Sunday 15 January 2023
Another foggy day this morning and thankfully still not too rough with following seas. We are getting used to the rhythm of both the ship and life aboard it – particularly the leisurely starts to the day. We are privileged this morning to have breakfast with the captain and the ship’s doctor. Captain Denis is from Split in Croatia and Dr Lee is originally from Taiwan but now based in Toronto Canada. It appears that we have managed to be covid free on the ship – we are more than a week in with no signs of it (although Dr Lee was of the opinion that it is now no worse than a cold and that there is too much fuss being made about it).
We forego Birding out on the deck but look forward to lectures this morning from Steve on Antarctic Penguins and Bryan on Antarctica – a frozen continent; a general introduction to Antarctica.
Steve Emslie is a marine ornithologist and professor in the Department of biology and marine biology at University of North Carolina Wilmington. He has joined us on the expedition as a guide and lecturer but also to conduct his research on Adelie Penguins. Steve’s talk on Penguins starts with describing penguins in general and where they are found, with much information on their form and behaviour: feather types and how they keep them warm and dry and temperature regulation. He describes the main Antarctic penguins but focuses mostly on the Adelie penguins in this talk. Steve shows us amazing pictures and videos of their lifecycle and all the different behaviours associated with each. We are so looking forward to seeing many of these for ourselves. He also explains how algae/ diatoms are trapped in the ice and then provide food source for krill. Krill are the mainstay of the food chain – providing food for penguins, seals etc. If climate change alters the ice patterns then this will almost certainly affect all the creatures that rely on the diatoms and krill.
Bryan Storey has recently retired as Professor of Antarctic Studies and the first Director of Gateway Antarctica at Canterbury University. He previously spent 24 years with the British Antarctic Survey as a researcher. Bryan starts with all the descriptions of Antarctica being the highest, driest, coldest, windiest, most isolated continent and then talks about each of these. He questions the highest because most of the height is made up of ice (sometimes 4.8 km thick) and the land itself is much lower, much of it actually below sea level. If the ice were to melt you could go via sea through what is now the continent from the Ross Sea to the Weddell Sea. Although it is the driest because it doesn’t rain, it does snow and he shows us pictures of huts completely buried beneath now. Katabatic winds come down from the heights out to the sea at up to 320km/hr so it is certainly the windiest continent.
We are shown pictures of the Dry Valleys in the Transantarctic mountains that are protected by geology from filling with ice/snow. There are mummified skeletons of crab eater seals there that are thousands of years old. The coldest part of Antarctica is where the Russians have built their station at Vostok -89.2C. At Vostok they have discovered a lake 3.6km under the ice and then 500m deep. Through ice cores have found thermophilic organisms dated at hundreds of thousands of years old. There are almost 400 lakes and rivers found under the ice cap. Bryan tells us about the movement of the ice and glaciers and the movement of meteorites that land and then are pushed by ice flows up against the mountains. And we gain some of the ice-related vocabulary, learning the differences between ice sheets and ice shelves, how icebergs form and then their eventual deterioration over as much as 20 years.
After lunch (where we talk with Werner and Christina from Switzerland) we have the excitement of receiving our Antarctic Jackets. These are not handed out earlier as they are thick but not waterproof so not suitable for the wet subantarctic islands.
Later in the afternoon we have a Quiz, ably MC’d by Ian. We divide ourselves into teams of 10-12 and hope that we have a good enough mix to answer all the questions – although this is likely to be more about who has absorbed the information from all the lectures than the normal mix of sports, entertainment, literature etc. The categories are Wildlife, History, Geology and Plants etc – thankfully mostly multichoice but there are some questions where you have to give an unprompted answer, including some that are recorded bird calls and ultracloseup photos of animal parts. Our team (The Overfed Chicks) comes in second with 22 points to the Terror with 28 points out of 30. The prize was a $100 bar tab. Anne and I decided to have a G&T anyway to celebrate the Antarctic Convergence.
The daily recap isn’t really a recap but rather Vincent Lecomte shows us evidence of the prior existence of a Colossus Penguin that stood as tall as me. Fossils of a foot bone and shoulder bone had been found in rocks. It is thought that at that time Antarctica had a rainforest climate. There is also evidence for a giant bird Pelargornis that had a wing span of 7.38m (wider than a football goal width). Vincent showed us the various factors that give selection towards gigantism such as ability to dive deeper and longer, but also that they are very dependent on ecosystem stability and are the first to go when it changes. Vincent is Professor of Biology & Ecology at the University of Burgundy (France), specifically working in polar regions and publishing particularly on polar birds.
Samuel Blanc is the Logistics Manager and 2IC for the expedition and has a background as a Marine Biologist and Naturalist Guide. Samuel tells us about the desalination system in sea birds with glands above the eyes that absorbs the salt from sea water that is ingested and excretes it in drops down from the nostrils down channels to the end of the beak. Many birds can be seen with drops on the ends of their beaks. Lastly he shows us our location – right in the middle of the Southern Ocean between NZ and Antarctica. Aaron tells us that we have crossed 60 degrees latitude and have 35knot winds and 5-6m swells. We have changed direction slightly to keep a following sea which means that things are still relatively comfortable although the presenters often have trouble standing and our chairs start sliding across the smooth floor surface in the centre of the room. Tomorrow night sometime in the early hours of the morning we are due to cross into the Antarctic Treaty area. We will have a celebration at an appropriate time (which could actually be anytime as we will be 24 hour daylight).
By the time we get to dinner tonight there is a storm coming that we are trying to outrun. The wind is up to 40-50 knots and the waves are getting up to 8-9m. We are sitting at a table at the back of the ship when a rogue wave hits and much crockery and cutlery slides off the tables; one poor woman gets knocked off her chair. It does seem to be a one off for the moment but holding onto the ship is very important. Anne starts to feel sick and I am grateful that our cabin is in the most stable part of the ship (still a lot of movement though!). I think it will be a night for a sleeping tablet.
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