A photo of a plane flying over icy sugar cube formations in Antarctica has won the third Royal Society Publishing photography competition, which celebrates the power of photography to communicate science. The winning shot, by Peter Convey, a polar ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey, shows an Antarctic ice sheet being stretched in opposite directions with a Twin Otter plane flying overhead for scale.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Peter Convey: Icy sugar cubes. Overall winner and winner: Earth Science and Climatology Peter Convey

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. 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."

The photo, which also won the Earth Science and Climatology category, was chosen from more than 1,100 entries by a judging panel of experts for its skill in capturing the sheer scale of the Antarctic and the fascinating formation of bi-directional crevassing. IBTimes UK presents the other category winners plus runners-up and honourable mentions.


Winner of the Ecology and Environmental Science category. Nico de Bruyn: Waiting in the shallows
Killer whales suddenly enter a small bay at Subantarctic Marion Island, surprising a small huddle of King Penguins busy preening themselves in the water. The penguins on the beach in the foreground are focused on this sudden danger, while an endemic Lesser Sheathbill surveys the colony for edible tidbits, totally unconcerned with the appearance of the killer whales. I was busy censusing elephant seals further up the beach when the sudden splashing by the penguins alerted me to the killer whale appearance. On an island filled with life and with the opportunity for incredible wildlife sightings, you learn to keep your camera close at hand. Your good fortune in getting a good photograph is only surpassed by your constantly developing skill of retrieving the camera from within its waterproof layers!

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Nico de Bruyn: Waiting in the shallows. Winner: Ecology and Environmental Science Nico de Bruyn

Winner of the Behaviour category. Antonia Doncila: Respiro
This photograph was taken while crossing the Fram Strait to recover and redeploy mooring equipment near the eastern Greenland coast. Since the Arctic Ocean is warming at double the rate compared with the rest of the globe, it was painful yet unsurprising for us to see that at 80°N sea-ice was sparse. On our journey, we saw polar bears swimming in an ocean of open water with no shadow of sea-ice for them to rest their heavy bodies on. Those polar bears were doomed to die from overheating while swimming hopeless in any direction.

The protagonist of this photograph has been lucky. He found a portion of fast ice which rapidly became his home. 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.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Antonia Doncila: Respiro. Winner: Behaviour Antonia Doncila

Winner of the Astronomy category: Daniel Michalik: Lunar spotlight, South Pole, Antarctica
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 (sun/moon dogs, halos, arcs); they are much more often seen here than in the non-polar regions. The light pillar creates a dramatic spotlight on the out-of-this-world appearance of the frozen Antarctic plateau. Three of the telescopes located at the south pole are visible to the right of the picture. A flag line helps finding the way to the telescopes during the five months of continuous darkness. Jupiter is visible as a bright spot left of the Moon. The photographer is currently wintering at the South Pole and working for the 10m South Pole Telescope, the left-most radio dish visible in the picture. The picture was taken as one single long exposure in -60°C with minor contrast and exposure adjustments.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Daniel Michalik: Lunar spotlight, South Pole, Antarctica. Winner: Astronomy Daniel Michalik

Winner of the Micro-imaging category. Hervé Elettro: Olive oil drop family hanging together
Inspired by the micro-glue droplets produced by the Nephila Madagascariensis spider to trap its prey, we began thinking to ourselves "What if these droplets could do more than just gluing?" Surface tension, the ability of a fluid to oppose deformation, indeed 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.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Hervé Elettro: Olive oil drop family hanging together. Winner: Micro-imaging Hervé Elettro

Runner up, Earth Science and Climatology. Giuseppe Suaria: Bow first
The Russian research vessel Akademik Tryoshnikov leans the bow against the Mertz Glacier's snout in Eastern Antarctica. The photo was taken moments before deploying ROPOS, a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV) under the glacier tongue to investigate the melting of the ice-sheet after a piece of ice protruding 100 kilometres (62 miles) out into the Southern Ocean broke away from the main body of the tongue in 2010. These scientific investigations were taken during the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition, an unprecedented three-month expedition organised by the Swiss Polar Institute, aimed to gain a better understanding of Antarctica and of the Southern Ocean as a whole. 22 scientific projects and more than 150 researchers were present on-board, covering a wide range of fields, including glaciology, climatology, biology and oceanography. Minor contrast and tone regulations were applied in post-processing.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Giuseppe Suaria: Bow first. Runner up: Earth Science and Climatology Giuseppe Suaria

Runner up, Behaviour. David Costantini: Breeding
Arctic terns (Sterna paradisaea) mate for life. They breed on the ground, and males and females share incubation duties. While on a research trip to Svalbard, I came across this couple of Arctic terns that found a clever solution to solve the difficult task of finding a good place to breed in human-modified landscapes: they made their own house on an abandoned shovel. This photo also shows how vocal communication between mates is very important in terns to coordinate parental efforts in order to achieve a successful reproduction. Minor modifications were done in terms of sharpness and saturation.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
David Costantini: Breeding. Runner up: Behaviour David Costantini

Runner up: Ecology and Environmental Science. Thomas Endlein: Invincible ants
Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants, which draw nutrients from trapped and digested insects. The species shown here (Nepenthes bicalcarata) secretes sweet nectar on the rim and fang-like structures, which are very slippery for most insects except for one specialised ant (Camponotus schmitzii). The ants live in the curled hollow tendrils of the plant and manage to climb in and out of the pitcher without any difficulties to steal a bit of nectar, as shown here. Moreover, the ants can even swim in the digestive fluid to feed on trapped insects. It is still not fully understood what the benefits are for the plant and how the ants can cope with the slippery surfaces.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Thomas Endlein: Invincible ants. Runner up: Ecology and Environmental Science Thomas Endlein

Runner up, Astronomy. Wei-Feng Xue: Diamond ring through thin clouds
The American Eclipse of 2017 seen from the part of the path of totality that went through northern Georgia. This is the diamond ring lighting up some very thin cloud structures, looking almost like space clouds (i.e. a nebula). Also in the photo, the solar corona was dimmed a little by the thin clouds but was still visible, and some Baily's beads and solar prominences that can be seen around the diamond.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Wei-Feng Xue: Diamond ring through thin clouds. Runner up: Astronomy Wei-Feng Xue

Runner up, Micro-imaging. Vladimir Gross: Water bear embryo
Tardigrades (aka water bears) are tiny invertebrate animals that are able to survive extreme environmental conditions. This image depicts a 50-hour-old embryo of the species Hypsibius dujardini, taken with a scanning electron microscope at a magnification of 1800x. The embryo in the image is approximately 1/15 of a millimetre in length.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Vladimir Gross: Water bear embryo. Runner up: Micro-imaging Vladimir Gross

Honourable mention, Earth Science and Climatology. Sabrina Koehler: Pele's fire
I had the unique opportunity this year to capture nature's creation, the 61G lava flow at the current Pu'u O'o eruption site of the active Kilauea volcano in Hawaii's Volcano National Park. Hawai'i, or the Big Island, is the last of a series of islands created by this volcano, and still growing landmass every year. I went there by boat since it's the way to go if you want to get very close. It was stunning. I had my 55-300 mm tele lens and didn't even need the full extend to capture the image. That's how close we were.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Sabrina Koehler: Pele's fire – Honourable mention: Earth Science and Climatology Sabrina Koehler

Honourable mention, Behaviour. Susmita Datta: Toss the scorpion – Indian roller playing with the kill
It was an early morning safari drive at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, India. When everyone was busy tracking the tiger movement, this little moment happened on a tree branch, giving me the chance to shoot the sequence. Though light was poor (that was dealt with, in the processing part), it was still great to witness the natural history moment of survival between the prey and its predator. This Indian roller is establishing its superiority and showing off the kill (a scorpion) before finishing it off by thrashing it against the tree branches.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Susmita Datta: Toss the scorpion. Indian roller playing with the kill – Honourable mention: Behaviour Susmita Datta

Honourable mention, Ecology and Environmental Science. Carlos Jared: The rainy season, the green tree frog, and the maintenance of life
The small tree frog Phyllomedusa nordestina lives in the Brazilian semi-arid desert (Caatinga) and remains, at least for 8 months of the year, totally hidden, protecting itself against desiccation. Early in the year, after the first summer rains, the dry, brown and cactaceous landscape of the Caatinga gives rise to a magnificent green scenario, awaking the dormant flora and fauna. The apparent fragile tree frogs follow this same tendency and change their usual brownish colour to the fresh summer green. With this new garment, they mate within the flowers and leaves that also colour the scenario, often (as in this case), with natural pomp. Reproduction usually occurs in puddles or on the shores of small temporary swamps. Everything must be very fast because drought will ruthlessly return.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Carlos Jared: The rainy season, the green tree frog, and the maintenance of life. Honourable mention: Ecology and Environmental Science Carlos Jared

Honourable mention, Micro-imaging. Bernardo Segur: Acari trapped in spiderweb
The spiders of the genus Austrochilus build some very conspicuous webs in Chilean temperate forests, and it's impossible to not be amazed by the gigantic horizontal sheet of spiders up to a meter long. After taking some photos of it near Nahuelbuta National Park, I discovered that some threads have some incredible beautiful bluish tones. I also realised that those threads are probably specialised in prey capture, and the spring-like structure that can be seen inside the threads probably has something to do with the elasticity. While taking photos of this amazing structure I saw a small acari hanging from the web, which may have fallen into the web and the spider didn't notice.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Bernardo Segura: Acari trapped in spiderweb. Honorable mention: Micro-imaging Bernardo Segura

Honourable mention, Astronomy. Petr Horálek: Within Reach
The skies above ESO's Paranal Observatory resemble oil on water as greens, yellows and blues blend to create an iridescent skyscape. The rocky, barren landscape below evokes an alien world, complementing the cosmic display above. The main feature: our beautiful home galaxy, the Milky Way, arching across the Chilean night sky and framing the observer on the left. The light from billions of stars combine to create the Milky Way's glow, with huge clouds of dark dust blocking the light and creating the observed mottled pattern. A natural effect, airglow, is responsible for the swathes of green and orange light that appear to be emanating from the horizon. ESO's Very Large Telescope can be seen as a speck in the background to the right. Its neighbour, slightly lower down, is the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy.

Royal Society Publishing photo competition
Petr Horálek: Within Reach. Honourable mention: Astronomy Petr Horálek

The inaugural Royal Society Publishing photography competition was launched in 2015 by the Royal Society's journals to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the oldest continual scientific journal in the world, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. The 2017 competition is a collaboration between all the journals in the Royal Society Publishing portfolio. Submission requirements and more information about the photography competition can be found here.