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Antarctica, Stromness

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Antarctica - jumping penguins

If you never understood why penguins normally get themselves aligned along icebergs, sort of waiting to see who will be the first to jump into the water – that has to do with seals, their ferocious predator.

So once the first penguin comes back – or not – the others may feel safer and then all jump from the iceberg. They are really awkward walking on the ice – but proportionally agile in their swimming capacities.

It is dangerous to approach an iceberg too much in a big ship – so having excellent binoculars is a must. You will see also the carved amazing details and colors of icebergs – and how huge they are compared to the size of penguins. [more ]

Antarctica amazing birds

When you go across the South Atlantic and see nothing but water for 2 weeks – any sign of life is understood almost as a miracle in such remote and harsh conditions. This is also true for Antarctica, where one needs to add the low temperatures and ice in order for species to survive.

Thus every time an albatross would dance with the waves, following our ice-breaker, we were amazed about how they can fly so far way from land.

When the ship got closer to an island in the Antarctica Peninsula, we would have the company of some Cape Petrels - called kapsturmvogel in German - with amazing wing-patterns of black and white standing against the blue and white of icebergs. [more ]

Southern Seas huge 18 meters waves

When you navigate between South Africa and Antarctica you are facing some of the toughest seas in the world.

These are the furious 40’s and roaring 50’s – in latitude! In the northern hemisphere continental masses do break the force of winds and tides. In the southern hemisphere these just keep gaining strength, because of the reduced abundance of land.

So I got waves bigger than 18 meters – not exaggerating. That is the icebreaker’s bridge height – Polarstern, were I sailed at. The waves did jump above the bridge many times…and to sleep when the ship would “fall down” was not an easy task.

When the Sea gets really rough, Polarstern has some sort of underwater hydraulic “wings”, which once deployed help to stabilize the ship. [more ]

Antarctica - first human baby born

The Antarctica Peninsula stays at similar latitudes areas of Sweden and Norway. If you consider that there are populations in these Scandinavian countries up into further north, you may understand better why Chile and Argentina also want to populate Antarctica. Certainly the fragility of this part of the world is different – and the Antarctica Treaty also regulates territorial claims.

The photo shows the Argentinean Base Esperanza, near the tip of the Antarctica Peninsula. Here it was born the first Antarctica baby in the 1970’s. The base has a supermarket and even a casino!

Ozone hole problems though forced Chile, e.g., to remove their children back to South America. [more ]

Antarctica pristine atmosphere

Antarctica is pristine in many ways. There is no electromagnetic noise as in cities, it has no traces of mercury or krypton, it is quite aseismic in ways, etc., etc.

Therefore as the winds of global circulation bring elements strange to Antarctica, even from the northern hemisphere – one can detect very tiny amounts of poisonous elements like mercury in the atmosphere chemistry laboratory. Thus it is possible to extrapolate about global amounts productions and regulate such problems. The ozone is the most famous one.

The chemistry laboratory stays at about 2 Km away from the base, given that it is sensitive even to the diesel particles produced by snowmobiles. [more ]

Antarctica - Neumayer "science-fiction"

As the base stays bellow the surface, the air is collected at these outside “breathers”, distributed strategically above the hundred meters long corridors. They give even more a look of science-fiction like scenario to the place.

The Portuguese-Mozambican writer Mia Couto once said “we die too much because we live too little”. In Neumayer you feel you are almost immortal, since certainly you are living unique moments. To me it was the closest thing to a base on the planet Mars, or something alike, I will probably ever experience in my life.

Chile and the municipality of Punta Arenas are now trying to use some decommissioned bases for educational and outreach purposes – so that more people can feel a part of this ice world. [more ]

Antarctica - Neumayer base

After building an igloo staying outside is not an option for many hours, so you better go inside the base. This is called Neumayer, after the German polar explorer of last century, and stays 5 floors bellow the ice – a unique characteristic for Antarctica bases.

The snow drift forces the entrance of the base and outside labs to be raised every year – or else they too will stay under the ice. In the helicopter photo you can see the garage entrances to the right and center right. The main entries for people are the two brown blocks to the left.

The base main living and working areas connect bellow in an H shape, looking a bit like the metropolitan when you see it buried-drilled in the ice. [more ]

Antarctica Igloo art exhibition

Antarctica inspires painters, composers, writers, ballet choreographers – you name it. It is not just about science or tourists - even if in reduced numbers. It is also about the artistic expression of the human adventure.

As some of my friends are architects, sculptures and photographers or film-makers – we decided to open an art exhibition inside our igloo.

Actually the inside is quite warm compared to outside, temperature reaching zero degrees – but we had to drink our wine fast in the vernissage, or else it would freeze.

An igloo is also a great sound isolator; you have to scream really loud so that others hear you outside.

And then the blue light infiltrating its interior – have a look and judge by yourself… [more ]

Antarctica - How to build an igloo

As you know humans cannot survive for long terms alone in Antarctica – so on the contrary to the Arctic, there are no Inuit or other Eskimo here to teach us how to make an igloo.

So we died – since it took us 5 hours to build it, instead of the necessary 30 minutes or 1 hour in case an ugly storm visits in a bad timing.

To build the roof is the most difficult part – since it requires bigger blocks, which link nicely together and can beat gravity. In all it took more than 500 Kg of ice to work and cut – and that was the only way to survive outside, always moving, always keeping somehow the heat circulating in the body…with our eyelids and expired air freezing around our Balaklava masks. [more ]

Summer in Antarctica

Among the most fascinating things about Antarctica are the long nights and long days. My expedition happened during the months of January and February and my furthest point south was 72 degrees, so I never got exactly 24hours of daylight, as you get in the South Pole itself - or in certain times of the year as long as you are south of the Antarctic Circle.

In any case I was already sufficiently south to always have some sort of night light-dusk – and no stars at all in the sky for more than a month. This is excellent for astronomers when nights are months-long.

It was Summer, but the temperatures reached -37 C and as part of surviving training we decided to build an igloo in the middle of the “night”. The photo shows the first stone…err…ice-block… [more ]

Antarctica - Adelie Penguins

Seals are hard to spot, since they get scared and run away when Polarstern approches. In the Weddell Sea photo uploaded before, you can see 2 of them at far, on the left upper corner. Normally the ice platforms where seals rest are also covered with red-pinkish fecal residuals, since krill is the basis of the food chain in Antarctica.

Penguins on the other hand have no land predators – and so it is easier to approach them. Well except when in large, large numbers…they really stink!! Nevertheless they are funny creatures, equally agile in water as awkward walking in land. The photo shows the Adelie species, named after the wife of the French navigator Dumont d’Urville. [more ]

Antarctica - Queen Maud Land

About 25 days and many huge waves after leaving Cape Town, I finally arrived to Atka Bay, near Cape Norvegia, in Queen Maud Land, waaaayyy south of South Africa. With a crew of about 50 sailors and 80 scientists, Polarstern was a very comfortable ship - an icebreaker, like the US Navy’s Atka. The German base Neumayer receives logistic support and supplies from Polarstern, that sometimes also brings students, journalists and even plastic artists and writers.

The best way for a common person to visit Antarctica is perhaps starting from Tierra del Fuego, renting a place in one of the many ships and tours that leave from the Argentinean city of Ushuaia, the most austral city in the world.

I have to place my posts here about Antarctica – because South Georgia was just the closest “proxy” Cosmotourist provides. South Georgia is not the best platform to access the Southern Continent and Ocean. [more ]

Antarctica: Whales near King George Island

King George Island is one of the most occupied places in Antarctica, hosting several scientific bases of many nations. I was supposed to visit the Brazilian base there, but the sea was quite rough and Polarstern could not enter the narrow passage towards Admiralty Bay.

The good side of it was to sight whales!! They are difficult to see from the helicopter and hide when the noise and helicopter generated wind disturbs the water surface – as you can see in the photo. Since they are mammals, whales need to come to the surface at times to breathe – and it is easy to spot them near islands. We also saw a few whales near the South Orkney's. The helicopter had a range of about 100 Km – so a searching flight would take about 2 hours. It was not an easy job. [more ]

Awesome Antarctica

I never actually knew what real silence sounded like until I visited Antarctica. Sitting in a tent overlooking the semi frozen sea, the water placid and the air still, there wasn’t a single sound. I don’t think I’ll ever hear anything like that again.

There aren’t enough adjectives and superlatives to describe the spectacular scenery of mountains, glaciers, and icebergs. All I know is that I wanted my eyes to open wider than they ever had before and to inhale deeply, as if to suck in as much of the experience as possible.

Viewed from the air, the area looks like the most wonderful iced cake with lots of soft meringue peaks.

I was there for a few weeks during the Antarctic summer. I joined a group of scientists who were studying the effects of global warming. The temperature was mild, hovering a couple of degrees below zero and the sun felt surprisingly warm. It was so warm one evening that we were in our shirts, beer in hand, on the veranda of the work station enjoying a barbecue.

That it was so mild meant that I could spend more time enjoying the scenery rather than concentrating on a battle with the elements.

If you ever get the chance to go, take it. The images and feel of the frozen continent will stay with you forever. [more ]

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