A group of 58 experts met in Hobart mid-May to discuss strategies for future operations in Antarctic waters as sea-ice cover increases and strengthens in parts of Antarctica.

The impact of changing sea ice conditions on Antarctic operators was the focus of a major international workshop in Hobart this week.

The Antarctic Sea Ice Challenges Workshop, convened by the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programmes (COMNAP), brought together the world’s Antarctic program managers and scientists for the first time to tackle the issue.

Sea ice is found in different variations and poses difficulties for navigation. Age, thickness and consistency of ice determines a ship’s ability to navigate through pack ice. Photo: Katja Riedel
Sea ice is found in different variations and poses difficulties for navigation. Age, thickness and consistency of ice determines a ship’s ability to navigate through pack ice. Photo: Katja Riedel

COMNAP Executive Secretary Michelle Rogan-Finnemore said the two day meeting examined the latest scientific advice on the causes and likely future trends in sea ice cover, as well as identified potential solutions.

“Challenging sea ice conditions in some parts of Antarctica, including thicker and more extensive sea ice coverage, are impacting the delivery of Antarctic scientists, support personnel and supplies to Antarctic research facilities,” Ms Rogan-Finnemore said. “Innovative and pragmatic approaches are needed to solve these evolving challenges,” she said.

The increase of sea ice amount and thickness is the main reason for icebreaker activities, even in summer. Photo: Australian Antarctic Division
The increase of sea ice amount and thickness is the main reason for icebreaker activities, even in summer. Photo: Australian Antarctic Division

The workshop was jointly hosted by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC).

Workshop convenor Dr Rob Wooding of the AAD said 58 delegates attended the meeting including Antarctic program managers, sea ice scientists, ice navigators and shipping experts.

The reasons for the increase in sea ice are still debated. However, several factors point to climate change as the main reason. Photo: Stefan Hendricks, AWI
The reasons for the increase in sea ice are still debated. However, several factors point to climate change as the main reason. Photo: Stefan Hendricks, AWI

“This is the first time that a group of international experts of this calibre have gathered to work together in addressing this issue of critical importance to everyone who operates in the Antarctic,” Dr Wooding said. “The support we have received from COMNAP member nations has been exceptional.”

“The scientific community can offer valuable insights into why Antarctic sea ice is changing, and therefore help with the planning of Antarctic operations,” co-host Professor Worby from ACE CRC said. “Scientists also have access to daily satellite imagery that can be sent directly to ships, helping them choose the best possible route through the sea ice.

“Operational delays as a result of being stuck in the ice can quickly become very costly and are often avoidable,” he said.

The outcomes from the workshop will be published by COMNAP later this year.

Source: Australian Antarctic Division