Rescue assisted by Antarctic forecasting system

July 05, 2002

BOULDER--A weather prediction system tailored to the challenges of forecasting in the Antarctic is aiding the final rescue of scientists and crew from the German supply vessel Magdalena Oldendorff, trapped in ice near Antarctica since mid-June. The forecasting system is a collaboration between the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, and Ohio State University (OSU).

The forecasts helped the South African Weather Service guide the ice-strengthened ship SA Agulhas, sent from Cape Town to pick up the stranded ship's 78 Russian scientists and most of its 28 crew members. Two helicopters from the SA Agulhas finished bringing the last passengers aboard late Monday afternoon, July 1, and the ship began threading its way back through the ice to its home port in Cape Town on Tuesday.

The forecasting support continues this week as two icebreakers, the Argentine Almirante Irizar and the Swedish Oden, make their way to the icy Antarctic waters to retrieve the Magdalena Oldendorff and the skeleton crew remaining on board.

Blizzard conditions hampered the mission on several occasions. On Sunday morning, June 30, easterly winds at the Magdalena Oldendorff were averaging 70 miles per hour. Blowing snow reduced the visibility to less than 200 feet and the helicopters remained grounded on the SA Agulhas. The Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System, forecasting twice a day, provided detailed weather maps showing conditions in the area and successfully predicted a brief window of favorable weather for July 1.

"We've had gratifying reports from the South African Weather Service on the value of the AMPS forecasts to their efforts," says NCAR senior scientist Bill Kuo, one of the principal developers of the modeling effort.

Standard computerized weather prediction models don't work well over the South--or North--Pole because the conditions are so different from those for which they were originally developed. AMPS uses PolarMM5, a version of the fifth-generation Penn State/NCAR Mesoscale Model adapted at OSU's Byrd Polar Research Center to include features particular to the polar regions, such as sea ice. The modeling also helps compensate for the scarcity of weather stations reporting ground measurements across Antarctica.

This is not the first Antarctic rescue supported by AMPS. In April 2001, the system's products were used by an international team guiding rescue flights to the South Pole for the late-season medical evacuation of American scientist Ronald Shemenski.
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AMPS runs at NCAR and is funded by the National Science Foundation, which is also NCAR's primary sponsor. NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium of 66 universities offering Ph.D.s in atmospheric and related sciences.

On the Web:

AMPS forecasts are disseminated via the Web and may be viewed at http://www.mmm.ucar.edu/rt/mm5/amps .

National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

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