This post might be edited a lot over the next few days as I try and get the text and pictures to match, till then it’ll be all over the place.
More from the Journey down below:
This afternoon I was blown away by the place. Since learning about BAS and applying for this job I’ve become obsessed by this and watched every video and read everything I can about it; from the islands around the continent to the pole itself. I’ve been blown away by things like the BBC’s frozen planet, as I’m sure many people have been. Still, there’s nothing that can really prepare you for the reality. It takes your breath away, it is just so different from anywhere else in the world you just have nothing to compare it to, and just when you think you are as amazed and awe-struck as you can be something will come into view and make you think again.
Staring out onto this brilliant white desert you can’t help but think you are on another planet. Mile upon mile of windswept ice dotted with bizarre shapes and huge ice structures with their blue glow emanating from inside. Huge monoliths caused by the ice rupturing are then left to be weathered by the wind and snow. In the back ground are bergs the size of towns and cities (and sometimes small countries!) and in the foreground streams and rivers of ocean wind their way across the landscape. You see it and struggle to take in just how awesome it is. And then the sun comes out and it all becomes so beautiful you think you might just burst into tears. There really is no way to explain what this is like, with words or with pictures. The sheer scale of the place makes you feel insignificant and at the same time a part of it all. I was running from one side of the ship to the other for days in some sort of religious ecstasy, with wild eyes trying to take in the scenery, getting cold and exhausted but not even coming close to being tired of the things around me. As I said, just when you think you couldn’t be more impressed something will come along and disabuse you of that notion. Late last night a berg came into view that from the front was impressive. I have pictures but they don’t really convey the size of these floating islands. We were heading for it and would pass quite close. What followed has left me feeling amazing. The berg got closer to the ship and I noticed a cluster of penguins about a hundred feet up, on a slope high above one of its cliff like sides. Then, as we began to pass it my attention switched to the growing slice of blue that was coming into view. More and more of this glow became visible as we passed, eventually giving way to daylight as we saw the huge archway in the centre of the berg. The hollow inside of the ice was brilliant blue with the ocean visible on the other side. The curved ceiling of the cavern was hundreds of feet tall with cracks in its walls, each crack shining out against the white ice. Encircling the berg was a shoreline sloping off down into the water, the underwater ice like the turquoise looking sand in some tropical lagoon.
For quite a while after I was a bit dumbstruck. Not only have I just witnessed one of the most amazing things on the planet but given the temporary nature of icebergs I might be, along with the couple of other folk on the deck, the only person to ever see that glowing palace of ice. The ice itself may be hundreds of thousands of years old, beginning its life high on the Antarctic plateau before sliding down onto an ice shelf and then breaking off into the sea. Even larger then, it might have spent decades being weathered by the sea and wind, turning over and over in the ocean as its weight shifted, slowly being moulded into the fairy tale, once in a lifetime, spectacle that I was lucky enough to witness. Now in the last stage of its life, it will carry on into the short summer and slowly disintegrate in the southern ocean. If by some chance it is glimpsed by anyone else it will have already changed completely.
Get ready for me not shutting up about my perfect berg when I get back!
We got a bit stuck getting through some particularly thick and tough sea ice today. The ship managed to get out after a few hours though. Breaking through the sea ice is a skill that the bridge staff gain over many seasons sailing at the polar regions, knowing which areas of the sea ice are weak and which are strong, sometimes seemingly circling around and around to find the route through.
Interestingly even though the ship was not going anywhere we were actually travelling around 1 nautical mile an hour as the mass of sea ice as far as the eye could see was slowly drifting with the current. It’s strange being on the sea ice. It looks so much like land, stretching from horizon to horizon with little rivers and channels criss-crossing all around that you forget you’re not actually on land. The little pools of water and the streams are so still that they look like shallow ponds and creeks. instead they are just windows into the freezing darkness below and everything you can see, apart from the ice bergs, is only a few metres thick. Travelling through it are seals and penguins resting on the ice between, hunting for squid, fish and krill. In the small pools and channels you can see whales coming up for air.
As we get further and further into the Antarctic circle the ice bergs begin to get bigger and bigger, changing from the sculptured irregular shaped ones like my perfect berg into huge flat topped monsters, much younger than the ones further north, some miles across. These are young ice-bergs, yet to begin rolling around, breaking up and assuming different shapes. The sea ice has almost gone now too, giving way to open ocean. The previous winters sea ice has broken off from the Antarctic coast and drifted north, melting as it goes. We are now beyond the back edge of the main pieces, though every now and again straggling patches come along. Lots more seals are to be seen now, Crabeaters for the most part, lounging around on the ice.
We arrived at the Antarctic coastline this morning, as we were getting nearer and nearer the bergs became larger and larger and had their original shapes, the same as when they broke free from the ice shelves – long flat-topped floating islands with hundred metre tall cliffs. As they go further out they will gradually break up and roll, assuming more irregular shapes such as the perfect berg I saw. I was on the phone in my cabin when I had to stop mid sentence as I looked out of the porthole. Passing by us was something so huge I couldn’t take it all in. This berg must have been a kilometre long and as its middle passed the window I could not see the edges. Hard to describe to the person I was talking to exactly what I was looking at it; it was so vast. Then, as before when you think you have seen something spectacular in Antarctica you are confronted with the next step up – this time it was the brunt ice shelf, my home for the next year and the frozen white coastline of this bit of Antarctica.
We then cruised along between the ice shelf and the sea ice in a channel left by the sea ice heading out into the ocean. Sea ice was beginning to re-form, starting off with the silky smooth water as a skin begins to form on the surface, followed by thicker pieces and then pancake ice- floating sections of ice that bump into each other causing the edges to rise up, looking like white water lilies. This then joins together and thickens to eventually form the metres thick sea ice that we had passed through. The stuff that was forming now would probably not get that far as the temperatures warm up for summer but the process would begin in earnest when the winter starts and Antarctica doubles in size.
Chunks of ice were still floating around in the channel and many of them were occupied by seals and penguins, often looking surprised as the big red ship disturbs them from their slumber. The captain was kind enough to pull up to a few of these floating rest stops to let us see the wildlife close up. Along the shores of the ice shelf were small collections of emperor penguins, both adults and chicks, some of the more nervous ones were quick to jump into the water whilst the braver ones among them simply watched us with curiosity.