Classic Antarctica Trip Log (6 - 18 Jan, 2018)- Monday, Jan 15

Monday, January 15: Drake Passage
January 2018

We woke to find another sunny day but there was no need for an early rise because we were now proceeding northwards across the Drake Passage and there were no more landings to prepare for. More important than the sunshine was the sea state. There was very little wind, so very little swell and ‘Le Lyrial’ was sliding smoothly through the water with hardly any movement. And we were back in the albatross belt.

With a day at sea, it was time to ‘return to the classroom’ for more lectures. Daria started with ‘Is Antarctica melting?’ Whether the continent is warming or cooling at present has been a question of intense debate and uncertainty. Data from weather stations and satellites show that Antarctica as a whole has been warming over the last 50 years. However, while West Antarctica and the Southern Ocean have been warming, East Antarctic temperatures appear rather stable. The western Antarctic Peninsula warmed by 2.5°C from 1950 to 2000 and waters west of the Antarctic Peninsula have also warmed rapidly.

Areas with a clearly higher risk of melting include the floating ice shelves. They play a fundamental role in the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet because they buttress the flow of ice down the glaciers from inland. The impacts of recent rapid warming around the Antarctic Peninsula have been dramatic, with the collapse of ice shelves: in 2002 Larsen B ice shelf and in July 2017 Larsen C. Ice shelf collapse amplifies the flow of ice from inland and has led to the retreat of several glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula. The glaciers that have lost their ice shelves speed up by as much as 300–800%. Other glaciers have thinned and receded as a result of melting. As a result, the Antarctic ice sheet is in a state of disequilibrium and 87% of it is receding.

In the breaks between lectures it was time to go on deck to see what seabirds might be out and about. The naturalists were on hand to help identify species, and some of us had the good fortune of seeing a wandering albatross soaring right along the ship’s rails. At such a close distance, we could see how incredibly large this bird really is-and look directly into its beady eye! It was magical to watch the albatross soar effortlessly in even light winds. It helped us understand how they can routinely travel hundreds of miles to collect food for their chicks.

Photo Coach Richard Harker’s last presentation was on a practical and timely subject: ‘In the footsteps of Ansel Adams: the Basics of Digital Workflow’. When we get home we will be able to transform our hundreds of digital photos into excellent shots that will really impress families and friends. Richard discussed the value of 'processing' digital images with software such as Photoshop. He compared the work done in the wet darkroom by Ansel Adams (famous for his pictures of Yosemite National Park) in the mid-20th century with the computer work done today by digital photographers. The conclusion was that were Adams alive today, he would be a supporter of processing images!

Bob's last lecture was a personal story. In ‘When I was a lad: Tales of Old Antarctica’, he told stories of life on a British Antarctic Survey research station in the early 1960s. It was a time closer to the Heroic Age than to the present day. Unlike other nations, Britain sent men to Antarctica for two years' overwintering. This not only gave scientists time to collect good sets of data but overlapping personnel ensured a nucleus of experienced men on the station. Bob gave details of how life was lived in a small and very isolated community of young men in a period when there were fewer regulations and communication with the outside world was very limited, and included the adventures of Ginge the cat and a strange tale of a haunted whaling station.

Jim McClintock’s talk ‘Drug discoveries in Antarctic seas’ opened up a subject that we did not know existed. Jim went into detail about the chemical defences that many marine species use against their predators, and how some of these chemicals have properties that may aid in the prevention and cure of certain diseases in humans. It is a field of research that could benefit humankind enormously and that relies on the fact that evolution has, over millions of years of natural selection, come up with chemical solutions to many challenges faced by organisms both in the sea and on land.

The evening was given over to the limited formality of Captain Erwan Le Rouzic’s Farewell Cocktail Party. Cruise Director Louic Menguy took the opportunity to introduce and publicly thank some of the many members of the crew who have worked to make the cruise such a success and the Captain added his thanks and wound up the cruise. The Party was followed by the Captain's Farewell Dinner, which turned out to be a lively affair, although tinged with the knowledge that the adventure is coming to an end. 

Click Here to read 'Tuesday, January 16: Beagle Channel'