Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rounding the tip of the Peninsula, Antarctic Sound and Weddell Sea. Monday, November 23

We’ve been sailing northeast all night and this morning are rounding the northwestern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Heading through the Antarctic Sound we go between a very large tabular ice burgs. (Tabular as in “Table”) These are huge, flat pieces of ice shelf. Many are bigger than multiple city blocks. Standing on top of the deck above the bridge, you can just barely see over the top of them--That makes them 23 meters high (about 75 feet)--that’s above the water, over 200 meters (over 2 football fields) is below the water. There is no comparison to the broken sea ice (about 2 meters thick) or Ice burgs we’ve been going through.

The tabular ice burgs are big pieces of the Antarctic ice shelves that have broken off. An ice shelf is formed when a land glacier slides out into a protected sea or bay and starts floating instead of breaking off near land. This forms and ice shelf. The tabular ice we’re seeing are from the Larsen, Ronne and Flichner ice shelves. A normal ice burg is formed when a glacier breaks off (calves) at the sea edge. Broken sea ice is the remnants of a section of the sea that froze (think lake ice).

[Note: this is the life, writing this while headed to Elephant Island, having a mocha, listening to Victor play Girshwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”]

We land at Brown Bluffs--a landing on the continent that includes Adelie and gentoo penguins. Lots of Adelie penguins here. Selected a rock as close to the 15‘ limit as possible with as little guano as possible and sat and watched penguins for half an hour. Took a few pictures but mainly watched. Watched penguins adjusting their eggs, watched penguin pairs greet each other, watched penguin sex, watch penguins build nests with small rocks, watched penguins steal rocks from their neighbors nests.

Back on the ship and we head into the Erebus and Terror Gulf of the Weddell Sea. Actually quite calm (the gulf is really named after two British “bomb” ships that had been converted to research vessels). We are the first non-icebreaker in the Weddell Sea this season. We end up with the ship stuck bow first into fast ice (on purpose) for the night. See our first emperor penguin of the trip (we weren’t planning on seeing any, they are just leaving their nesting area quite a bit south of us.). You can make out it’s markings in the birding scope. Our fifth penguin species (including the Galapagos Penguin). Only 12 to go.

Today we heard a talk by Ron Naveen. the founder and Executive Director of Oceanites. He and two of his staff are on board doing penguin censuses at each of our stops. I think Ocenites deserves their own blog post.

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