Research diver Henry Kaiser reports on how changes in the sea ice are challenging researchers at McMurdo Sound.
He writes in his blog about the mysterious changes, both above and below the ice:
“Cracks have formed in the thin ice and daily measurements of the cracks that need to be traversed are taken, as those cracks could become impassible at anytime. Nobody wants to quickly sink to the bottom of the Ross Sea in the frozen coffin of $100,000 tracked vehicle.
Looking back over the past years to 2005, we can see that the sea ice edge, the place where the frozen ocean turns to open water, has been getting closer and closer every year. Is climate change to blame? Nobody is sure….
Being one of the folks here who gets to spend a good deal of time under that ice, in the 28° F waters of the Ross Sea, I can report that there is also a big change in visibility this year. Our normally 2000 foot visibility is reduced to 300 feet or 400 feet. The water seems almost milky or chalky, and visibility is worsening as the season continues in an accelerating manner.
Ice has been thin and snow-covered in many pre-B-15 [Ed: the massive iceberg that broke up in 2005] seasons, without any change in visibility; so we know this odd and poor visibility is not a result of that. It is a change that has not been seen before and we don’t even have a guess as to why it is occurring. The National Science Foundation likes to say that Antarctica is the canary in the coal mine for climate change—I hope that meme makes the point that changes like this demand our attention. I’ve even noticed a few jellies and other creatures more associated with the open water appearing way back under the sea ice. They don’t usually show up until the ice edge is much closer, a month or so from now. Yet another mystery of this very odd season.
Has a significant alteration in climate brought on these environmental changes? Will this be the new norm, and will scientists no longer have their fish hut camps out on the sea ice? Time and further research will tell. Something is going on here that has been a wake-up call for those of us who work on the ice this season. We will continue to react to a changing environment and try to figure out why it might be changing.”
Because workers at McMurdo Sound are not able to traverse out onto the ice due to the thinning, scientists have constructed an Observation Tube where anyone can descend a ladder and watch the divers explore the watery underworld. The view is undulating poetry, and Kaiser’s music adds depth and beauty to the mystery. Thank you, Henry, for all your work and perseverance!