Tuesday 17 January 2023
Well we did cross over the Antarctic Circle this morning on a very auspicious day: 250 years to the day that James Cook was the first known person to have crossed the Antarctic Circle. And our surroundings start to change very quickly. Although the first iceberg has been spotted, they are still few and far between and we sit at breakfast watching the sooty albatross swoop across the waves beside us. Just as we are finishing breakfast we get an announcement from the bridge that an iceberg is coming up and the captain will take us close to it – we all grab our jackets and head to a suitable viewpoint. It is fascinating to see the different colours and shapes in the ice and in the water as the waves break up onto it. In the short time while we are up there we start to see small bits of ice in the ocean and then bands of slightly bigger pieces. We head downstairs for a lecture and by the time we are done, there is ice all around. Over another hour or so we enter a big area of pack ice.
The ship has large stabiliser fins that it must pull in before we enter the pack ice. There are still quite a few swells so we are warned to hold on – it certainly does make a big difference without the stabilisers. At lunch we sit looking for crabeater seals on the pack ice while drinking champagne (our table at least courtesy of Alla and Joseph) to celebrate crossing the Antarctic circle. It is only a relatively small band of ice and as we enter the clear waters on the other side there is another point of instability. The poor kitchen and wait staff! They seem to be continuously losing plates and liquids.
Our first lecture for the day was John Rogers (an avid Antarctic Historian) talking about “Antarctica Unveiled – the early exploration and discovery of the great southern land from Ptolemy to the Heroic Age. Of particular interest to us was James Cook’s voyages and then James Clark Ross after whom Ross Island and the Ross Sea is named. Carsten Borchgrevink was the first person to set foot on Antarctica in 1895 (although 2 others also vie for that title including a NZ sailor Alexander von Tunzelmann, who said that he had leapt out to hold the boat steady). John also talked about the earth’s magnetic fields and showed how the magnetic South Pole has changed over the past 100 years – it is now out to sea rather than on Antarctica.
Next up is Steve who talks about Adelie Penguins and Climate Change. This is absolutely fascinating: Adelie penguins make pebble nests and return to their nests each year and so they eventually build up layers of ornithogenic soils that are characterised by tissues, feathers, egg shells, guano etc. They also require ice-free terrain to nest on, open water access and nearby food sources (and pebbles of course). Because of this geological history, they are the most studied penguins in the world. Even when colonies have been abandoned it is still possible to see the built up mounds where the nests were, so the soils etc can be carbon-dated and a range of other tests used to analyse when they were active. Because of the open water access requirement etc it is possible to put together a really good record of where the ice shelves reached at different times; these can also be correlated with periods of warming and cooling indicated using ice cores. The information can also be used to predict where colonies might form in the future so that these habitats can be protected.
One area Cape Irizar is really interesting as it is adjacent to the Drygalski Ice Tongue. Ice would calve off this from time to time blocking open water access so that it wasn’t suitable for penguins and then clear again and the penguins would return. The most recent example of this was in 2000 when the B-15 iceberg (that was very long) broke off the Ross Ice Shelf and swung around to block the area of the Ross Sea between Ross Island and Cape Irizar. B-15 started to break up just a year later (but some pieces were still found 20 years later).
We have of course now moved from the Subantarctic zone into the Antarctic zone and must now repeat the Biosecurity Check to make sure that no guano or other organic material that might contain viruses or other diseases etc get transferred from one area to another. There are again cleaning/vacuuming centres set up and expedition staff checking that we have removed everything of concern.
In the afternoon we have a lecture from Samuel on “Introduction to the Ross Sea”, showing us where the various terms (Ross Sea, Ross Sea Embayment, Ross Sea Protectorate) fit together and the significance of the area. A little bit of geology with location of active volcanoes, dry valleys, ocean depths – at the edge of the Antarctic continental shelf the ocean depth drops rapidly from about 500m to 4000m. He also talks about ice charts and particularly how fast conditions change (ice can form at 60m2 per minute/15 km2 per day) so you can’t simply rely on them to chart your path. We are not able to follow our initial target path because there is ice coming out from near Cape Adair so we are having to travel further east and then come back toward it. He shows us the 3 sites that we are hoping to go ashore at and points out that the Ross Sea area is the size of France and the distances are huge – we might have 800km to travel between sites so we are likely to have more days completely at sea while we are down here.
Next we have a surprise celebration for crossing the Antarctic Circle – up on the back deck they are serving mulled wine. We all get to try out our new jackets and there are all manner of hats as well. It has a very festive feel as it is snowing as well.
Then we have a briefing from Aaron on “IAATO – Antartica Treaty Guidelines” and what is expected from tourist operators/tourists in the area (mostly what we are already familiar with). Aaron re-emphasises that we are completely at the mercy of the weather and ice conditions here so all timetables go out the window but they will aim to maximise the experience for us overall. It is possible that if conditions are not favourable in one area we will move on to the next and hope to be able to try again on the way back.
At our daily recap/briefing we have the birds that have being flying around the ship now as Southern Fulmar, Snow Petrel and Antarctic Petrel and the Crabeater seals that are found predominantly on the ice floes rather than nearer to land. We hear that not only was it the 250th anniversary of James Cook crossing the Antarctic Circle but also the 111th anniversary of Robert Falcon Scott’s fated arrival at the South Pole.
Aaron prepares us for what we are likely to see at Cape Adare. It is also a place of many firsts: 1st recorded landing on Antarctic continent 24 Jan 1895; British Antarctic Expedition Base 1898-1900; Scott’s Northern Party Base 1911-12. It is also the site of the very first hut Borchgrebik’s Hut – that is now a historically protected site. Only 40 people are allowed at a time in the immediate area and 4 at a time inside the hut – with cleaning of boots and other protections as well.
We hope to arrive there around lunch time tomorrow.
After dinner tonight we watch episode 2 of the documentary “The last place on earth”.
Day 1-2: Meeting and Departure
Day 3: The Snares
Day 4: Auckland Islands – Enderby Island
Day 5: At Sea
Day 6: Macquarie Island
Day 7: Macquarie Island
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: At Sea
Day 10: At Sea
Day 11: At Sea
Day 12: Cape Adare, Antarctica
Day 13: Possession Islands
Day 14: At Sea, Coulman Island
Day 15: At Sea
Day 16: At Sea
Day 17: At Sea, Ross Ice Shelf
Day 18: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 19: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 20: Cape Evans/Cape Royds
Day 21: At Sea
Day 22: At Sea
Day 23: At Sea
Day 24: At Sea
Day 25: At Sea
Day 26: At Sea/Campbell Island
Day 27: Final Day at Sea