The group, which includes two Guardian journalists, is retracing the harrowing 1911 Antarctic expedition led by Sir Douglas Mawson, who lost many of his team members and nearly died himself on the frigid continent a century ago.
The ship’s passengers include an Australian research team led by University of New South Wales Professor Chris Turney, who said in November that the voluminous data collected by Mawson 100 years ago is critical to understanding global warming.
But Turney reported that blizzard-like conditions and thick ocean ice is preventing the latest expedition from leaving.
“Unfortunately proceeding north we found our path blocked by ice pushed in by an increasingly strong southeasterly wind. On Christmas Eve we realised we could not get through, in spite of being just 2 nautical miles from open water,” Turney reported in his blog.
“According to reports nobody is in present danger and three nearby icebreakers are being sent to assist,” said Expeditionsonline.com, which books polar expeditions. The ship is “stuck part-way through her Australasian Antarctic Expedition towards Mawson's Hut at Cape Denison,” located about 100 nautical miles east of Dumont D’Urville, a French base on Antarctica, and 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart in Tasmania.
Three icebreakers – China’s Xue Long, Australia’s Aurora Australis, and France’s L’Astrolabe - have been dispatched to the scene, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the international rescue after the Falmouth Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in the United Kingdom received a satellite distress call Christmas morning.
However, it will take the icebreakers at least two days to get to the stranded ship, which “is experiencing very strong winds and limited visibility.” The closest rescue ship is not expected to get to the scene until sometime Friday night.
“While it is early winter in the Arctic, it is early summer in the Antarctic. Continuing patterns seen in recent years, Antarctic sea ice extend remains unusually high, near or above previous daily maximum values,” according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).
“Sea ice extent averaged 17.16 million square kilometers (6.63 million square miles) for November. The long-term 1981 to 2010 average extent for this month is 16.30 million square kilometers (6.29 million square miles),” the agency reported.