short conversation. “Let’s get north, away from this ice,” said Skip. I agreed.

Now stories of too much ice along the Antarctic Peninsula may run contrary to those you’ve heard — many from me! — about how much the temperatures in this part of the continent are warming and ice melting.

That hasn’t changed: Both air and water temperatures along the Peninsula have gone up on average 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the past forty years, the biggest such change on the planet. The issue this season is not lack of warmth, but lack of wind.

During our adventure this year I’ve had two fascinating conversations with longtime Peninsula veterans about the changes they’ve seen. Each agreed the warming is creating big differences, though each focused on different impacts.

Bill Fraser, one of Antarctica’s premiere penguin scientists, has been visiting the American Palmer Station since the mid-1970s and is convinced the warming temps are changing wildlife patterns. He blames the changes specifically on the lack of sea ice due to warming air and sea temps.

Leif Skog is captain of the “National Geographic Explorer,” operated by Lindblad Expeditions, which has been bringing tourists to Antarctica since the mid-1960s. Skog has been coming here for nearly 40 years. We spoke on the bridge of his ship at Pt. Lockroy, the former British refuge hut known as ‘Camp A.’

For him, the biggest change has been the weather, specifically the wind. Or lack of it. “We used to get katabatic winds roaring down off the glaciers every three days or so. Gusts of over 100 miles per hour. We prepared for them, worried about them constantly. Now … we never see winds like that.” Changing weather patterns influenced by warming temperatures — and the lack of sea ice — makes perfect sense for what we’ve witnessed this season.

As we sailed the Pelagic Australisto safety, slowly pushing through the still-thick, slushy ice towards the backside of the beautiful Lemaire Channel, standing outside in blowing snow and cold Skip and I talked about just what an incredible part of the world Antarctica is. We sail past a sizable iceberg we had lingered near this morning, under far different conditions. Reminding us that every day — every hour — is different in Antarctica. Make that every 15 minutes.