Monday 23 January 2023
We have made less progress south than expected overnight because we had to detour considerably around some more ice. Still Aaron thinks we will reach the Ross Ice Shelf by about 1.00 today. We are at 76.42S, it is -6C with a briskly southerly breeze and the ship is moving at 11knots. Anne goes outside to experience the cold temperature and comes back inside very quickly!
We have no shortage of entertainment though. First up we have Samuel telling us about Sir James Clark Ross and the British TransAntarctic Expedition. So many features of both the Ross Sea and Weddell Sea/Antarctic Peninsula were named by or for Ross on his various expeditions. We learn that the Ross Ice Shelf (or Great Ice Barrier) is 500km long and 30-60m high – how can we possibly comprehend the sheer immensity of it? By 11.00 we are at 77.01S so it won’t be long before we get to see this massive ice shelf for ourselves. The temperature has dropped to -10C.
This area is one of the least visited places on the planet: of the approx 55,000 people who visit Antarctica each year (excluding scientific stations), only 500 visit the Ross Sea area each year. We make up 1/3 of those who will do so this year.
At lunchtime we were bemoaning the fact that our meals had become less entertaining without the seals and penguins floating by. But then we realise that we have reached Ross Island and that we are looking out directly at Mt Terror! Stretching out to the left is the start of the Ross Ice Shelf. It was obviously now time to head up to the observation lounge so that we could see more. Up the top we were treated to seeing a pod of orca swimming all around us for quite a while – about 6 individuals and we could see the blows, fins, backs and even heads so that we could see the distinctive black and white markings. There were a few Adelie penguins standing nervously on ice floes.
We were invited up onto the pool deck (where it is a bit more sheltered) to enjoy some bubbles to celebrate reaching the Ice Shelf – 182 years after Sir James Clark Ross first saw it. Rugged up properly and out of the wind -10C didn’t feel too bad but then the champagne started freezing in the glasses and people’s breath was freezing on their moustaches and balaclavas.
Back inside in the warm we watched in awe as we sailed alongside Ross Island towards Cape Crozier at the eastern end where there is an Adelie penguin colony visible, and we see the bay where the Emperor Penguins ‘nest’. This is a marine protected area so we are not able to go right in. It is spectacular to see the black cliffs towering up from the sea topped with huge layers of snow and ice – it looks like icing on an enormous cake. We continue to sail east along the Ross Ice Shelf for quite a while, marvelling at the sheer ice cliffs (which are not as high at this end of the shelf as there isn’t as much glacial pressure behind it). The scale is so unbelievably huge though that it is really impossible to gauge the size of everything.
Because the ice shelf is floating already, the calving of icebergs is not as dramatic as in other areas – a crack will appear and gradually increase until the iceberg separates off the front of the shelf. We often see large chunks (many kms long) where it is uncertain as to whether they had separated from the ice shelf or not. We see the sea ‘smoking’ – indicative of the very cold temperatures outside. It is often snowing too and sometime the snowflakes are blowing uphill rather than falling down.
We then turn around and head back along the iceshelf towards the northern end of Ross Island: Cape Bird. We are hoping to spend several days down here to be able to visit the historic huts and are willing the weather system to blow the ice out of McMurdo Sound. And of course willing the sun to come out and the clouds to clear so that we can get good views of Mt Erebus as well.
At the briefing today we hear about Cherry-Garrett’s ‘Worst Journey in the World’ – a hundred mile journey across the ice from Cape Hutt to the Emperor penguin colony with pictures of where they had been on Cape Crozier and the penguin eggs they had gone to collect (now in museums). The journey took 19 days to get there in some of the worst conditions imaginable. We also hear more about the Ross Ice Shelf: 350miles long, 15-50m high, 480,000km2 (larger than France), 500miles to coastline, 900miles to South Pole, thickness 180-900m. Aaron shows us pictures of Ross Island and where we hope to go but of course it will depend on weather and ice conditions.
Over dinner we watch the coastline of Evans Bay as we head to Cape Bird and get to see more orca around the ship. Just as we are going to bed there is a call to see an emperor penguin very close to the ship. The wind is currently northerly and is pushing pack ice up against where we are just east of Cape Bird. Aaron tells us that we will head back out into open waters overnight. The wind is supposed to swing around to the south and stay that way for a couple of days – this should push the ice out of McMurdo Sound and allow us to have a go of sailing where we want to go.
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