What’s happening in Antarctica this summer?

Photographer Neil Silverwood has just arrived at Scott Base on assignment for New Zealand Geographic, along with a large group of scientists starting their summer research.

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Neil Silverwood

During the polar winter, Scott Base spends six months effectively cut off from the world. A skeleton crew, charged with maintaining the base, endure freezing temperatures, isolation and nearly four months of perpetual darkness.

Last winter, for the first time, monthly flights reached Ross Island to deliver mail, fresh vegetables and other luxuries. In October, the winter crew were relieved by a larger summer team, and the population of Scott Base swelled from 10 to more than 70.

This summer’s contingent of scientists and support staff en route from Christchurch to Scott Base, a five-hour flight in a C-17 Globemaster.

Over summer, scientists use Scott Base as a staging ground, heading to almost every corner of the New Zealand-managed Ross Dependency to carry out science events.

The oldest study has been going for more than a century.  In 1911, Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole made scientific observations, such as taking basic measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field. Scientists continue this work, making annual measurements at Cape Evans, next to Scott’s hut on Ross Island.

Today, much of the science conducted in Antarctica focuses on climate change, and I’ll be embedded for six weeks on the largest scientific event of the season.

In the first week of November, I’ll join a team travelling 350 kilometres south of Scott Base on Hagglunds, all-terrain vehicles designed for snow and ice. When we reach the interior of the Ross Ice Shelf, we’ll set up a base camp there. Using a hot-water drill, support staff and scientists will bore several holes roughly the diameter of a basketball through more than 300 metres of glacial ice to find out what’s taking place at the point where shelf and the ocean meet. Is the shelf melting from below, for instance?

Through this research, scientists hope to better predict the future of the ice shelf, and gain an insight into what might be in store for Antarctica as the planet warms up.

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