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Antarctica Icy Sugar Cubes image wins first place in Royal Society Publishing photo competition

05 December 2017

An image capturing the icy sugar cube formations of Antarctica has won first place in the Royal Society Publishing photography competition. The award, now in its third year, celebrates the power of photography to communicate science and shows the beautiful images discovered whilst exploring our world. 

"Icy sugar cubes." by Peter Convey

The winning shot, by Peter Convey, a polar ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey, is also the judges’ top pick in the Earth Science and Climatology category. Convey captured an Antarctic ice sheet being stretched in opposite directions with a Twin Otter plane flying overhead for scale.

The photo was chosen from over 1,100 entries by a judging panel of experts for its skill in capturing the sheer scale of the Antarctic and the unique formation of bi-directional crevassing.

The photo was taken in early 1995 during a flight over the English Coast (southern Antarctic Peninsula) roughly 74 degrees south, with a Pentax ME Super camera and 70-300 mm zoom on Kodachrome 64 slide film.

Winner Peter Convey said: "It's been an incredible privilege to work in the Antarctic for nearly 30 years now, every time I go there it takes my breath away. As a terrestrial ecologist, originally specialising in insects, you wouldn't think the inland areas of the continent could hold much scientific promise, but you would be so wrong!

“While this photo was of a breathtaking glaciological feature way beyond my own discipline, I had the chance to take it because I was on a flight to make the first biological surveys of a group of inland nunataks. Even today, very few biologists have had chance to visit such inland areas across the continent, yet the biology we find there has driven fascinating new insights into the biogeography and antiquity of the few terrestrial groups that survive - in short, they have been there tens of millions of years or more, surviving throughout multiple glacial cycles where we previously thought all life would have been wiped out. Such findings are driving entirely new cross-disciplinary interactions between biology, glaciology and geology in trying to better understand the evolution of Antarctica."

Judge Ulrike Muller, one of the four judges said: “The winning image epitomizes the aims of this competition - celebrating the power of photography to communicate science.  The image shows the stunning beauty of a rare geological phenomenon, bi-directional crevassing in an ice sheet, and invites the viewer to wonder at the scale and the mechanisms creating such patterns.”

Four other stunning photos were singled out by the judges as winners in their categories, with the colder climes and wildlife of the arctic regions proving popular subjects in three of the four categories.

  • Astronomy: Lunar spotlight, South Pole, Antarctica, Dr Daniel Michalik. Ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere create a rare optical phenomenon: a light pillar underneath the Moon. The cold dry atmosphere at the Geographic South Pole favours this and similar phenomena, they are much more often seen here than in the non-polar regions.
  • Behaviour: Respiro, Miss Antonia Doncila. A lucky polar bear finds an ice sheet to rest on. His gaze into the water represents the product of our societal wrongdoings. It is also a symbol of hope because what has melted can become frozen again.
  • Ecology & Environmental Science: Waiting in the shallows, Professor Nico de Bruyn. Killer whales suddenly enter a small bay at Subantarctic Marion Island, surprising a small huddle of King Penguins busy preening themselves in the water.
  • Micro-imaging: Olive oil drop family hanging together, Dr Hervé Elettro. Surface tension, the ability of a fluid to oppose deformation, allows droplets to swallow any fibre made slack under compression, thus tightening the web against natural elements. A first step in the understanding of this mechanism was to use a model system for capture silk: drops on a thin soft fibre. The hanging olive oil drop family was born.