HOBART, Australia (Reuters) - A giant iceberg has forced an Australian Antarctic team to abandon a summer pilgrimage to the base built by the nation’s most famous Antarctic explorer, Douglas Mawson, upsetting planned celebrations for the centenary of Mawson’s expedition.
The iceberg, known as B9B and about 100 km (60 miles) long, has drifted into Commonwealth Bay in East Antarctica and blocked sea access to Mawson’s historic wooden huts, which are in an isolated area of the continent at Cape Denison.
“I‘m very disappointed. It would have been wonderful to be part of the action there,” Mawson’s Huts expedition manager Rob Easther told Reuters.
The Mawson’s Huts Foundation sends an expedition to the area each summer to carry out repairs and restoration of the buildings, built by Mawson and his team in 1912, during their 1911-14 expedition to Cape Denison.
The team hoped to be on the ground to assist visitors from several cruise ships also hoping to make the 2,500 km (1,550 miles) voyage to Cape Denison from Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania for the centenary of Mawson’s expedition, which sailed from the Tasmanian capital Hobart on December 2, 1911.
Mawson’s Huts sit on the edge of the majestic Commonwealth Bay, a curved bay with a coastline of ice cliffs. The isolation is stark for expeditioners who spend six weeks at the site, 200 km (125 miles) from their nearest Antarctic neighbours.
Cape Denison is the windiest sea-level location on earth. The highest recorded gusts there have reached 300 kmh (185 mph).
In 1913, a vicious wind screamed down the plateau at more than 140 kmh (85 mph) for 12 hours, nearly killing Mawson and his men. The winds and ice have been ravaging the Oregon and Baltic pine buildings ever since.
A second expedition from the Australian government’s Australian Antarctic Division AAD.L is confident it can overcome the giant iceberg obstacle to send a team to Cape Denison in time for a Mawson’s centenary event in January 2012, using a larger icebreaker and long-range helicopters.
“The Australian Antarctic Division does not expect the iceberg to affect the team going to Commonwealth Bay for the ... centenary event in January 2012 as we have long-range fly-off capabilities with helicopters on board the ship,” an AAD spokesman said.
Easther, who has more than 20 years experience with the AAD, said his team was philosophical about the cancellation, putting the problems down to the Antarctic factor, or the “A factor”.
”I‘m very realistic about these conditions having experienced it many times in the past,“ he said. ”Everybody knows the dreaded “A Factor’ can strike at any time and cause a massive change to your plans.”
“I‘m philosophical about it from that point of view, but disappointed for all our people who are so keen to go,” he said.
He said the Mawson’s Huts Foundation was already planning its exhibition for the summer of 2012-13.
Editing by James Grubel and Paul Tait