The icebreaker Aurora Australis has sailed from Hobart on her maiden mission for the summer season, stocked with extra supplies in case of hold-ups.
Voyage manager Robb Clifton says this is the greatest extent of sea ice that they’ve had to deal with. “It’s definitely becoming more difficult to operate in the sea ice in Antarctica and so we do expect that is likely to cause us some problems.”
Over the past three years there has been a steady increase in sea ice, which scientists have linked to global warming, and a reduction in the mass of the Antarctic ice shelf. The 5,000km voyage through the Southern Ocean usually takes about 15 days but takes longer if weather and ice conditions are challenging.
Some two years in the planning, researchers hope to work on up to 90 projects during the coming season and contingency plans are in place should the ice cause delays.
“We’ve got helicopters on board: we can fly cargo off, we can fly people off. We can also use our ski aircraft to fly out to the ship,” Mr Clifton said.
The Aurora Australis is carrying several tonnes of food on her journey, including provisions to feed the crew for up to an additional four months in case of hold-ups.