Yesterday, it initially appeared the weather had thwarted yet another rescue attempt. The helicopter was originally going to carry the passengers back to the Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, with a barge then ferrying them to the Aurora. But sea ice prevented the barge from reaching the Chinese vessel, and the maritime authority said the operation would have to be delayed.
A last-minute change in plans allowed the rescue to go ahead. The passengers were instead flown to an ice floe next to the Aurora and then taken by a small boat to the Australian ship, Turney said.
While scientists expect and observe more extreme weather with man-made global warming, some say it’s not quite fair to blame the Antarctic blizzard that trapped the ship on climate change.
University of Colorado ice scientist Waleed Abdalati, NASA’s former chief scientist, cautioned, like many scientists do, that while researchers can spot a trend in extreme weather, they can’t immediately associate an individual event —like a blizzard — with changing climate. When scientists do attribute an individual extreme weather event to climate change, it is usually more than a year later after numerous computer model simulations and then published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Also, Antarctica, which is more governed by localized wind circulation and other characteristics, “is kind of its own beast,” Abdalati said. “Antarctica feels the changing climate a little differently than the rest of the world. I myself can’t point to the weather and say ‘it’s part of a changing climate.’”
The scientific team on board the Russian vessel had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson’s 1911 to 1913 voyage to Antarctica.
Turney had hoped to continue the trip if an icebreaker managed to free the ship. Despite his disappointment over the expedition being cut short, he said his spirits remained high.
“I’m a bit sad it’s ended this way,” he said. “But we got lots and lots of great science done.”
China has an interest in Antarctica, with the growing scientific power recently beginning construction on its fourth Antarctic research base.
Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.