March 2, 2018 / 11:59 AM / 5 months ago

Antarctic sea ice forces research ship to turn back

OSLO (Reuters) - Thick sea ice has forced a scientific research ship to abandon a trip to an Antarctic ice shelf from which a massive iceberg snapped off last year, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said on Friday.

Sea ice up to 5 metres (16 ft) thick blocked the RRS James Clark Ross vessel from reaching the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula, near South America, it said.

“Our progress became too slow, with just 8 kms (5 miles) travelled in 24 hours and we still had over 400 kms to travel. Mother Nature has not been kind to us on our mission!” Katrin Linse, leading the team for BAS, said in a statement.

The thick sea ice contrasts with a warm spell around the North Pole at the other end of the globe, even as temperatures in Europe have plunged below freezing.

The Antarctic scientists, from nine research institutions, would instead focus on collecting animals, microbes, plankton, sediments and water on the seabed to the north, where another ice shelf collapsed in 1995.

Last year, a trillion-tonne iceberg, one of the biggest on record, cracked off the Larsen C ice shelf, covering an area of 5,800 square km (2,200 square miles) or bigger than the Caribbean island of Trinidad.

Worldwide, average surface temperatures have risen 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, a trend that mainstream climate scientists say is driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

Almost 200 nations agreed at a 2015 summit in Paris to limit warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.

Despite the thick ice off part of Antarctica, the extent of sea ice around the entire continent is the second smallest on record for the time of year, behind 2017 levels, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

At the other pole, Arctic sea ice extent is at a record low, it says.

Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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