Royal Navy survey ship HMS Protector broke through nearly 300 miles of Antarctic ice to help scientists begin a five-year mission to understand how West Antarctica is contributing to global sea-level rise.
Working together with British Antarctic Survey’s vessel RRS Ernest Shackleton, the Plymouth-based ice-strengthened vessel crunched her way to a remote Antarctic ice shelf to support a team of around 100 scientists who seek to understand a glacier the size of Great Britain.
The gigantic Thwaites Glacier is melting – accounting for four per cent of the annual sea level rise every year. Scientists fear the huge mass of ice could eventually collapse, raising the global sea level 80 centimeters – more than two and a half feet – and so are beginning a five-year program of field activities on the glacier.
With the nearest British and American scientific research stations more than 1,600 kilometers away from the research site, the two ships were called upon to deliver essential heavy stores to the ice edge in preparation for the arrival of the scientists next year.
The two vessels delivered four large tracked vehicles, 14 snow mobiles, numerous sledges, a caboose to act as living quarters, fuel and food to last nearly 5,000 days.
Upon arriving at the Stange Ice Shelf, a team went on to the ice to dig deep holes to secure the ship’s berthing lines. The crew of HMS Protector then worked around the clock for 72 hours with their colleagues from the British Antarctic Survey to offload around 300 tonnes of equipment, machinery and supplies as quickly as possible.
Joining in the long-range Antarctic mission have been BAS Twin Otter aircraft and an RAF Hercules, which dropped 70 tonnes of supplies to outlying UK research sites and conducted a low fly-past of Protector while she was berthed at the ice shelf – rounding off a memorable three days at the foot of the world.
HMS Protector has been away from its home port since September 2015 and will not return home until May next year. She spends summer in the Southern Hemisphere conducting research on the fringes of the frozen continent and austral winters in milder waters off West and East Africa.