Antarctica: The End of The World

/Antarctica: The End of The World

Antarctica: The End of The World

Antarctica has always been that unknown, mysterious, furthest of all continents, not even sighted until 1820 and untouched by man until 1895 when a Norwegian team first set foot upon it.  Twice the size of Australia yet 98{e91edd8b5cd6d50d258497576336ddb12081f3c7cc3076c4ff68e4d1e3eb955f} covered by ice over 6000 feet thick, it accounts for 90{e91edd8b5cd6d50d258497576336ddb12081f3c7cc3076c4ff68e4d1e3eb955f} of the world’s total.  The ice also holds about 70{e91edd8b5cd6d50d258497576336ddb12081f3c7cc3076c4ff68e4d1e3eb955f} of the world’s fresh water, and if it were to melt, sea levels would rise about 200 feet.  It also has the coldest temperature ever recorded anywhere, at -128 degrees fahrenheit.  In Winter, with almost no sunlight at all, it averages -81 degrees.  It’s a nasty place to settle down, yet at any one time there are between 1000 and 5000 scientists at various stations across the continent.

We had four days of cruising the Antarctic coastline, dodging in and out of bays and inlets, but did not go ashore.  Access to the continent is very strictly regulated by an international body, and trips where passengers set foot on the continent are carefully controlled and expensive.  Most are from ice breakers that can penetrate into passages the Zaandam could not because the icebergs were simply too large and plentiful.  But the views were stark, dramatic and bewitching.

After about 24 hours circling in a large bay while still on the South American coast because the Southern Ocean waves were as high as 30 feet and driven by fierce winds, we headed away from Cape Horn itself,

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and by morning were within sight of the Antarctic Peninsula, that long finger of land which stretches out from the continent toward Argentina.  Initially the view was not terribly impressive,

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but once up close, things got a bit more dramatic!

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One of the absolutely best things about our trip on the Zaandam was the truly amazing lectures which went on every day on whatever we were to explore next.  In the case of Antarctica, a crew of eight scientists came out by boat from the American base at Palmer Station to give us lectures on virtually every aspect of Antarctica, from its geological history, to its ice, to its explorers, to its animals, to extensive commentaries on what their experiments currently involved.  Here is a look at their arrival on the Zaandam by Zodiacs

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and off in the distance on a small patch of barren ground, Palmer Station crouches with the mile thick ice stretching off beyond.

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Their lectures were absolutely invaluable to our understanding of the continent, and the experience itself was enormously enriched by their talks.

We saw only one other vessel while in the vicinity of Antarctica, and it was moving quickly by us under sail, dodging icebergs and headed, we assumed, toward somewhere safe and protected.

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We also encountered lots of Humpback Whales, often close by and making themselves conspicuous with their blowing,

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or when they slapped their tails on the surface of the water, apparently a warning of danger to others in the neighborhood.

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But most of the animals we saw were iceberg hitchhikers, riding them as they drifted in the currents, and diving in when necessary for food, though you got the sense that lunch or even dinner was just a few feet away, no matter what the menu.  Here’s a Crabeater Seal taking a snooze.

Crab Eating Seal on iceberg, Antartica

There were lots of Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins, though the icebergs they seem to choose dwarfed them by comparison.  Here is a bunch riding an iceberg.  They are those tiny black dots below the blue shadowed ice on the right.

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Here’s a closer look.

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Or check out this bunch riding the tip of a big flat iceberg.

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We became a bit fascinated with the icebergs themselves, sometimes because they looked like animals,

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or like small islands just off the continental coast,

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or like medieval fortresses,

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or had weird holes in their sides,

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or were simply so close sometimes that we thought we could hit them with a snowball.

Antarctica. Iceberg Alley. December 2017. from BonBon on Vimeo.

And always is the recognition that we are only seeing one tenth of their total weight above the water, and that beneath they carry enough mass to wreck havoc on a ship even as large as the Zaandam.  When you see icebergs it always, always provokes recollections of the Titanic.

It was also significant that we were there at the peak of the Southern Hemisphere Summer, and thus were enjoying almost twenty-two hours of daylight every day.  On December 27th, the sun rose at 2:21 AM and set at 12:13 AM.  There was never a moment of real darkness, but the sunrises and sunsets were glorious over this desolate, isolated, but dramatic continent.

8pm on Zaandam deck, Antartica

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We felt so lucky to have seen it!

2019-01-02T21:10:10+00:00March 17th, 2018|Categories: Anarctica|

11 Comments

  1. David Pablo Cohn March 17, 2018 at 11:41 am - Reply

    So envious! I’ve been working (on and off) for the US Antarctic Program since 2010, and I *still* haven’t made it to Palmer Station. But many thanks for spreading the pictures and ineffable magic of “The Ice”…

    • Dave Law March 31, 2018 at 10:37 am - Reply

      Thanks David. I am so envious that getting to Palmer Station is even a possibility for you–what an amazing experience that would be, not just for the location but for the scientists there as well. They were simply amazing to listen to as we cruised by.

  2. ANN CHANDLER March 18, 2018 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    What a fantastic experience…I’m so happy you shared it! Your pictures and narration are contributing so much to my knowledge of the world. Ice 6000 ft. deep?? Incredible.
    Thanks

    • Dave Law March 31, 2018 at 10:35 am - Reply

      Thanks to you, Ann, and hope to see you when we are next at Tony and Jeanne’s place. Brother Dick sends his best every time I mention you as well.

  3. Trish March 31, 2018 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    Wow…just wow!!!

    • Dave Law April 1, 2018 at 10:44 am - Reply

      Thanks Trish–and hoping all is well. We have been following Janie in Portugal and it doesn’t sound like she got the best weather–really too bad. Vans are just a whole lot less fun in the rain, particularly if you are traveling alone!

  4. Heath March 31, 2018 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    Stunning. Thank you for sharing the experience so beautifully.

    • Dave Law April 1, 2018 at 10:44 am - Reply

      Thanks Heath–hope to share some with you soon!

  5. Shavarsh April 1, 2018 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    Wow, yes you are lucky ….

    • Dave Law April 21, 2018 at 8:04 am - Reply

      Thanks Shavarsh. Hope we see you sometime when you are over this way…

  6. RICK April 2, 2018 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    Just catching up on your blog and these photos are simply wonderful!! Thanks for making a Sunday night a “dreaming one!”

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