It is a fascinating experience going through the same decision making process as the expedition of 100 years ago. What Mawson’s captain Davis achieved with so little is extraordinary. Using just observations from their vessel the Aurora, the original AAE explored thousands of kilometres of ocean, much of it by working their way through the pack, probing for gaps and hoping they did not close up behind them. It takes incredible courage to do this. One mistake and the ship could be trapped in the ice – with no one in the outside world really knowing where they were. It’s hard to imagine this scenario today. We have all the advantages of modern technology. Daily satellite reports provide images of what lies ahead, the Australian Antarctic Division are kindly sending us daily weather reports for the region from Casey station (thanks Jane!) our location is publicly available, and if we get into serious trouble we can pick up the phone for help (albeit a last resort). That’s not to say we can be complacent. Even today, it is all too clear this is an unforgiving environment and conditions can change very quickly.
Yesterday, the sea ice imagery suggested the small gap in sea ice that might be our route into Commonwealth Bay was closing up. But with a new day comes new prospects. The wind has shifted to the west and with it, a new opening has been created; it is amazing how quickly the ice scape can change. And because we had a largely cloudless day, the sea ice report for Commonwealth Bay was produced, providing a valuable update on where the edge of the fast ice lies. We had intended to travel down to the Mertz glacier and moor up on the eastern side of the ice for an approach on Mawson’s Hut. Unfortunately, the imagery shows that this area is badly broken up, reducing the chances of mooring up against a clean, stable ice face. Instead we have now set a new course to the west of iceberg B09B and hope to use this as our base of operations for the science program on the fast ice and our advance on Mawson’s Huts.
As I write, the sea ice is significantly younger (perhaps as little as 6 weeks old) and the Shokalskiy is making great progress. It’s almost like cutting through butter, with none of the grinding and crushing that we have enjoyed so much over the last couple of days. Chris and Greg have just given the logistics briefing to the rest of the science team and it looks very good. Much will depend on what we find when we arrive but we are as prepared as we can be. With any luck we should be alongside the sea ice tomorrrow!