Safe passage: Ice Pilot's critical mission

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A research voyage in Antarctic waters faces the tyranny of distance and ice during every hour of the six-week voyage.

21 NIWA and Australian Antarctic Division scientists and the 19-strong crew on NIWA’s deepwater research vessel Tangaroa are on the homeward leg of the 2015 ecosystems voyage researching the foodwebs of the ocean’s top predators – humpback and blue whales, and Antarctic toothfish.

Ice pilot Scott Laughlin is on the voyage to guide Tangaroa through the Antarctic waters. He has deep experience navigating through the hazardous ice formations and supplies local knowledge and advice on transiting the ice.

In a remote area like Antarctica, a vessel like this faces a lot of risks.

“The greatest danger,” he says, “is holing the vessel, and having to abandon ship onto the ice. One of the reasons I’m here is to make sure we don’t get into a situation where we need to be rescued.”

None of the ice Tangaroa has encountered during the voyage has been any danger to the vessel, but there have been areas where progress has been slowed, says Scott.

Watch Scott Laughlin interviewed on the bridge of RV Tangaroa in the video below:

Research subject: Antarctica