Christian Ohneiser: X marks the spot (in the middle of nowhere).


Imagine a block of ice spanning the distance from Bluff to Taupo. Now imagine that block of ice moving several metres per day. Not exactly breaking speed records I know, but for such a huge chunk of ice that’s pretty damn impressive. This is the vast white moving world of Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf.

The surprising thing is minimal data on the Ice Shelf exists. As Christian puts it, “there are probably better maps of the moon, or even Pluto”. But this is about to change. Christian and his geology team, alongside two other groups, are shortly heading south to begin building a picture of the ice and its environment, and how it’s changed over time. Their journey begins with a 350km overland adventure from Scott Base to a point marked with a big black X on the map (from what I could tell it’s basically in the middle of nowhere).

As Science Logistics manager for the Ross Ice Shelf Programme, he is tasked with a mind-boggling level of gear and people organisation. A new custom-built addition to this expedition, and weighing in excess of a hearty 250kg, is Thumper. Thumper’s task is to (funnily enough) thump away on the ice and generate sound waves recorded on 96 geophones.  Part of what Christian’s team are piecing together is the natural behaviour of the ice shelf in an unmodified condition, and also gather information about the physical and oceanic factors controlling its behaviour. It appears the ice shelf has been stable, but is unlikely to stay that way.

Of course with all that organisation almost done, he’s pretty keen to board the flight on Nov 6th  on his third trip to the Ice. “And the great thing about Antarctica is it’s a level playing field. Everyone has to look after each other, and because of that it feels like the ultimate equal opportunity workplace”.

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