Day 15 |
Jan 04, 2010

Cuverville Island

By David Elliot, Geologist

Co-ordinates: 64°41.986’S, 62°37.460W

Weather: Winds were quite high at Cuverville Island, and strengthened as we sailed down the French Passage out into the Drake Passage.

Another quite early start for our last landing of the voyage at Cuverville Island. Winds prevented anchoring the Prince Albert II in the normal location off the beach, but where we landed was relatively protected from the prevailing winds. Ashore we could walk easily to the gentoo colonies at either end of the beach. The gentoos were still incubating their eggs and Marylou was the only one who reported seeing a chick. Marylou also led a short hike up the slopes to find the only grass that grows on the Antarctic Peninsula. The north facing slopes of the island are covered in green moss and provide a striking contrast to the grey rocks on which it grows. At the landing site and along the beach to the east, there are numerous bones dating from the time in the early twentieth century when there was whaling in the bays of the Peninsula.

On our return to the Prince Albert II, we started cruising slowly towards the Lemaire Channel, and were delighted to come across a pod of orcas that swam close to the vessel and enabled many to take close-up pictures of those whales. A Minke whale amongst the orcas suggested that they might in fact have been on a collective hunt.

We navigated through the Lemaire Channel in calm seas and light winds, but somewhat overcast skies. Nevertheless, the passage was as impressive as ever, with the sheer cliffs, largely covered in ice, plunging straight down into the water. A short sail took us to the entrance to the French Passage where we headed eastward into the Drake Passage under increasingly threatening weather.

Fortunately, the two lectures scheduled for the afternoon were given before the seas became rough. First I talked about the vertebrate fossils of Antarctica, mainly from the Transantarctic Mountains and the northern Peninsula, their discovery and their significance. I touched on Hope Bay and the Nordenskjold expedition, and the discoveries that their geologists made, before concentrating on Seymour Island, one of the prime fossil localities in the southern hemisphere, and one we would have sailed by if we had been lucky enough to make it to Snow Hill Island.

The second lecture by Claudia Holgate was titled “Climate Change: The Global Carbon Experiment”. Claudia presented the basic information about the greenhouse effect and the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, and other gases, caused largely by burning of fossil fuel. Then she talked about the impacts that climate change has had, and can be anticipated to have, on the Antarctic continent. Food for thought for all interested in the polar environments.

Recap time coincided with worsening sea conditions and many guests felt the consequences of smooth Scotia Sea and Drake Passage crossings during the earlier part of the cruise by not yet having their sea legs!