After two years of trying, the Japanese icebreaker/supply vessel Shirase has finally reached Syowa Station – a Japanese-manned weather research station in East Ongul Island, Antarctica – bringing with it much-needed supplies to the researchers there. The 12,650-ton Shirase is one of the world’s most powerful icebreakers, but year-on-year it has failed to reach Syowa because of the sheer amount and thickness of the ice, and the speed at which the ice moves outward from the frozen continent. On Jan. 4 this year at around 4:30 PM, the ship docked 600 meters away from the Syowa Station.
“The continuous docking failures in addition to the fuel shortage at the base would have made it difficult for the expedition members to tide through the winter,” said Yoichi Motoyoshi, deputy director of the National Institute of Polar Research, which dispatches the expedition team. “It was good news for future observations.” Supplies at the Syowa Station were reaching critical levels, and the research work at the station would have been affected had the supplies not come in. Shirase was also transporting fuel to the base through a pipe.
For two years, the Shirase failed to reach Syowa Base due to thick sea ice. Last year, the ship put out from the port of Tokyo on Nov. 8 last year but the speed at which the sea ice was building up was great and there was already more than 100 kilometers of ice off the coast of Syowa Station – 6 meters thick and covered in 2 meters of snow. Shirase was able to get as close as 20 km from the base on Dec. 14, ramming the ice 2,000 times to even make progress. By the end of last year, it could advance only 1 km a day and had to give up the journey. The fact that the vessel made it to the station this year bodes well for the research that is ongoing at the station.