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.

Terra Nova Expedition Ship Discovered

The ship that gave the name to Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition has been found in the waters off Greenland, the Schmidt Ocean Institute reports.

The SS Terra Nova took Scott’s British team to Antarctica in 1910. They raced to be the first to the South Pole but were beaten by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team by only a matter of days. On their way back, bad weather set in and Scott and several team members died.

The SS Terra Nova continued to work in Arctic and Antarctic waters before finally getting damaged by ice and sinking off Greenland in 1943. A ship from the Schmidt Ocean Institute was testing its multibeam mapping echo sounders when it discovered the ship deep in the frigid waters.

The testing was being carried out in preparation for a undersea survey planned for next year. Who knows what else they’ll discover!

[Photo of Terra Nova expedition courtesy NOAA]

Perverted Penguins Perplex Polar Pedestrian

Dr. George Murray Levick was fascinated with penguin sex. Back in 1911 and 1912, he was the first scientist to stay for an entire mating season in Antarctica in order to study penguin procreation.

What he saw, however, confused him and shocked his traditional English morals. Penguin males were having gay sex, raping females, mounting the corpses of dead females and molesting penguin chicks. When he submitted his report to the Natural History Museum in London, the curators decided it was too shocking and cut those passages out of his report. They did publish an uncensored limited edition of 100 copies to circulate among leading scientists whose morals, supposedly, would not be corrupted by penguins.

Bird expert Douglas Russel explained necrophilia among penguins to the BBC, saying that the males don’t realize the females are dead. But what about the other unusual acts? These sexual variations are worthy of study. Why do animals and humans engage in sex acts that don’t lead to the creation of children? There doesn’t seem to be any practical purpose to it. Or perhaps the assumption that everything in nature has to have a practical purpose is a flawed one.

Dr. Levick was part of Robert Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, an attempt to be the first to trek to the South Pole. The advance party reached their goal but had been beaten by the Norwegian team of Roald Amundsen. Scott and his advance party all died on the journey back. Levick was not in the advance party and survived. Dr. Levick’s notes have just been published in the journal “Polar Record.”

In the age of the Internet, penguin sex just isn’t that shocking anymore.

[Photo courtesy Brocken Inaglory]

100 year-old whiskey frozen in Antarctic being thawed out

Earlier this year we reported how the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust retrieved some whiskey left behind by explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team after on unsuccessful attempt to make it to the South Pole in 1907-1909. Now curators at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, are thawing out one of the crates.

The Nimrod Expedition ran low on supplies only 97 miles from the South Pole and had to beat a hasty retreat. They ditched much of their equipment, including several cases of whiskey that they left under a hut they had built. The subzero temperatures and ice preserved the whiskey.

At least that’s what the museum folks hope. They’re slowly raising the temperature of the crate day by day. The crate bears the label Mackinlay’s, a defunct brand owned by Whyte & Mackay, who are hoping to analyze the whiskey, reconstruct the recipe, and reissue it.

The museum has started a blog called The Great Whiskey Crate Thaw so you can follow their progress.

While the Nimrod Expedition didn’t make it to the South Pole, it did have some successes–mapping large stretches of previously unknown land, making it to the south magnetic pole, and being the first to test a car in the Antarctic. They were even the first to publish a book in the Antarctic, using a printing press they brought along and using candles to keep the ink from freezing! Check out the Trust’s excellent account of the Nimrod Expedition.

Photo courtesy New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust.

100 year-old whiskey dug up from Antarctic ice

Back in November we reported a plan by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust to retrieve crates of whiskey left by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team after on unsuccessful attempt to make it to the South Pole in 1907-1909. The Nimrod Expedition made it to within 100 miles of the Pole before harsh weather forced the explorers to retreat. They ditched much of their gear along the way, including the whiskey.

In a remarkable feat of icy archaeology, these crates, which have been sitting under a cabin built by Shackleton’s team, have been pried free of the surrounding ice. Whiskey company Whyte and Mackay is elated. The company gave the Sir Shackleton the booze but hasn’t made this particular blend in decades. They’re hoping to sample the blend and replicate it.

The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust originally thought there were only two crates, so the other three came as a bonus. Three are labeled as whiskey and two as brandy. A few bottles might have broken, however, because the archaeologists smelled alcohol as they dug them up. They still need to scrape off the ice encasing the crates and gently remove ice that has formed inside before they know how many of the bottles are intact.

More ice cold news we’ve covered in the past – Brrrrr!