One year ago today: landfall on the Antarctic Peninsula proper, more penguins, and an avalanche!

A post by Anne JeffersonA post by Chris Rowan23rd December, known by GeoKid “the day before Christmas Eve”, saw our first stop on the mainland of the Antarctic Peninsula and on nearby Cuverville Island. Both Anne and Chris got snowy hikes in that day, so our entry will interweave our experiences as recorded in our journals.

Anne: “Our first landing of the morning was at Neko Harbour, a tiny slice of exposed land on the Antarctic Peninsula itself. If there was any doubt we were truly in Antarctica, this stop dispelled it. Glaciers everywhere, icebergs in the water, a small cobble beach, snow, penguins, skuas, and steep slopes. Other than where we were, the only exposed rock was vertical. Even that seemed to be draped by >100 feet of glacier on top.

“On the beach where we landed were Gentoo penguins bathing, granitic cobbles and chunks of ice washed in by surges created when one of the glaciers calved. Chris and GeoKid stayed near the penguin colonies while I made my way uphill on the hike. It was warm going, but the snow had a fairly good icy crust on it and the views increased as we gained elevation. We switch-backed up to an outcrop with views down on the harbour, another arm of the bay, and the lower bits of the glacier. But there were still hundreds if not thousands of feet of mountain and ice above us. Spectacular!

View from the beach at Neko Harbour. Note the washed up glacier bits on shore. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

View from the beach at Neko Harbour. Note the washed up glacier bits on shore. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

A warm climb on a cold continent. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

A warm climb on a cold continent. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

View from the top of Anne's climb at Neko Harbour. Still at least 300 m of relief above her. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

View from the top of Anne’s climb at Neko Harbour. Still at least 300 m of relief above her. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

The good ship Corinithian, in Neko Harbor. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

The good ship Corinithian, in Neko Harbor. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

Chris: Neko Harbour was a fun stop. Whilst Anne went on her hike, Geokid and I hunkered down to observe the nesting Gentoo penguins. Because large plant life is absent in Antarctica, other nest material is required, and the penguins build nesting mounds from scavenged pebbles. Just as bare rock is a precious commodity, so are the pebbles – which means the penguins are continually stealing rocks from neighbouring nests to shore up their own.

The Gentoo Penguin colony at Neko Harbour.

The Gentoo Penguin colony at Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. The wall of ice across the inlet is the mouth of a glacier. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Gentoo penguin at Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula.

Gentoo penguin at Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Gentoo penguins on pebble nests at Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Gentoo penguins on pebble nests at Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

The video below shows penguin geo-larceny in action: the commentary is a little silly, I’m afraid, but GeoKid found this routine fascinating and made me make up a story to explain what was going on.

Anne: “On the zodiac ride back to the ship, we got a brief zip around some of the icebergs in the bay. As we cruised up the fjord, Chris and I skipped a lecture on ice in favor of standing on deck watching the glaciers, mountains, and icebergs go by.”

Chris: “The amount of ice in the bay was impressive, as was the fact that ship safely maneuvered through it. This was the first of several occasions where I realised that I would not be cut out for navigating Antarctic waters, as the first contact with ice would have me calling for full reverse. Fortunately for our expedition, our captain is made of sterner stuff.”

Carefully Nosing out of Neko Harbour.

Carefully Nosing out of Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Our meteorological luck continued to hold, with water as still and reflective as a mill pond. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Our meteorological luck continued to hold, with water as still and reflective as a mill pond. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

A denser patch of sea ice in Neko Harbour.

A denser patch of sea ice in Neko Harbour. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Anne: “After lunch we arrived at Cuverville Island, another Gentoo colony. GeoKid and I were on the first boat ashore and spent our time playing in the rather melty snow. We tried to make a snowman, but it was tough going, so we made a very small (and shortlived) one and then threw snowballs. On the way back to the ship, we got another nice iceberg tour while GeoKid improvised a song about wanting a faster boat ride.”

The most luxurious plant life we saw in Antarctica, on Cuverville Island. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

The most luxurious plant life we saw in Antarctica, on Cuverville Island. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

One of many spectacular bergy bigs just offshore of Cuverville Island. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

One of many spectacular bergy bigs just offshore of Cuverville Island. Photo by A. Jefferson, December 2013.

The landing beach on Cuverville Island.

The landing beach on Cuverville Island. Gentoo Penguins in the foreground, glacier in the background. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Gentoo colony on Cuverville Island

The Gentoo colony on Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Chris: Meanwhile, I was getting to hike uphill, taking a route of least disturbance for the wildlife, which sometimes made the going tricky. Although the penguins nest as close to the shore as possible, late arrivals are forced onward and upward, which means quite a commute when it’s time to feed. They are also more vulnerable to the skuas, which circle the area on the lookout for eggs to snatch.

A skua patrolling the skies, looking for easy pickings. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

A skua patrolling the skies, looking for easy pickings. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Skua buzzing Gentoo colony

Skua buzzing the Gentoos, looking to snatch a poorly guarded egg. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Skua menacing nesting Gentoos

Higher, smaller, less densely occupied nesting sites are more vulnerable. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

The view from the top was spectacular, and we were even treated to the sight of a small avalanche on one of the nearby slopes. Close enough to hear, not close enough to be a threat, fortunately.

But we could also see something a little more worrying: whilst we had been climbing the wind had changed and now sea-ice was being blown onto the landing beach. Too much, and we might be trapped onshore for a while.

Sea ice accumulating on the landing beach at Cuverville Island

Sea ice accumulating on the landing beach at Cuverville Island. A worrying sight when that’s your route back to the ship! Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

A fairly rapid descent followed, followed by an increasingly hairy evacuation that fortunately the Corinthian’s crew handed with professional aplomb.

The accumulating ice made things very tricky for the zodiac pilots. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

The accumulating ice made things very tricky for the zodiac pilots. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Thus I was reunited with Anne and GeoKid, and we could all enjoy a warm night’s sleep.

Where we were today:

Our areas of exploration on 23 December 2013 are shown inside the blue box at the lower left of the map.

Our areas of exploration on 23 December 2013 are shown inside the blue box at the lower left of the map.

Categories: Antarctica, by Anne, ice and glaciers, photos

One year ago today: Into the icy Weddell Sea and Antarctic Sound

A post by Anne JeffersonA post by Chris Rowan One year ago today was a day of icy splendor, with plenty of penguins too. We’ve already shown you some of our photos from this portion of the trip, in our explainer on ice in a multitude of forms. Here’s a bit more of what we experienced on 22nd December 2013.

Lightly edited from Anne’s shipboard journal:

“We got up at 5 am to see the Weddell Sea. The ship had traveled overnight down the length of the Antarctic Sound, known as “Iceberg Alley”, and was going to nose into the ice-choked Weddell Sea while rounding the volcanic Rosamel Island* before traveling back up the Antarctic Sound to a stop on Joinville Island.

The ship's map of our voyage along the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands. The blue box near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula indicates where we were on 22 December. Click for a larger version.

The ship’s map of our voyage along the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands. The blue box near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula indicates where we were on 22 December. Click for a larger version.

At 5 am, the light was amazing and the sea was dead calm and glassy. I didn’t know seas could be that calm. We could see the ripples out from penguins which were “porpoising” and occasionally jumping off ice floes. As far as the Weddell Sea, you couldn’t so much see it as sense its vast iciness and think back to Nordenskjöld, Larsen and the crew of the Antarctic getting stuck and overwintering near here a century ago.”

Tabular iceberg in the Weddell Sea, 22 December 2013. Photo by A. Jefferson

Tabular iceberg in the Weddell Sea, 22 December 2013. Photo by A. Jefferson

Icy scene in the Weddell Sea, 22 December 2013, photo by A. Jefferson.

Icy scene in the Weddell Sea, 22 December 2013, photo by A. Jefferson.

Antarctic Sound, 22 December 2013, photo by A. Jefferson

Antarctic Sound, 22 December 2013, photo by A. Jefferson

Later there was a landing on Joinville Island and Chris went ashore. Here’s what he had to say in his shipboard journal: “After cruising back along the glassy Antarctic Sound, our morning stop was at the Madder Cliffs in Kinnes Cove [of Joinville Island]. I was in one of the earlier zodiacs, was turned out to be a good thing as right after I landed, the expedition staff decided it was too risky in the heavy swell to land any more zodiacs. The landing was advertised as a place you could watch the Adelie penguins “commute” from their rookeries higher up the cliffs from the shore, but most of the action was at the shore itself. At least one of the Adelie penguins at one of the lower rookeries had a chick, and I got some great pictures of a queue of feeding Adelies hurling themselves off a rocky promontory one by one.”

Penguins at Kinnes Cove

Penguins at Kinnes Cove, overlooking Antarctic Sound. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Adele Penguins at Kinnes Cove,

Adele Penguins at Kinnes Cove, Antarctica. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Nesting Penguins at Kinnes Cove,

Nesting Penguins at Kinnes Cove, Antarctica. Bare rock close to the shore is prime real estate. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

An Adele Penguin guards her chick

An Adele Penguin guards her chick, Kinnes Cove, Antarctica. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

It turned out that this was also our first look at the third of the three penguin species we saw on our trip: the orange-beaked Gentoos.

Nesting Gentoo penguins, Kinnes Cove

Nesting Gentoo penguins, Kinnes Cove, Antarctica. You can see a glimpse of an egg in the topmost nest. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

And here’s the Adeles on their feeding commute:

Returning to Anne’s journal:

“The landing sounded a bit tricky, so GeoKid and I opted to take only a zodiac tour instead. But the zodiac ride was amazing. GeoKid got to sit at the front as we zipped among the bergy bits, watched penguins hop from the rocks into the water, and saw a penguin “birthday party” (i.e., lots of penguins on a flat bock of ice). We also saw a floe with a seal resting on it and saw a penguin leap right up onto the ice next to it. Then the Weddell seal stretched, flexed, and posed for a photo.

What GeoKid called a "penguin party" near Joinville Island, 22 December 2013. Photo by  A. Jefferson

What GeoKid called a “penguin party” near Joinville Island, 22 December 2013. Photo by A. Jefferson

A Weddell seal shows off near Joinville Island, 22 December 2013. Photo by A. Jefferson.

A Weddell seal shows off near Joinville Island, 22 December 2013. Photo by A. Jefferson.

After lunch, we looked out on deck at some very large icebergs and caught a distant view of Argentina’s Esperanza station at Hope Bay. Chris wrote “The early afternoon cruise toward Bransfield Strait involved a cruise past one of several large tabular icebergs in the vicinity. It was a nice exercise in being made to feel small, as the tabular berg in question was a good half kilometer wide and long, and its steep icy sides projected a good 40-50 m above our little ship. There was also a small mass wasting event on the side we buzzed, which I managed to accidentally catch on video. I only realized it had happened when I saw the splash of icy fragments expanding away from the cliffs.”

Cruising around a tabular iceberg in Antarctic Sound.

Cruising around a tabular iceberg in Antarctic Sound, also known as ‘Iceberg Alley’ for some reason. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Our ship was rather dwarfed by the enormous size of these things.

Our ship was rather dwarfed by the enormous size of these things. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Two tabular icebergs, sitting in a row...

Two tabular icebergs, sitting in a row… Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

*More on Rosamel Island: Rosamel Island is part of the James Ross Island volcanic group (1-5 Ma), which “probably represent[s] the eroded remnants of an extensive basaltic plateau which was essentially confined to the south-eastern side of the Trinity Peninsula and the offlying islands.” The group is largely absent from the Antarctic Peninsula mainland, suggesting a strong structural control on the distribution of volcanism. Rosamel Island appears to be comprised of “yellow tuff”, including “primary pyroclastic material with palagonite, some also containing dark subaerial bombs and scoria, and a variety of redistributed facies showing current bedding and wash-out structures (Baker et al., 1973, British Antarctic Survey Bulletin).”

Rosamel Island, viewed from Antarctic Sound. Photo by A. Jefferson.

Rosamel Island, viewed from Antarctic Sound. Photo by A. Jefferson.

Categories: Antarctica, by Anne, ice and glaciers, volcanoes

One year ago today: first icebergs, first Antarctic landing, first penguins!

A post by Chris RowanA post by Anne JeffersonA fortunate consequence of a calmer Drake Passage is that our progress across it was quite speedy. When we woke on the morning of the southern hemisphere’s summer solstice, we had nothing but steel blue seas and seabirds for company.

View from our porthole

A solstice morning view from our cabin. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

But by the early afternoon, we had caught our first glimpse of icebergs, a sign that a big continental ice sheet was in the vicinity. It’s a little mind-blowing to think that these frozen shards contain water that fell as snow somewhere on Antarctica possibly hundreds or even thousands of years ago, and is now being returned to the ocean by breaking off the end of a glacier and eventually melting. A slow-motion water cycle in action.

Iceberg in the Drake Passage

Iceberg ahoy! Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

A little later, we caught our first glimpse of Antarctica itself, as the South Shetland Islands pulled into view. Although as was almost always the case, the visible ‘land’ was just a thin dark rind between the sea below and the massive ice sheet above. There is a lot of ice in Antarctica.

King George Island, South Shetlands

King George Island, largest of the South Shetlands. What you think is the lowest bank of clouds is in fact the top of the ice sheet. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

We were able to take advantage of the longest day of the year to squeeze in our first landing, on Penguin Island.

Island on the starboard bow!

Island on the starboard bow! Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

We’ve already given you the highlights of this landing on a recently active volcano, but we can’t leave Penguin island without giving you some obligatory penguins.

Weddell Seal with Adele and Chinstrap penguins for scale

Weddell Seal with Adele and Chinstrap penguins for scale, Penguin Island. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

We also encountered a sad reminder that this wilderness has not been untouched by the hand of humanity: our landing beach was strewn with ribs and vertebrae of whales dragged ashore for processing in the late 19th and earlier 20th century.

Whale bones on Penguin Island.

Whale bones with penguins for scale, Penguin Island. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Categories: Antarctica, photos

One year ago today: crossing the Drake Passage

A post by Chris RowanA post by Anne JeffersonEven starting off as far south as Ushuaia, it’s a long way to Antarctica – almost 1000 km of open water. We got a peek at the chart below whilst touring the bridge of the Corinthian – they have computer charts nowadays, of course, but as geologists we still have a soft spot for the paper variety.

A chart showing our heading across the Drake Passage. Photo: Anne Jefferson, 2013.

A chart showing our heading across the Drake Passage. Photo: Anne Jefferson, 2013.

The Drake Passage is not known as the calmest bodies of water on the planet – quite the contrary in fact. But we were fortunate: whilst there was still a noticeable swell, it was hardly the sort of whether that required us to use the straps on the beds in our cabins. But despite having no impediment to a bracing tour of the upper decks, the only thing to see other than grey ocean was the company of seabirds tracking our route – probably because we were the only thing of interest for them, too.

Storm Petrels above the stormy seas of the Drake.

Storm Petrels above the stormy seas of the Drake. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Categories: Antarctica, photos

One year ago today: our Antarctic voyage begins

A post by Chris RowanA post by Anne JeffersonYou may recall that last Christmas, your intrepid bloggers managed to find ourselves on the trip of a lifetime to the Antarctic. We’re pretty sure that Geokid was Santa’s most southerly delivery on Christmas Eve. We have posted the odd photo of our trip, but somehow in a very hectic year we have not shared as many of the amazing sights, sounds and memories of our cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula as we would have liked – and we’d like to change that. So over the next few days, we’re going to indulge in a bit of time travel and show you what we were up to this time last year. Life is still busy, so there’s no guarantee of much insightful commentary, but quite frankly, it’s mostly unnecessary. And I think we can guarantee penguins. Lots of penguins.

So: exactly one year ago today, the fair ship Corinthian departed Ushuaia in Southern Argentina, heading east along the Beagle Channel (yes, that Beagle). That morning, we had gotten an all-too-brief taste of the spectacular scenery of Tierra del Fuego National Park up close: now, aided by some rather spectacular evening weather, we got a slightly wider view.

Lago Roca, Tierra del Fuego National Park.

Lago Roca, Tierra del Fuego National Park. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Looking west along the Beagle Channel

Looking west along the Beagle Channel. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

As the sun went down, the mountains were being left behind and the open ocean was beckoning.

Cruising towards the eastern end of the Beagle Channel. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Cruising towards the eastern end of the Beagle Channel. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Categories: Antarctica, photos