Campus News
Published: 3 December, 2012

Chillin’ out: blog charts Antarctic adventure

UOW PhD student Ruhi Humphries has spent months chilling out and going with the floe…ice floe that is, on board the ship Aurora Australis on its scientific expedition to the Antarctic.

Ruhi, from the Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry, has been chronicling his adventures online in a blog, Air and Ice. His posts cover all aspects of life on board- from playing hacky sac on the ship’s deck to undertaking research and admiring Antarctica’s breathtaking scenery and wildlife.

The Aurora is part of the atmospheric chemistry SIPEX II activity led by Dr Robyn Schofield of the University of Melbourne. Ruhi has worked on a range of research topics, including the mapping of leaking CO2 from the ground and nitrogen cycling in agriculture. He is currently studying new particles being formed in the atmosphere, a process that is important for cloud formation and is key to modelling the climate and atmosphere now and into the future.

The Aurora, the Australian Antarctic Division’s research vessel, left Hobart in September. Ruhi wrote that the team’s “excitement grew as the water plummeted from the brisk 11 degrees in Hobart to a core shivering minus 1.7 degrees.”

A highlight of the blog is his description of the visit by ‘King Neptune himself’ to the Aurora when it crossed 60 degrees south of the equator.

While he refuses to divulge all of the King’s secrets, Ruhi reveals that an initiation of a few first timers on board involved “ a fish, a mysterious blue drink and a bucket of slop from ‘the bottom of the ocean’ that was very difficult to get out of hair.”

Living below the aurora is a vast array of playful wildlife including crab-eater seals, adele penguins and whales.

“Watching the penguins jump in and out of the water, falling down and just chillin’ on the ice (haha, get it?) is fantastic,” he writes.

“The crab-eater seals are confronting when first seen. Their large, fat bodies, wobbling along the snow towards you at an impressive speed (faster than we can walk in our big boots) makes you question how close you really want to get to this beautiful creature.”

“It is incredible, when looking out over the vast and often barren ice-snowscape that a huge diverse community of life lies just below our feet.”

But while the wildlife has been a memorable part of the expedition, the Aurora hasn’t been without her share of drama. Ruhi writes in the blog about the cold temperatures sometimes faced by the team.

“With outside air temperatures down to minus 25 degrees celsius and a wind chill of minus 35, all sorts of things start happening (or not as the case may be),” he writes.

“At these temperatures, even scientific equipment designed for Antarctic marine conditions starts to malfunction. The small inflatable rescue boats haven’t been working and the air is cold enough to freeze bits and pieces and ruin scientific equipment.”

The Aurora was recently locked in and surrounded by multi-metre thick sea ice which, Ruhi says, left the team little choice but to literally ‘go with the floe’.

After breaking free of the ice, the ship started slowly making its way back to Hobart. Ruhi wrote on November 12 that, although he was looking forward to getting home, he would miss the ice.

“It has been a wonderful journey, with many fantastic and interesting people, and, scientifically it has been very successful and rewarding. I definitely hope to return to this cold continent in the future,” he wrote.

Click here to visit the Air and Ice blog and read about Ruhi’s Antarctic adventure.

By: Jenna Bradwell.

Published: 3 December, 2012

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