In DepthPOLAR RESEARCH

Scientists hope risky winter voyage yields icy rewards

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Science  21 Apr 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6335, pp. 234-235
DOI: 10.1126/science.356.6335.234

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Summary

Two dozen scientists set sail last week from Lyttelton, New Zealand, heading south into the gray Southern Ocean. Their goal is to help solve one of Antarctica's big mysteries: Why, at a time when icy landscapes across much of the world are melting, is Antarctica's Ross Sea covered in more sea ice than it was 3 decades ago? The 2-month expedition aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 94-meter-long U.S. icebreaker capable of smashing through meter-thick ice, is headed for the Ross Sea, off the Antarctic coast. It's the first winter research voyage into the Ross in nearly 20 years, and once there researchers are bracing for nearly round-the-clock winter darkness, freezing temperatures, hurricane-force winds, and sea ice so heavy it could trap the ship. The lure is the prospect of a better understanding of how the Ross Sea's harsh winters give birth to its floating ice, which has expanded even as ice packs in the Arctic and some other parts of Antarctica have shrunk. It's a perplexing trend that defies existing climate models, and researchers hope the data they collect will help improve those models.

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