UK duo to follow in frozen footsteps

September 3, 2004

Two university researchers are to become the first British scientists to set up a drift station on the frozen surface of the Weddell Sea since Sir Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated Antarctic expedition 90 years ago.

David Thomas, reader in marine biogeochemistry at the University of Wales, Bangor, and Stathis Papadimitriou, a postdoctoral researcher, will be part of an international effort to investigate how the icy waters wield a significant influence in the region.

Dr Thomas, whose book Frozen Oceans is published in October (Natural History Museum, £22), said this would be only the fourth of the many scientific expeditions into the Weddell Sea to construct the drift station necessary for an extended stay on the ice.

In Shackleton's case, this was not by choice. His 1914 expedition had to take to the ice after his ship Endurance sank after ten months locked in the frozen sea. Nevertheless, the four scientists on board continued to work and made a number of useful observations.

Dr Thomas's ship, the Polarstern , is a double-hulledicebreaker that will sail from Cape Town, South Africa, in November and drive itself deep into the Weddell Sea.

The Polarstern will remain in place for 50 days, during which time the scientists will work from fibreglass huts with access to onboard laboratories.

The two British researchers will focus their efforts on the lifeforms - bacteria and algae - that manage to survive within pores inside the ice itself.

Such work could help inform future space missions that could hunt for signs of life on Jupiter's icy moon Europa.

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