Classic Antarctica Trip Log (6 - 18 Jan, 2018) – Tuesday Jan 9

Tuesday, January 9: Crossing the Drake Passage
January 2018

We are so lucky. If anything, the sea is calmer than yesterday. We have a following wind and sea so there is very little movement of the ship. The weather is gray but the visibility is good enough to see that there was still a wandering albatross or two in sight, as well as many other smaller birds. We are really sough of the ‘albatross latitudes’ but they may have been brought down by the wind.

It has been another day of lectures. We started after breakfast with historian Bob Burton who told us about ‘My favorite heroes: a personal view of the Heroic Age’. This was a discussion of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, which lasted from 1895 to Shackleton’s death in 1922. Bob emphasized that expeditions were exploring the most inhospitable part of the world with inadequate equipment and provisions, but with indomitable strength of character. Bob illustrated this with three stories of incredible endurance: men who kept going when it would have been easier to lie down and die. There was the Winter Journey by Edward Wilson and two companions in search of emperor penguin eggs, the six men who spent the winter in a snow hole and Douglas Mawson’s incredible solo trek after his two companions died.

After light refreshment in Le Grand Salon, expedition director Suzana gave the mandatory briefing on the IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) guidelines for going ashore in Antarctica. It is essential that everyone going ashore on our landings abides by these simple rules – no disturbance of the wildlife is the main one. Then expedition leader Agustin explained how we use Zodiac inflatable boats for going ashore. If we follow the simple procedures for getting in and out under the supervision of the driver we will find them comfortable and extremely safe.

During the course of the morning the first iceberg was sighted. It was larger than ‘Le Lyrial’ so it qualified for the bottle of champagne awarded by the Captain. The lucky winner was Bonnie Ann Walsh.

Land was sighted in the afternoon. Visibility was not good but we got a glimpse of Anvers Island. ‘Le Lyrial’ had by-passed the South Shetland Islands and made landfall father south. We were entering Dallman Bay between Anvers and Brabant Islands, both names for Belgian cities by Adrien de Gerlache of the Belgica expedition (1897-99). Dallmann Bay is named for the German whaler Eduard Dallmann who brought the first steamship to Antarctica.

So we had crossed the dreaded Drake Passage without mishap. Was there a slight regret that we have nothing to boast about and have missed a chance to exaggerate the height of the waves! Another advantage of the calm sea is that it had been possible to drive ‘Le Lyrial’ at full speed and so give us the maximum time in Antarctica. The weather, however, was not its best. It was snowing from thick, low clouds but even this gave guests from warmer places the first snowfall of their lives! Landfall was celebrated with tea with crêpes. Eating was interrupted by a rush to the windows to watch a humpback whale in search of its own tea. It’s a good start!

Back to the classroom for lecture by our marine mammalogist Matt Messina on ‘Leopards of the Deep: Ice Seals of Antarctica’. He introduced the seals that we will be searching for on our voyage to the White Continent. He explained that roughly 30 million years ago, a group of bear-like animals took to the sea and began a transition to life in the ocean that has continued to this day. We learned that many of these animals can dive to depths up to one a mile and stay submerged for over an hour. They are equipped with incredible sensory organs that help them detect prey. As we sail through Antarctic waters, we are eager to enter a world dominated by an abundance of seals at every turn.

Finally, Adam gave a presentation on penguins entitled ‘The Birds in Tuxedos, a Penguin Primer’. The talk gave some background on the penguins, unique birds, and helped prepare us for things to look out for in our upcoming visits to penguin colonies. We heard about the life histories of the locally breeding species. So we now know what to look for.

After lunch, Daria Nikitina talked about 'The geology of Antarctica'. The Earth’s outermost layer, the lithosphere, is broken into series of plates which move relative to each other. They move during earthquakes along plate boundaries as well as during the eruption of submarine volcanoes along mid-oceanic ridges. Continents rift apart when volcanic rocks intrude into existing rocks. Antarctica has a rift structure, the West Antarctic Rift, that is comparable in size to the East African Rift. Antarctica has 31 active volcanoes, with Mount Erebus being the southernmost active volcano and having a 100 m deep lake of molten lava on its summit. Recently scientists found evidence of a volcanic eruption beneath Antarctic ice sheet. This volcano erupted 2000 years ago and is still active. It has been possible to reconstruct the position of continents as far back as 650 million years ago. The supercontinent Gondwana assembled 550 million years ago in the Southern Hemisphere and included Antarctica, Australia, India, South America and Africa. About 300 million years ago North America and Europe collided with Gondwana to form the supercontinent Pangaea. Pangaea began to break apart about 200 million years ago and by 14 million years ago the position of continents was as we know it now.

As continents moved apart, Antarctica was separated from other landmasses. The Antarctic circumpolar current was established around 20 million years ago and the Antarctic glaciation began. Antarctica ice sheet is divided into West Antarctica and East Antarctica ice sheets. The West Antarctic ice sheet is rapidly losing ice via collapsing of the ice shelves, while East Antarctica ice sheet remains stable so far.

Click Here to read 'Wednesday, January 10: Port Charcot'