Friday, January 12, 2007

Return Through the Gerlache Passage

We boarded the Laurence M. Gould for our journey back on December 23, 2006. Going back through the Gerlache Passage was even more exciting and beautiful than coming the other way. If you look back towards the beginning of the blog, you can see the brilliant day that greeted us in Antarctica. On the way back the day was overcast, with mysterious lines of clouds clinging to the mountains on either side of the passage. I couldn't put down the camera , or if I did, it was to pick up the video camera. I could barely grab a sandwich!

As the ship turned away, Palmer Station seemed to fade into the distance. But no sooner was it gone when suddenly the scenery was utterly compelling. We saw whales numerous times, although none with the Canon digital. This combination of granite and fog, ice and water was more mysterious than any landscape I had ever seen. Only the photos of Wang Wusheng come even close.

Usually it didn't look sinister but that first picture reminds me of the pilots I have known who joke about granite clouds. The changes happened fast. Focusing on one point sometimes yielded several different photos, both because of the motion of the ship and also the movement of the clouds. The scale of the mountains is not terribly evident in these small photos. But I estimate the cliffs as 30 to 75 meters high.

Late in the day we passed Smith Island. Antarctica was retreating in the distance. The low angle of sun had us seeing night for the first time in nearly two months. I wondered how I would react, but I slept so soundly, it was a relief.

We had an almost endless sunset that went on for hours.

Here is mate, Larry Brissette at the controls. Since there were only five passengers on board, the crew invited us to be in the bridge. Art and I took them up on their offer and spent a good deal of time talking and watching the navigation process as we crossed the Drake. It was so smooth that they were calling it Drake's Lake! Lucky, because we had talked to passengers on a cruise ship that moored at Palmer and they had encountered 10 to 15 meter waves. A part of me would have liked to experience something like that, but the prospect of being tied to my bed for three days was not too appealing.

This is how we celebrated Christmas Day. Captain Scott Flanagan gave us a "safety demo" by shooting of flares and letting us shoot some off the stern of the ship.

This is the chart and log as we approached Cape Horn. We continued up the Atlantic coast of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, to the mouth of the Straight of Magellan. Once inside the straight, we met the pilot who guided us into port at Punta Arenas.

Somewhere in the Drake Passage I snapped this picture of the ship board computer screen. It was Christmas day, day 359 of the year, 17:04 GMT. Our position was at 55+ degrees South latitude, 64º west longitude. We were headed almost due north 345º with a bearing of 348º, making 11.5 knots of headway. The wind was coming from the due north at 25 or 22 knots (different gauges). Our heading is toward Isla Estados.

The salinity of the water was 33.7 (not sure the units), Water temperature was 5.362ºC (up at least 5º from our departure at Palmer.) Depth is 3953 meters (more than 10,000 feet!) Air temp is 10.2ºC. Relative humidity 76%. Wind Chill -1.1ºC. Barometric pressure measured 983.5 millibars.

Here is Punta Arenas on our arrival. I was overwhelmed by the color. Just seeing green trees was an intense experience. I like Punta Arenas. It is a stopping over point for many outdoor treks and the town is full of camping stores like North Face and Patagonia. (This is Patagonia, after, all.) Maybe someday I'll come back and explore South America from here.

I have a lot to say about Antarctica, what I saw, what I learned. I'll be posting form time to time about the progress on my work in the studio. I hope to display the cast glass along with the photography and video and perhaps some cast ice, as well. I'm just looking for the right venue. I'd still like to post my thoughts on the vast visual input of my ice studies. Another might tackle the implications of global climate change and the vast re-ordering of the earth which is happening under our feet.

I'd like to especially than the National Science Foundation for making this magical voyage possible, along with their contractor for Antarctica, Raytheon Polar Services. Everybody was wonderful and more than helpful. I saw more, accomplished more than I ever could have imagined.

Some of your comments that were posted also deserve a response. I didn't take full advantage of the blog format, but what a blast this has been! Go Blogger!

If you wish to contact me, please write I'll try to answer all questions.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Last Day at Old Palmer

On the last full day we were at Palmer Station, I wanted to go out in the Zodiac one last time. Art demurred. I think he was looking forward to getting on the Gould and heading home. I wanted to see the one part of the glacier face that we had not been able to see from the Zodiacs. Curt Smith was eager to go. Our technology wizard, he ran the computer network and knew about all the electronics.

This channel was created by a collapse of the glacier in 2003 that cut off Old Palmer from the main part of Anvers Island. The channel itself was too narrow to allow boating, because of its nearness to the calving glacier face. But by climbing over Old Palmer we were able to get close and see the new ice. It was worth it because the whole scene was so fresh and pure. Plus it connected the parts we had seen from the boat.

The famous skua. Not sure if this is a south polar skua or a brown skua. They are slightly obnoxious birds that are like giant seagulls. The eat penguin eggs and chicks, and are scavengers. Not too popular among the Happy Feet crowd, but hey, a bird's gotta eat! They were very protective of their own nests. Art got a picture of one coming at him dead on, also on Old Palmer. We heard they like to kick as they go by so he ducked, but got the photo anyway.

We jumped over a lot of rocks. Its amazing how much of a rubble pile is left in the wake of glacier retreat. My feet, ankles and knees hurt for weeks!

We were hoping to take one more look at the ice arch. But a colony of elephant seals had gathered in front of our access. These two young males were wrestling right in our path. We went around them.

The Gould had pulled in a day earlier, loading freight from Palmer. It was there to take us home. A bittersweet ending. We deleted ourselves from the computer systems, the lab and our dorm room. All of our stuff was packed and ready to ship. By time I took this picture, they had already loaded our freezer container that had been on the edge of the dock. That night we stayed on the Gould in preparation for leaving the next morning.