Day 12 |
Nov 23, 2009

Elephant Island, En Route To The Antarctic Peninsula

By Anja Nordt, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 54º 50’ S, 61º 05’ W

Weather: overcast -2ºC

I was awakened by a scratching noise in the morning. I have heard this before – it was the sound of ice against the ship’s side. Not one of the sounds I like much because it means that there is a lot of ice around us, which will probably prevent us from the operating landings or Zodiac cruises scheduled for today.

My surmise was proven true at the first glimpse out of my stateroom window. A thick belt of ice between us and Elephant Island cancelled our plans to have a closer look at the place where Shackleton and his 27 men were stranded in April 1916 after losing their vessel, the Endurance, in the ice of the Weddell Sea. They camped on the sea ice and made their way towards Elephant Island in three small open boats. It must have been like heaven on earth for them to set foot on solid ground again. At least until they realized that nobody would find them on this remote island.

The whole story of the adventure of the Endurance expedition came to my mind as we were passing by this place fraught with history. Many guests joined us on the outer decks although it was very cold. Some of them warmed themselves with a cup of hot chocolate.

What encouraged the guests to stay outside were two spectacular tabular icebergs that we cruised past. These icebergs were drifting northwards from the Larsen Ice Shelf far south in the Weddell Sea. One of the two icebergs had easily identifiable horizontal blue lines – as a result of melting and freezing processes during snow accumulation on the glacier or respective ice shelf. Both icebergs were raised at least 35 to 40 m above the sea surface and were probably grounded on the ocean floor in a depth of 220 m - an incredibly large amount of fresh water.

After everybody had warmed themselves, Robin Aiello invited us to hear fascinating and sometimes hilarious stories she experienced during a four-month scuba diving research expedition in the Ross Sea. Surely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We learned how to hide behind a Weddell seal in bad weather conditions, about outhouses in the Antarctic and diving with all kinds of animals.

A more serious topic was covered by Stefan Kredel with his talk ‘Climate Change?!’. Nowadays a quite controversial topic in the public news and in science as well. Stefan gave some interesting insights into the development of glaciers and ice shelves, as well as the relation between carbon dioxide and temperature. At exactly the moment when he was up to tell us the answer for all questions related to climate change, he was interrupted by an announcement from Robin, that there was a group of humpback whales quite close to the ship. Of course everybody went out to see them. Since I stayed a little bit longer on the outer deck to watch some Antarctic Petrels and Southern Fulmars flying by in a group of Cape Petrels, I missed the resumption of Stefan’s talk. Therefore I still don’t know how to save our world from the impact of climate change. But surely some of our guests do so now.