Re-Writing Mission History?

by | Jan 7, 2014

Stephan Lewnadowsky has an article at The Conversation, saying that sceptics are wrong, in their pointing and mocking of the failed Spirit of Mawson expedition.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and by now you might have seen dramatic images of passengers on stranded icebreaker Akademik Shokalskiy being rescued by helicopter last Friday after becoming lodged in Antarctica sea ice on Christmas Eve.

Lewandowsky is, of course, the defender of the environmental narrative. Key to his argument that the sceptics are wrong is a page on the expedition’s website, which seems to claim that the mission anticipated the ‘fast ice’ which came to surround them:

If one goes to the expedition’s website, their first three scientific goals (there are nine altogether) are as follows:

  • gain new insights into the circulation of the Southern Ocean and its impact on the global carbon cycle
  • explore changes in ocean circulation caused by the growth of extensive fast ice and its impact on life in Commonwealth Bay
  • use the subantarctic islands as thermometers of climatic change by using trees, peats and lakes to explore the past

Says Lewandowsky:

In other words, the expedition is experiencing the very conditions it set out to study — namely the various kinds of sea ice that scientists know are increasing around Antarctica, while the icecaps on Antarctica are known to melt.

However, there is no mention of ‘fast ice’ on the site’s ‘expeidtion aims’ page in July last year, according the wayback machine.

Now the expedition’s aims are outlined under a page called ‘Science Case‘, which indeed contains the reference to ‘fast ice’. But according to the Wayback machine, this didn’t appear until November, but the page in question wasn’t captured until January 2.

A Google search for the passage ‘explore changes in ocean circulation caused by the growth of extensive fast ice’ in November yields zero results:

A search for the same expression in December 2013 reveals no links that contain the passage before the vessel got trapped in said ‘fast ice’.

Lewandowsky would no doubt reject this as a ‘conspiracy theory’, but it seems to me that there is no evidence that the reference to ‘fast ice’ on which his argument rests existed before the fast ice engulfed the expedition. It is possible, of course, that my limited web-detective skills and the tools available aren’t equal to the task of proving it, one way or another.

However, further searches in various time-frames for ‘Spirit of Mawson” and “fast ice” reveal very little discussion along the lines of Lewandowsky’s claims. What little there is, contradicts it…

Days 10-18 – 17 to 24 December 2013
Commonwealth Bay And East Antarctic Coastline

We hope to arrive at the fast ice edge in Commonwealth Bay on 17 December and commence our science work and over-ice approach to Mawsons Huts in earnest. Of course our progress will be dominated by weather considerations, but ideally we would moor the vessel against the fast ice edge so that ice and ocean studies can begin and we can send our airborne drone out to view the route towards Cape Dennison and Mawsons Huts. Once a route is determined we believe we will need to use our over-ice vehicles ( Argos) to mark a route then commence transporting scientists and passengers to the coastline as weather and ice conditions allow and the route is safe.

We also expect to move the vessel along the coast to other sites in the region such as Cape Jules, Port Martin and perhaps the French station of Dumont D’Urville.

The Spirit of Mawson’s expedition aims didn’t make the fast ice an object of study as much as it made it a mere port. Who knew that the port would become the storm? Not the Spirit of Mawson team.

Lewandowsky seems to be making stuff up again.


  1. Ben Pile

    The text of Indigogo front pages can be update at will. The updates page refers to donations and news, not to changes to the text on the front page.

  2. Bioreducer

    A google search of

    “extensive fast ice” mawson

    limited to October 1 – December 1, 2013 gives a result pointing to the science case page dated October 27.

    See here.

    I can’t say from where the date is derived or if the page has changed since October 27. But I doubt that this page was revised after the Turney expedition was trapped.

  3. Ben Pile

    As I say in the post, that is indeed possible. But, the cached version is NOT from October:

    This is Google’s cache of It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 30 Dec 2013 20:15:56 GMT.

    I did check, you know? More than once.

    As I point out, it is possible that the text existed earlier than the mission failure. However, this mission objective seems not to have been reproduced or discussed much anywhere else, but seems to be contradicted.

  4. Ben Pile

    We know that it has been changed between 30 Dec 2013 20:15:56 GMT and now because at the very least, this has been added:

    All our science work has been approved by the New Zealand Department of Conservation, the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service and the Australian Antarctic Division. We are incredibly grateful for all their help and support.

    That part is not in the cached page you linked to.

  5. Windy USA

    It doesn’t change the fact that Turney emitted 200 years worth of my carbon footprint in 2 months on his extended family cruise. At $80/tCO2 his bill is close to $50,000.00US but he will never pay it. Yet he wants everyone to pay carbon taxes so he can sell his carbon capture venture. Turney acts very much like the tobacco companies that greens are always trying to link to denier’s efforts. ;-)

  6. Bioreducer


    “I did check, you know? More than once.”

    Apologies if my post suggested otherwise. It’s clear that they are using the “fast ice” as an excuse. I couldn’t agree more.

    The whole notion that they were trapped by fast ice is self contradictory. Fast ice isn’t move by winds and currents. It’s also contradicted by their tweets, by their blog posts, by their actions and by more recent events.

    Turney tweeted the following on 29 Dec.

    “Satellite report of conditions shows mass breakout of old sea ice from other side of Mertz Glacier. E winds packed us in.”

    That would be pack ice.

    Referring to their predicament Graeme Clark wrote on December 24 at, “The ship is now resigned to wait for a change in wind conditions to loosen or dissipate the sea ice before we can escape to open water.”

    That would be pack ice.

    As of today the wind has shifted and the Chinese icebreaker has escaped the pack and there are reports that the Akademik Shokalski is moving to thinner ice.

    Apparently that ice is not so fast as Professor Turney and Dr. Lewandowsky would have us believe.

  7. Ilma

    When seeing the phrase “fast ice”, it conjurers up the notion of sea water freezing very fast, not existing ice moving in from another place at speed, i.e. speed of freezing not speed of movement. Looking at Wikipedia’s definition, it says “fast ice does not move with currents and winds”, so Turney obviously doesn’t understand what it is or is confused by terminology, which seems to figure, as elsewhere in the original write-up of the ‘holiday trip’, he seems to confuse whether ocean currents drive winds, or whether winds drive ocean currents, and he uses the political phrase “carbon” in place of CO2 (the two being completely different substances) when saying they’ll look at how the oceans absorbing ‘carbon’ affects their circulation (as if they can do that from one tiny boat!!).

  8. simonlerosbif

    Referring to your first Lewandowsky’s quote:
    As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and by now you might have seen dramatic images of passengers on stranded icebreaker Akademik Shokalskiy being rescued by helicopter last Friday after becoming lodged in Antarctica sea ice on Christmas Eve.

    … it appears that he’s repeating yet another Turney lie. The Akademik Shokalskiy seems not to be an icebreaker afterall.

    More here:

  9. jorgeborges

    In the US, none of the stories about this vessel even mentioned that it was studying climate change.

  10. Jack Maloney

    Some confusion here. “Fast ice” is neither fast-moving nor fast-freezing; it is ice that is made fast (i.e., fastened, or attached) to the land, the sea floor or to grounded icebergs. So a lot of what you’ve read to this point (including Lewandowsky’s assumptions and several comments) are just plain wrong.

  11. tlitb1

    Having looked around myself quite a bit now it does seem funny that I can’t find any older mirror sites or blogs (other than shown by others here) that had previously discussed or showed the mission goals listed as shown on the Science Case page. I am beginning to think this is probably because of a lack of real interest by anyone up to recently. It seems to me nobody was really paying enough attention before now to delve into the actual science goals and discuss them.

    However regarding Lew’s understanding of fast ice I think this is worth noting: Hat tip to Bioreducer who pointed out on twitter that Lew had previously written about the Mawson trip in an article on his Shaping Tomorrows World blog on the 2nd Jan, and which contained a similar statement about fast ice:

    Shaping Tomorrow’s World

    I have highlighted the important bit: the growth of extensive fast ice. What is “extensive fast ice”? It is sea ice, and it is precisely the ice in which the expedition is now stuck, as its director blogged recently.

    In other words, the expedition is experiencing precisely the conditions it set out to study—namely the sea ice that scientists know is increasing around Antarctica, while the icecaps on Antarctica are known to melt.

    It is interesting to compare that to his later ‘The Conversation’ version:

    I have highlighted the important bit: the growth of extensive fast ice. So what is “extensive fast ice”? It is a form of sea ice, and it is obviously sea ice in which the expedition is now stuck.

    In other words, the expedition is experiencing the very conditions it set out to study — namely the various kinds of sea ice that scientists know are increasing around Antarctica, while the icecaps on Antarctica are known to melt.

    Seems to me that before his first article Lew probably read the Science Case link at that time which layed out the missions prior goals, saw it mentioned fast-ice and then put it together with Turney’s blog mention of fast ice forming around the iceberg known as B09B, and became certain that this together formed a nice clincher that showed new ice forming was something that was expected and covered by Turney’s goals. Note this seems to be the primary “gotcha” of that first article as a rebuttal to The Australian article saying Turney went “to prove the East Antarctic ice sheet is melting”.
    However it seems to me in the meantime that Lew, either got the nod, or worked out himself, that he had no ground to to use “precisely” like this, and so in his next article he is left cobbling together basic boiler plate saying that the Mawson embarrassment doesn’t disprove global warming, with a whittled down version if that “fast-ice” passage into mere woolly hand-waving.

    I think the rephrased second version seems very flaccid and weak. Basically Lew is reduced to saying they went to study “fast-ice”; “fast ice” is “sea ice”; the ship is stuck in “sea-ice”. Voila nothing to see there!

    Doesn’t compare well to his previous more assertive “precisely the ice in which the expedition is now stuck”.

    To my layman head-shrinking thinking I think it is quite revealing the fact you can see laid bare here Lew’s desire to hang on to an initially powerful (in his mind) rebuttal whilst missing the fact it’s rather mangled new form is pretty poor.
    I just think it’s pretty funny how a guy so keen at psychopathologsing his perceived enemies is at the same time unaware how his own motivations can be seen to clearly hobble him like this. ;)

  12. Geoff Cruickshank

    Thank you for finding that. Regardless of when ‘fast ice’ was first mentioned, that is the most hilarious ‘oops moment’ workaround that I’ve seen for a while.
    ‘It is a form of sea ice, and it is obviously sea ice in which the expedition is now stuck.’
    Oh Lord, we give you thanks for sending us Brother Lew.

  13. jorgekafkazar

    What Lysenko spawned.

  14. BIoreducer

    -13- tlitb1

    After reading Dr. Lew’s post at Shaping Tomorrow’s World, I tweeted him about the error. He replied by pointing me to the spiritofmawson blog. When the Conversation article went up I was pleased to see that he was more careful in his language even if the premise remained preposterous.

  15. Geoff Cruickshank

    A man on the Clapham omnibus
    Might think fast ice moves really quick
    But in fact it’s stuck, stuck fast and thick
    In that regard, it’s just like us.

    We’re stuck and the ice that stuck us there
    Came quickly, because it wasn’t fast
    Had it been, it wouldn’t have come to pass
    That we helicoptered out through the air

    Old Mawson, whose spirit we invoke
    A sublime explorer in days of yore
    Was a plucky and intelligent bloke
    He had helicopters by the score

  16. tlitb1


    Ah! Missed that twitter exchange at the time, yeah wow that must be it.

    So as I suspected he probably pondered that and realised he had it wrong. Considering his lack of further engagement with you he must see you as an antagonist do you think?

    So typical Lew, he then just tries to save face and salvage the passage. It reminds me when Lewhad a journal editor tell him he had to remove the libel of Jeff Condon being a “denier”, in his Moon Landing paper, it obviously stung him incerdibly and so, like a sulky child, he later merely tried to reapply virtually the exact same smear of Jeff Condon in another journal, in his following “in limbo” Recursive paper.

    Lew’s such a diamond isn’t he? ;)

  17. Jeremy Poynton

    Cut the crap. If “fast ice” was introduced as an afterthought, that is fraud. No more, no less.

  18. Jon

    Sorry—to my (trained academic, albeit literary) eyes, the “expedition goals” read like pure verbal aerosol—both original and “updated” versions. It sounds like a pure joyride concealed as a serious enterprise. (Do scientists really fancy themselves as cunning as all that?)

    Witness the presence of pre-adolescent children on board. Witness ballyhoo over the all-important espresso machine. Witness the vague promises to “observe, document, and monitor,” the pompous phrases like “crucial role.” Witness the sloshy rhetoric about the Faraway Antarctic and the Screaming Sixties. The point was so simple: to sail down to a blue-water location for an excellent adventure, in a vessel rated for the Russian Arctic in summer, and have a super-duper hipster blast as far from Santa Claus as possible.

    I wish Professor Vatican-Two-Guitar-Boy a happy career after this ridiculous debacle.

  19. tlitb1

    Regarding the line mentioned above by Ben that is known to have been added recently to the Science Case page (my emphasis)

    All our science work has been approved by the New Zealand Department of Conservation, the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service and the Australian Antarctic Division. We are incredibly grateful for all their help and support.

    Hat tip Shub Niggurath who re-tweeted Tony Peacock

    Wow. Claiming “official stamp of approval” is “misrepresentation” says @AusAntarctic #spiritofmawson

    Here’s the tweet with the link to the ABC interview with the Australian Antarctic Division head Tony Fleming:

    Upshot: Fleming explicitly says they didn’t give any consideration to the Turney science program, they just approved the environmental impact of the trip. He explicitly calls Turney out for ‘misrepresentation’ of the AAD on that issue

    So that late shoehorned addition to their Science Case page is definitely looking shonky ;)

  20. Figuring it out

    I think you can put down the binoculars and declare Chris Turney has been caught out red handed as a fraudster.

    Today the head of the AAD called him out on claiming he had their “official stamp of approval”. Tony Fleming says in the interview that he fronted Turney about it on the ship (that would have been pleasant).

    The claim was watered down from claiming his science program was “so significant” it had AAD’s official stamp of approval (2 January in the Guardian and still up on the UNSW news site) to just “approved” on the 6th and then “permitted” on the 8th in various articles. He has not had the claim corrected in the Nature or Guardian articles – leaving a statement known to be incorrect in Nature is a kind of big deal for a scientist.

    But it is a pattern:
    – he claims 39000 pounds in 1910 money is $25 m plus plus now (extremely easy to check on the Reserve Bank calculator – it is less that 5);
    – he claims “never before has a scientific expedition reached out from so remote a location”. Hello? Apollo in 1969?
    – the visit and snow shoveling at Mawson’s hut becomes “important conservation work”
    – getting to Mawson’s Huts has become “pioneering a new route” even though no one else can ever use it
    – the credentials of the ship go up and up after the fact (by next week it will be nuclear powered)
    -no immediate danger has been upgraded to two icebergs threatening the boat when the decision to make a Mayday call over a Pan call was questioned.

    They had to make a landing in Commonwealth Bay so the tourists could visit Mawson’s Huts.
    They tourists were spread too far and wide to get back on the ship quickly to evacuate.
    Because of this fact – which was within the control of Professor Turney – , they got stuck.

    Like all of the above, his claim of a sudden turn in the weather is vastly exaggerated. It happened over hours – what should have been enough time to get everyone on the ship and away. He lied by omission and has been digging himself deeper for a week.

    It was a stuff up that shouldn’t have happened but warrants examination to improve safety in the future.

    But Professor Turney’s excuses, exaggeration and lies afterwards make it more than just a stuff up. They show he should not be put in charge of similar exercises at the very least. If the UNSW keep him on as a Professor, the reputational damage spreads to them because he has been caught out – the self promotion tendency that served well to date has led to straight out deception now.

  21. Shub Niggurath

    “. It happened over hours –”

    It [the storm] was forecast well over a day in advance.

  22. Shub Niggurath

    You can see, spread over several videos, posts and tweets, how Turney pushes the “it’s so warm here” line in the earlier part of his mission.

    This is because claiming that warm, moisture-laden southerly winds have (a) melted the east Antarctic ice sheet (b) caused droughts in Australia, is the framework used by Turney for his climate stuff.

    Later, in his tweets and Alok Jha’s tweets and articles, you can see them pushing the line that weather in Antarctica is just soo unpredictable and harsh.

    This deflects attention from their trip mismanagement. Weather may be harsh, and indeed unpredictable in Antarctica but there are forecasts available. You can act on them and stay out of trouble.

  23. hunter

    Skeptics are right to point out that was a farce of a quest. And that the quest was for more holy relics of AGW. This failed quest is now being defended by someone who has demonstrated a very flexible relationship with the truth and who is now making post hoc excuses to justify the ordeal.
    Lewandowsky showing up to act as apologist for this failed quest does not actually help. Lewandowsky has no scientific expertise in Antarctica, climate. He is a research psychologist with a questionable commitment to ethics.
    Let Lewandowsky have all the conversations he wants. Those who take his statements seriously get what they deserve.

  24. Alex Cull

    Veteran mountaineer Greg Mortimer, billed as one of the expedition co-leaders, seems to be saying there was a kind of very rare (he uses the word “cataclysmic”) event that “spat out” vast amounts of multi-year ice, all of a sudden:

    …it’s kind of like an earthquake zone, like the San Andreas fault, if you like. It rumbles and groans, and over a period of decades it builds up pressure, and then all of a sudden it can’t take it any more and goes snap. This is, in a sense, the ice equivalent of that. You know, ice has built up between the Ross Sea and the Mertz Glacier for a very long time. And this is the end product of that, just the ice built up enough until it couldn’t take it any more, couldn’t stand it any more.

    After that interview BBC radio producer Andrew Luck-Baker does seem well aware that awkward questions are going to be asked:

    There will certainly be further questions about the nature of the event which locked and froze our ship in, as we tried to head north from the moving mass of floes. Enquiries might also cover the logistics around the visits between the Shokalskiy and the Hodgeman Islands.

  25. RoyFOMR

    I’m a little late to this particular thread but in the light of recent revelations it seems that Dr T has joined the good Dr L in being somewhat ‘fast and lews’ with the facts.


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