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Day 10 - February 7, 2009 - Drake Passage

By David Elliot

We are in the Drake Passage today, traveling towards Ushuaia. The seas remained relatively calm overnight and into the morning, but picked up somewhat during the day. We started the morning lecture series with the second part of Peter Damisch's presentation on Sir Earnest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition, surely one of the most amazing tales of hardship and navigation skills. The second presentation of the morning was entitled "Volcanoes - Hazard for Some but Fun for Others" in which I talked about the various volcanoes I have visited, including Vesuvius, Hawaii, White Island off the coast of North Island, New Zealand, Mount Saint Helens in Washington State, USA, lava sequences in Antarctica, and finally Deception Island, which we had all visited yesterday. The huge Chinstrap penguin colony at Baily Head, Deception Island that we visited as our last shore excursion, is located in an old volcanic crater.

This afternoon, David Munro introduced us to the history of map-making from the early ideas about a mythical southern continent to its actual discovery in 1819 with the first sighting of the South Shetland Islands. The geographic delineation of the continent followed slowly with the exploring expeditions of the late 1830s and early 1840s - the voyages of D'Urville, Bellingshausen, Wilkes and Ross. Further discoveries ensued in the late 19th century with whaling expeditions, but it was the International Geographical Congress of 1895 that set the stage for the early 20th century "heroic era" of exploration and the attainment of the South Pole. The advent of the International Geophysical Year in 1957-58 introduced the modern era, with aircraft and helicopters to a great extent replacing ships and dog sledging for access to the continent and the exploration of its interior.

We enjoyed the "Wine & Food Pairing" offered by the Head Sommelier Vanja Vrhovac and the Executive Chef Sean Emslie. The last talk of the afternoon "Climate Change - The Global Carbon Experiment" was given by Claudia Holgate, the climatologist on board. She discussed the role of carbon dioxide in the current warming of the Earth's atmosphere and the extent to which it can be attributed to anthropogenic causes.

The birds we have seen include a few Wandering Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, White-chinned Petrels, and Wilson's Storm-petrel, a surprisingly small diversity and count for travel south of the Antarctic Convergence. Much to our regret, there were no whale sightings but a number of groups of crested penguins, probably Rockhopper penguins, were seen as we crossed the Antarctic Convergence.

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