Entries in Reality Expedition (7)
Editor's note: The Reality Expediton to Antarctica has ended, and we're thankful that everyone made it home safely. Read all posts from the journey here.
The Drake passage wasn't as kind on the way back from Antarctica as it was on the way there. The two day trip might have been a time to reflect on what we had seen and heard, but it's difficult to reflect when you're holding on for dear life. The weather was an odd combination of sunny with winds gusting to 70mph. A cheery environment where the winds pushed the water into larger and larger blue mountains with a lovely foam topping. It was hard to stay on your feet without a railing to grab. In places without railings, the crew rigged ropes. There was a rope that led to the dining room and the rail around the buffet table. Then, with just the right timing, you could get to a chair, a safe place because all the chairs on the ship are tied down to the floor. Outside, the Drake raged and it couldn't be described as anything other than beautiful. A majestic display of nature's power that seemed to dwarf the influence of man.
Heading back to the ship in the zodiacs from Palmer station, we heard a huge crack in the ice and looked up to see a big chunk of glacier "calving" off. It's a melancholy feeling here to see such a sight because the ice sheet used to extend all the way to the station. Calving is such an appropriate term for this ice peeling off the continental sheet because the ice supports life, both in the microscopic creatures that feed and live on the underside and in the shelter it provides for penguins.
In some places, the sheet has pulled all the way back to the continent and no longer falls into the sea but instead just collapses on the land, no longer providing its shelter to the Antarctic ecosystem. This type of calving isn't about life. It's about death. A place where the environment is shifting so fast it is testing the ability for the flora and fauna to keep pace.
Today I woke up early because I forgot to pull the shade down. Which is a problem down here because it's pretty much full sun at 2AM. Feeling lazy I smothered my eyes in a pillow and went back to sleep. It seems that this time of year it's only twilight from about 11 to 1am.
After breakfast we got suited up to head over in the zodiacs to Palmer station. Palmer is the smallest of the US stations in Antarctica and potentially the proudest. It has a maximum capacity of 45 persons and they are conducting research on the climate and the flora and fauna. The climate reality flag greeted us at the landing site. It was great to see.
Today we woke up to huge icebergs floating by. The colors you see in an iceberg are not the result of fancy camera filters. They really are all sorts of white and blue. The ice that breaks off the ice shelf has been around for hundreds of thousand of years and it crunches down against the the continent so hard it has actually pushed the entire land mass down. But the ice is also crushing itself. The more pressure that is exerted the bluer the appearance. Baby blues and royal blues abound in the ice.
As we moved through the Weddell Sea the number of icebergs steadily increased. They are water's version of a campfire. Somehow it seems like you can stare at these marvels for hours. Our first venture onto shore came at Paulet Island. This colony of Adelie penguins was pure happy feet. 200,000 penguins all around in various states of feeding chicks, frolicking in the water and fighting with neighbors. The colony stretches way up to the tops of the mountains. A very long walk to the water but the penguins up there actually have an advantage. The tops of the mountains are the first areas free of snow so they can create their nest earlier in the season and ensure that their babies are mature before it's time to jump into the sea.
Since waking up this morning, there is nothing but an endless stretch of sea in any direction I look. An occasional albatross would fly through view to break up the picture. They are incredible fliers. After watching these birds fly alongside for a day and a half I've still never seen one flap its wings. They are incredible fliers that glide along just a foot or two off the surface of the water and they seem to be able to ride the air currents forever.
Durning breakfast we sighted some Minke whales on the starboard side. Over and over they came up to the surface for air as they raced along side the boat. We were steaming along at 15 knots and these whales swept past us and then across our bow. As one passed, she rolled over to take a good look at us, showing us her big white belly.
We arrived Saturday morning in Buenos Aires after a 9 or 10 hour flight from Washington, DC.
I had been to BA before, but it was work and we were on production an hour outside the city with 12 hour days - so I didn't really pay attention to much. I do remember thinking it was an easy flight because although it is long there isn't much of a time change. None from the east coast. BA is a huge city but the airport is surprisingly small. My guess is that it isn't a place you need to go through to get to someplace else. Unless you're going to the bottom of the world like we are.
Antarctica has never been very high on my list of places to visit. A few years ago a friend of mine came up with this idea of going there to climb and ski one of the continents highest peaks. Seemed like a lot of trouble for a little bit of fun but I still found the place is intriguing, in part because it's just not a place that many people go. In fact, it seems to be the place you go when you want to fall off the map. A frozen realm preserved for extreme introverts, explorers and climate scientists.
It's this last category of individual that brings me and about 140 others to Antarctica next week as part of the Reality Expedition to Antarctica. I've spent a good part of the last year working with Climate Reality on events like 24 Hours of Reality and this expedition. I want to thank agencies like Arnold, mssng peces, and JWT who have been helping us both strategically and creatively. Lots more to come on that front.