• Australian scientists set out on Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy
  • The £900,000 expedition began full of high hopes early last month
  • But ship was hit on Christmas Eve by a 50-knot blizzard and became trapped in ice

MV Akademik Shokalskiy trapped in the ice at sea off Antarctica. A scientific research team who headed south to prove the threat to mankind from global warming by establishing that the region is melting have found themselves trapped on their ship
A team of Australian climate scientists set out on a Russian research ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy on a mission to raise awareness of global warming.

'The research stakes are high,' claimed a sympathetic report on Australia's ABC TV station.

'Antarctica is one of the great engines driving the world's oceans, winds and weather. But there are ominous signs of climate change . . .'

Up until Christmas, all seemed to be going well. Besides the Russian crew and the Australian climate scientists, the ship's 85-strong company included an Australian Green MP, two environment journalists from the Guardian newspaper and a BBC science journalist eager to relay details of the expedition's vital findings which support their gospel of man-made global warming.

Each day, Guardian readers were entertained by bulletins of the expedition's latest adventures: the seasickness; the icy cold; the penguins; 'the mysterious song of the leopard seal'.

But then on Day 16, disaster struck. 'Stuck in Antarctica's icy grasp' noted the report, describing how the ship had been hit on Christmas Eve by a 50-knot blizzard and then become stuck in pack ice.

At first, the intrepid explorers put a brave face on the irony of their predicament. The ice would soon blow away and besides, here was some unexpected free time to extend their researches.

As the days went by, though, it slowly became clear that this wasn't going to be a temporary problem. The ship was stuck fast - at the height of what is supposed to be the Antarctic summer and when the ice normally melts rather than thickens - and was in urgent need of rescue.

Perhaps, with hindsight, it was a mistake to christen the expedition the Spirit of Mawson in memory of Sir Douglas Mawson, the great Edwardian-age Australian explorer in whose icy footsteps the mission hoped to follow.

But though Mawson did much fine work mapping the then-unknown region, his 1911-1913 expedition came badly unstuck. On a trek into the interior, Mawson and his crew lost most of their food supplies when their sledge disappeared into a crevasse.

Stuck 350 miles from the coast with only one and a half weeks' worth of food, Mawson nearly came to an end as sticky as Captain Scott's earlier that same year.

Mawson and his sole surviving companion, Mertz, were driven to eating their dogs, unaware that the livers were poisonous. Their hair fell out; the soles of Mawson's feet fell off; Mertz ultimately went mad, bit off the top of his finger and died.

By the time Mawson staggered back to base in February 1913, he was so hideously ravaged that no one recognised him.

Still, in at least one respect, Mawson had an advantage over his 21st century followers. As we can see from period photographs, this part of the Antarctic was noticeably less frozen in the early 20th century than it is today. There was no visible sea ice in Commonwealth Bay where the MV Akademik Shokalskiy and its crew first got stuck.

And where, unfortunately, it remains stuck - despite the best efforts of three icebreakers.


The Russian-registered MV Akademik Shokalskiy became stuck in ice on 24 December with 48 passengers, mostly Australians, and around 20 crew on board
One made it to within ten nautical miles of the stranded vessel only to be driven back by bad weather; so too did the other two ships when it became clear that the ice was so thick they were in danger of being trapped themselves.

This was probably not the kind of publicity the expedition was hoping for when it set out to alert the world to the growing perils of global warming. But you wouldn't necessarily guess this from the defiant tone of the statement it released two days ago. It read: 'We're stuck in our own experiment. We came to Antarctica to study how one of the biggest icebergs in the world has altered the system by trapping ice.

'We followed Sir Douglas Mawson's footsteps into Commonwealth Bay, and are now ourselves trapped by ice surrounding our ship.

'Sea ice is disappearing due to climate change, but here ice is building up. We have found this has changed the system on many levels.

'The increase in sea ice has freshened the seawater below, so much so that you can almost drink it. This change will have impacts on the deep ocean circulation.'

This attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat may display an admirable unflappability worthy of the great Mawson himself.

But it does also show a certain disregard for real world scientific data - most of which roundly contradicts the statement that 'sea ice is disappearing due to climate change.' In fact, current evidence suggests that the opposite is true.

This is certainly the case in Antarctica - where sea ice coverage, which has been increasing for several years, is now approximately two million square kilometres greater than the 1981 to 2010 average.

But also, perhaps more surprisingly, in the Arctic - the place which according to some scaremongering reports was going to be ice-free in summer by 2020.

This year, much to the consternation of climate alarmists, it emerged that Arctic summer ice coverage had increased by 29 per cent over the same period last year.

Why then, did the scientists on the Spirit of Mawson expedition, feel compelled to tell a different story?

One answer may lie in the identity of the expedition leader, Professor Chris Turney, of the University of New South Wales.

He is a geographer who believes that global carbon dioxide emissions targets need to be drastically reduced if the Earth is to avoid catastrophic warming.

For scientists who have built their reputation on (and whose research funding depends upon) research into man-made global warming, it clearly matters greatly that they should find more and more compelling evidence of the problem's existence. Otherwise their work might dry up.

Like many scientists, politicians and businessmen on the so-called 'warmist' side of the argument, Professor Turney also has green business interests which may partly depend for their success on the degree of public concern about the global warming issue.

Also, like Australia's former climate commissioner and environmental activist Tim Flannery, he is a major shareholder in Carbonscape Holdings Ltd, which aims to reduce carbon emissions.

Unfortunately for those scientists and activists who have gained so much attention from pushing the global warming agenda - while they ultimately may be proved right - the real world evidence does not currently appear to be on their side.

As the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report admitted for the first time, there has been no significant rise in global temperature since 1997. This 16-year 'pause' was not predicted by any of the computer models on which the IPCC has long based its warnings of extreme global warming.

But will any of these inconvenient truths get a mention in the breathless accounts describing the Spirit of Mawson expedition's last moments as the 85-strong company are finally rescued by helicopter?

That's about as likely as a snowball's chance in hell.