The White Continent

Day 24 - Sunday, January 29th - Sea Day:  What a busy day at sea--we worked on our blog this morning, then attended a lecture by John Splettstoesser (MN born) who gave us an overview of Antarctica.  He had some great slides.  Next was trivia, lunch and a lecture by Bob Hofman, who studied at the U of M and has a PhD in biology.  Bob talked about marine mammals and birds.  After his lecture we played another game of trivia, followed by a short rest before dinner.  After dinner we went to see a show (haven't gone to any for some time) featuring the Divas of Motown.  We ended the day with a session of "Name That Tune" trivia that we should have skipped.

Day 25 - Monday, January 30th - Sea Day:  About 7:00 this morning we passed between Elephant Island (which was starboard and covered in fog) and Clarence Island (on the port side).  At 10:00 we heard John Splettstoesser's lecture on ice and climate change.  Following him was Bob Hofman, who talked about the Antarctic Treaty System and expanded on how climate change is causing the glaciers to recede.   Our ship was required to submit an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) and as soon as we were south of 60° everyone on the ship was considered an expeditioneer.  Nobody owns Antarctica, but seven countries have "claims" to parts to it:  Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the U.K.  The temperature at 61° South and 54° West was about 34°, but it was very chilly on the promenade deck because of a strong wind.  At noon we started seeing icebergs and sea ice.  By 3:00 pm we were in Hope Bay and could see the Argentine Esperanza Station and its large colony of Adelie penguins (described as a "busy penguin metropolis").  Jay could smell the penguin excrement, but Barbara still has no sense of smell.  The Esperanza Station was established in 1952 and is the site of the first human birth in Antarctica--Emilio Marcos de Palma born on 1/7/1978.  This is our 25th day on the cruise, so we are halfway to Sydney.  The time has really flown by.

Day 26 - Tuesday, January 31st - Sea Day:  The weather today was perfect, and we spent a long time on the bow of the ship taking in the spectacular scenery.  We're sailing the Gerlache Strait, and saw lots of penguins, especially at the Chilean station, where two people on top of a building waved to us.  We also saw several seals (crabeaters?) going by on chunks of ice and some penguins that were swimming, but they didn't come out of the water far enough for us to get a good look.  The sun rose at 4:26 am and set at 10:23 pm.  The temperature around 11:30 when we were at 64° S and 62° W was 39° and there was very little wind.  Although the weather was great, the hot chocolate in the Crow's Nest when we came back inside was appreciated.  This was our second day of sailing along the Antarctic Peninsula, and we'll have a third day tomorrow.  Tonight was another formal night with the Ice Blue Winter Ball starting at 10:00.  All the fresh air today tired us out, and we turned in early.  The satellite TV is not working this far south, so we'll have to wait until tomorrow for the condensed NY Times to see who won the FL primary.  Some interesting facts we've learned about Antarctica:

  1. If it were a country, it would be the second largest in the world in size (after Russia) at 6,591,027 square miles.
  2. The lowest temperature in the world ever recorded was -128.6° F at Vostok Station on 7/21/83.
  3. The highest elevation is 16,050 feet (Mount Vinson).
  4. The largest glacier in the world is Lambert Glacier, which is 60 miles wide and 250 miles long.
  5. One of the largest icebergs to break off the Antarctic ice shelf was 183 miles long and 23 miles wide.
  6. The population of the continent is about 4,000 in the summer and 1,000 in the winter.
  7. It is the only place in the world where the Emperor penguin lives.


Day 27 - Wednesday, February 1st - Sea Day:  This morning eight research scientists (five men and three women) from the U.S. Palmer Station on Anvers Island boarded our ship from zodiacs.  They gave a presentation and then answered questions.  They are doing research on the local environment, biology, geology, etc.  The U.S. also has a station at the South Pole, where they have a 10-meter diameter antenna that can view the same point in space 24 hours a day because of its location, and another called McMurdo that is accessible by airplane from Christchurch, New Zealand.  The Palmer Station is 1,800 miles from the South Pole.  Five of the scientists are staying with us on the ship until we reach Punta Arenas, Chile.  In answer to a question from a passenger, we heard that measuring climate change is important to these scientists, and they are frustrated that there are "intelligent people disseminating incorrect information" back home.  At Palmer Station, the air temperature has gone up 6° C since they started measuring it 50 years ago.  They are concerned because the penguin population is dwindling as the warmer temperature means they have less food.  More large ice shelfs have broken off in the past decade, too.  After the talk we went out on deck and then to the Crow's Nest, where we saw two humpback whales in front of the ship.   Our schedule indicated we would be cruising the Wilhelm Archipelago this afternoon, but the captain said a storm was coming from the northwest and that he was going to sail across the Drake passage as quickly as he could.

Day 28 - Thursday, February 2nd - Sea Day:  The ship was really rocking and rolling when we woke up this morning.  No one was allowed out on the decks.  The captain and his wife were getting coffee when we walked by the Explorations Cafe and he talked to us for awhile.  He said the sea swells were about 16 feet and winds about 50-55 mph.  Temperatures were in the 40s.  He was happy with his decision to head north, and we did leave the rocky seas around 3:00 pm.  There were a lot of people attending the lectures in spite of the difficulty in walking around the ship.  At 10:00 our ice captain, Dick Taylor (retired USCG who advises our captain on ice conditions and makes recommendations) talked about ice-breaking ships in Antarctica, Lake Superior and the Arctic.  At 11:00 Warren Salinger talked about Chile and why it's the most modern country in South America.  At 2:00 John Splettsstoesser, who now lives in Waconia, talked about the team from the U of M that came to the interior of Antarctica for 3 months in 1961-2 for geological research.  They lived in tents and got around the area on engine-powered toboggans.  He said they couldn't shower for the entire time and that they smelled really bad, but that after two weeks the odor levels off.  Before the lectures started we had a chance to talk to Bob Hofman and Warren Salinger, and they answered some of our questions about Antarctica.  The speakers are all very approachable.  We avoided Cape Horn today and are entering the Beagle Channel.  The four of us (Paul, Lillian and the two of us are still together) had dinner in the Italian restaurant tonight and watched the small boat carrying the Chilean pilot come alongside and drop him off.

Click here for photos of the Antarctic

© Jay Deitch 2015