One year ago today: Christmas in Antarctica with the Americans and Brits

A post by Chris RowanA post by Anne JeffersonThere aren’t many things that sound less festive than sitting through a PowerPoint presentation from the National Science Foundation, but after GeoKid celebrated Santa being able to find her even at 60-odd degrees south, that’s what we found ourselves doing early last Christmas morning. For the ice that had prevented us from getting to Palmer Station the previous day had cleared up enough for us to reach the smallest of the USA’s Antarctic bases, home to about 18 people in the winters, and 40 in the summers.

Palmer Station and surroundings. Photo by A. Jefferson.

Palmer Station and surroundings. Photo by A. Jefferson.

As PowerPoint presentations go, it was a pretty interesting look at the aims and logistics of Antarctic research. And sitting through it bought us the chance to go ashore and tour the station ourselves.

In our journal, Anne notes highlights such as the autonomous underwater gliders being used for data collection; photo displays of women Antarctic scientists; and the spill containment system. We were also keenly aware that this is one of the most rapidly warming places on the Antarctic Peninsula, which had caused the nearby glacier to retreat 1/2 mile since the station was built in 1965. Monitoring the changes in local ecosystems in response to this warming is one of the main foci of research at Palmer, though scientists are limited to where they can get by snowmobile or zodiac. Upon departing the station, we also snuck in a brief zodiac ride to see penguins and a group of juvenile elephant seals sunning themselves on a nearby point.

Ashore at Palmer Station, Antarctica.

Ashore at Palmer Station, Antarctica. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Autonomous glider used for collecting data from underneath marine ice.

Autonomous glider used for collecting data from underneath marine ice. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

The barrels-o-boom at Palmer Station caused quite a few smiles. Inside, they contain emergency spill response materials.

The barrels-o-boom at Palmer Station caused quite a few smiles. Inside, they contain emergency spill response materials.

Special thanks to Anne's mom, on the right, for making this incredible trip possible. Trip of a lifetime, Mom!

Special thanks to Anne’s mom, on the right, for making this incredible trip possible. Trip of a lifetime, Mom!

Elephant seals near Palmer Station. Photo by A. Jefferson.

Elephant seals near Palmer Station. Photo by A. Jefferson.

Over lunch, Corinthian took us to see a very different Antarctic outpost

Little Port Lockroy, one of the first permanent bases to be constructed in Antarctic

Little Port Lockroy, one of the first permanent bases to be constructed in Antarctica, and now a historic site and monument. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Anne: “Port Lockroy is a former British station operated as a living museum by the British Antarctic Trust. It was on a tiny island surrounded by glaciers and snow-capped mountains. Five volunteers live on the island from November-March, with no running water, or boat, and little electricity. They are dependent on tourist boats like ours to get in and out and to bring them water [they also harvest chunks of calved glacial ice that wash up on the shore].That seems overly much to me.” This year, the volunteers were all women, and had to beat out a pool of 200 applicants for the position.

The Port Lockroy outpost is in a spectacular locatio

The Port Lockroy outpost is in a spectacular location, especially on a sunny day. But imagine seeing that scenery every day and not being able to reach it! Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Believe it or not, people sail to Antarctica. This boat, moored at Port Lockroy, was appropriately named Pelagic. Photo by A. Jefferson.

Believe it or not, people sail to Antarctica. This boat, moored at Port Lockroy, was appropriately named Pelagic. Photo by A. Jefferson.

View from the shore of Goudier Island

View from the shore of Goudier Island, where Port Lockroy huts are located. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

“The station had been preserved as it was in 1944, and it was fun to see the “period” newspapers, kitchen goods, etc. There were of course penguins nesting around the building and at the base of the flagpole bearing a British flag – a scenic place for a picture!”

The worlds most patriotic penguins?

The worlds most patriotic penguins? Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

The restored kitchen in the Port Lockroy hut.

The restored kitchen in the Port Lockroy hut. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Restored bunkroom at Port Lockroy.

Restored bunkroom at Port Lockroy.

The "Beastie" ionosonde at Port Lockroy, Antarctica.

Some of the important research carried out at Port Lockroy, involved bouncing radio waves off the ionosphere to determine the best frequencies for long-range transmission. This ionosonde, known as “The Beastie”, was what was used to do it. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

One popular facility at Port Lockroy is the world's most southerly branch of the Royal Mail.

One popular facility at Port Lockroy is the world’s most southerly branch of the Royal Mail. Apparently 70,000 cards are sent a year, with some of the proceeds used to support the museum.

In addition to the penguins nesting right under the huts, we took a brief zodiac ride over to nearby Jougla Point, where we not only saw nesting gentoo penguins, but also Antarctic shags with chicks.

Gentoo Penguins at Jougla Point, Antarctica.

Gentoo Penguins at Jougla Point, Antarctica. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Blue-eyed shag on her nest. Photo by A. Jefferson

Blue-eyed shag on her nest. Photo by A. Jefferson

A pair of canoodling Antarctic shags.

A pair of canoodling Antarctic shags. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

A blue-eyed or Antarctic shag guards her three chicks

A blue-eyed or Antarctic shag guards her three chicks. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

The close relationship between people and penguins at this particular location has driven a study designed to see if there is any human impact on the breeding success of gentoos: some parts of the island can be freely accessed by visiting shore parties, and some parts are closed off, with yearly surveys to compare the different areas. So far, it seems that fortunately, our gawking does no harm.

A gentoo penguin checks on her egg. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

A gentoo penguin checks on her egg. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

We could have stayed longer at Port Lockroy, but since our ship was leaving, so did we. We closed our Antarctic Christmas with a scenic cruise along the Neumayer Channel before a festive dinner. The weather held, treating us to a spectacular sunset (or as close as one gets in Antarctica near the summer solstice) – and some humpback whales turned up to wish us a Merry Christmas, too.

The sun goes down on a fabulous Christmas Day in Antarctica.

The sun goes down on a fabulous Christmas Day in Antarctica. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Lots of intriguing geologic features exposed in the rocks along the Neumayer Channel. One of the things that was striking to us is how many of these geologically places were pretty much wholly inaccessible. Photo by A. Jefferson.

Lots of intriguing geologic features exposed in the rocks along the Neumayer Channel. One of the things that was striking to us is how many of these geologically interesting places were pretty much wholly inaccessible. Photo by A. Jefferson.

More fabulous scenery in the Neumayer Channel.

More fabulous scenery in the Neumayer Channel. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

A humpback whale gives us a wave.

A humpback whale gives us a wave. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Sunset over the Neumayer Channel. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Sunset over the Neumayer Channel. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

A festive feast ended a very memorable Christmas Day. Photo by A. Jefferson.

A festive feast ended a very memorable Christmas Day. Photo by A. Jefferson.

Where we were today:

Our areas of exploration on 25 December 2013 are shown inside the blue box at the lower left of the map.

Our areas of exploration on 25 December 2013 are shown inside the blue box at the lower left of the map.

Categories: Antarctica, by Anne, field gear, ice and glaciers

One year ago today: Antarctic bases old and new, and the most mind-blowing scenery in the world

A post by Anne JeffersonA post by Chris RowanChristmas Eve in Antarctica involved our first look at how people live and work in this harsh environment – both today and in the early days of exploration – and possibly the most fabulous scenery yet.

From Anne’s journal entry: “On the night of the 23rd, we made for the USA’s Palmer Station, where we were hoping to be the first tourist ship of the season; unusual ice conditions in the harbour had kept previous visitors away. In the morning I went up on deck and saw a research station that I thought must be Palmer. But it wasn’t – ice had caused us to change course to the Ukrainian Station Vernadsky.”

Morning view in Antarctica

Not a bad view to wake up to on Christmas Eve. Photo, Chris Rowan, 2013.

The Argentine Islands, Antarctica

Not a bad view on deck, either! The Argentine Islands, Antarctica. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

We later found out that on the other side of Antarctic, another vessel was having considerably more trouble with sea ice than a forced diversion. When we got back home, the first question everyone asked was, ‘was that you?’. It wasn’t – all the ice forced us to endure was a spectacular sunrise in a slightly different location to the one we were expecting. At 65º15′ south, this was also the closest we got to the South Pole on our expedition.

A small (~12 man) outpost located on one of the Argentine Islands, Vernadsky is actually the former British Faraday Station: it was sold to the Ukraine for one pound in 1996. Since the Antarctic Treaty would have required the UK to remove – at great cost – all trace of the base’s existence if it had been shut down, this is not as bad a deal as it might initially seem.

Vernadsky Base, the Argentine Islands, Antarctica. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Vernadsky Base, the Argentine Islands, Antarctica. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

We got a tour of one of the station building, which still bore many signs of its former nationality – lots of signage in English, and the obligatory station pub.

World's most southerly pub?

The world’s most southerly pub? A bar installed when Vernadsky was the UK’s Faraday Station. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

There was also a gift shop that provided to opportunity to send postcards back home via supply ships, a process that could take up to three months. Being scientists, we of course sent one to ourselves so we could time how long it actually took.

They're going to be so jealous!

They’re going to be so jealous! Photo: Anne Jefferson, 2013.

Chris also had the opportunity to hike across some (hopefully!) thick sea ice to an earlier iteration of the British Antarctic base. Built in 1947, Wordie House was named after the chief scientist on Ernest Shackleton’s epically abortive 1914-1917 expedition. It operated until 1954, when a new base where Vernadksy now stands was opened. Now a designated historic site, Wordie House gives an insight into what it was like for scientists in the early days of Antarctic research – namely lonely and cramped.

Walking across the sea ice

Walking across the sea ice from Vernadsky to Wordie House. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Wordie House, Antarctica

Wordie House: actually the second outpost built by the British on the Argentine Islands: the first was possibly destroyed by a tsunami (!) during the winter of 1946/7. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Sample supplies for British Antarctic scientists in the 1940s and 50s,

Sample supplies for British Antarctic scientists in the 1940s and 50s, on display in Wordie House. At least they had coffee… Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Antarctic Marmite.

…but they were also inflicted with Marmite. Ugh. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

But this long occupancy has reaped a rich scientific harvest: meteorological data has been continuously collected here since 1946, giving us one of the longest climatic records from the Antarctic. (continuing these measurements was one of the conditions of the British handing over Vernadsky). Longer-term records like this help us to understand the current rapid warming in this part of the world a little better. Monitoring at this station was also pivotal in our discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole.

On his return inter-island treck, Chris noted some crevasses opening up at the contact between the sea ice and the shore. This was definitely the right time to notice these.

Cracks opening up where the sea ice meets the shore. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

Cracks opening up where the sea ice meets the shore. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013.

The weather remained fine – fine enough that lunch was served outside on one of the upper decks. As excellent as the food was, the real star was the scenery, which managed to become even more spectacular as we cruised northeast up the Lemaire Channel. You may have trouble believing these photos – we do, and we were there! – but it really was that scenic.

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica

Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica

Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica

Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Anne: “we sailed through a narrow channel with high cliffs, glaciers and icebergs on either side of us. Chris and I (and many other passengers) stood on deck the whole time – taking lots of pictures and enjoying the good weather and scenery. A highlight for me was happening to see our ship strike a glancing blow on a bergy bit and watch it break in half”.

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica

Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica

Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica

Photo: Chris Rowan, 2013

Where we were today:

Our areas of exploration on 24 December 2013 are shown inside the blue box at the lower left of the map.

Our areas of exploration on 24 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: 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