Day 8 |
Nov 21, 2011

 Pio XI Glacier, Chilean Fjords

By Peter W. Damisch – Historian, General Naturalist, Cartographer & Polar Bear Guard

Co-ordinates: 49o 43’ S, 074o 20’ W
Weather: Intermittent sunshine with some overcast
Air Temperature: 10o C / 50 o F
Pressure: 1004 HPa
Wind: 15 km / hour

Ever since our Captain carefully eased up to and anchored us next to the mammoth Pio XI Glacier during dinner last night, everyone, including myself, has been eager to get out and explore this magnificent sight. This is the Silver Explorer’s first major ice encounter during the 2011 – 2012 Southern Hemisphere season and I was as excited as anyone else to get out and see the ‘big ice’. Thus I got down to the staff loading area about 15 minutes early, but was pleased to discover that the Deck Department was already swinging out the Zodiacs, so I hopped into the first one, did my safety checks and was ready for the day.

Soon enough the first guests came down to load a few minutes early as well and thus we all started just a bit ahead of time to explore along an immense 4 km glacier front. I decided to start out on the eastern side as this offered the opportunity to travel along the glacier with the wind to reduce any potential for getting chilled, and this also often placed the sun over our shoulder, which offered a better range of photographic lighting options. In addition to my time with Silversea Expeditions, I used to manage a large on the water television and film production operation in Los Angeles and thus I am always thinking about how to achieve the optimum sun lighting and how get the ‘best shots’.

The Zodiac group was simply great and I was able to discuss a wide range of glacial activity all the way from formation, size and movement to changes, coloration and air bubble sampling. Everyone was quite interested in the multitude of colors from bright white to dark blue with some additional turquoise in thin sheets of ice as the sun shines through. The mechanism by which these colors are created is quite fascinating and we chatted about how this all occurs as well as how some of those features can be replicated simply in your freezer at home.

The craggy and jagged spires of ice continued to offer a wide range of photographic options that changed from moment to moment. It’s like having the world’s most unusual modern art gallery in front of you, but one that constantly changes with each passing moment and sun angle.

That rough surface also provided an opportunity for me to discuss how some of the early explorers had to deal with such dangerous crevasses during their scientific studies. Perhaps some of our best times of the morning were to simply turn off the Zodiac engine and quietly listen to the sounds of nature, including glacial river runoff as well as the near-continuous moans, creaks and groans as the glacier moves and cracks. We were also rewarded with a series of glacier calvings throughout the morning along with observing 3 very large melt-water streams gushing out from the vicinity of the ice.

One aspect that makes this remote glacier of such great interest is that it is one of the very few on Earth that is actually advancing. A very unique result is that on the western side we could see the interface between the glacier and trees that have been pushed over by the slowly advancing ice, something that is almost impossible to observe anywhere else on the planet.

We finished off with some time amongst the floating brash ice and could feel the chunks moving alongside the zodiac, which is also somewhat unusual. Our original time scheduled was supposed to be 90 minutes but everyone was having such a great time we were able to get permission to extend to over 2.5 hours, then return to the ship both exhilarated and a bit sad that our time ‘out playing’ had to come to an end.

Of course the Hotel Department had drinks available for our return, as usual, followed by a superb lunch with our appetites stimulated just a bit more by the cold.

Next up in the afternoon I attended Shoshanah’s presentation titled “Coming Full Circle, The Evolution of Seabirds”. It provided a wonderful linkage between life’s movement from sea to land and then into the air. She also covered a number of new scientific discoveries, which more clearly resolves prior questions regarding the coloration of dinosaurs, including feathers! These new discoveries get closer to resolving the lineage and evolutionary development of wings and other bird characteristics, although not all ‘missing links’ have yet been determined, leaving something to do for future scientists.

Next up during our onboard lecture series was Michaela with a wonderful review titled “Seals of our Sailing Route.” We’ve already had some outstanding encounters with sea lions during our voyage down the Chilean coast and fjords. This discussion provided an overall context for both the ‘eared’ and ‘true’ seals that we have the possibility to see during this voyage. Interestingly enough despite being closely related to marine mammals, these two groups have significant differences in skeletal and musculature development as well as underwater propulsion and steering differences that affect their behavior.

As usual, we finished off the optional educational portion of the day’s events with our Recap & Briefing. This gives the Expedition Leader the chance to review planned events for tomorrow as well as giving the Expedition Team the opportunity to briefly address specific issues or questions that came up during the day with regard to each of our specialties. Today we chatted about several topics including the glacial interface with the forest as well the movement of the Earth’s magnetic poles.

Dinner for me was quite wonderful as I was seated with individuals from 3 different countries, each having such a broad variety of life experiences. We were able to enjoy a superb meal while observing the sun set slowly over a series of tall and craggy offshore islands during our passage through these beautiful fjords. After dinner I had a nightcap with 2 other couples, one of whom is extending their holiday to continue with us as we travel to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica during our next voyage.

All in all we got lucky with the weather, had a great time next to this immense glacial wall of ice, then had a variety of options during the balance of the day ranging from just simply admiring the wonderful beauty of the Chilean fjords to participating in our lecture program and / or simply picking up a good book and enjoying this gorgeous world go by.