2009 Expedition to Antarctica

Week 1

(click on images for full-size view)

Sunday, March 22

Mason Fried and I arrived into Punta Arenas on Tuesday, March 17, after a long flight overnight into Santiago. On the way south to Punta Arenas Chile, we passed over the spectacular southern Andes, the rugged glacially sculpted spires of Patagonia. We got clear views of Torres del Paine National Park, which this year celebrates 50 years as Chile's premier national park and wilderness region.

Upon arrival in Punta Arenas we settled in to catch some sleep and then went to work on Wednesday and Thursday in the AGUNSA warehouse on the Arturo Pratt pier. Here under the direction of Bjorn Johns of UNAVCO we assembled the frames which will hold each of three GPS ground stations.

All three of us pre-assembled sections including: solar panels, battery casings, and framework, so that our deployment of gear would be easier once we got to the Peninsula.

Late Friday we loaded the last of the cargo onto the LM Gould which took us to about 6:00 PM (local time). Saturday the 21st we were scheduled to depart Punta Arenas on our way out of the Strait of Magellan, toward the northeast, then south inside the bight of Tierra del Fuego. A huge storm awaits us in the Drake Passage and we may have to hold up near Cape Horn for a while to let the seas subside (predictions are up to 40-foot waves).

Stay tuned.

Antarctica 2009 - Fig. 1Figure 1: View of Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine) granite spires in Patagonia, from 28,000 feet. These rocks are the dissected remains of underground reservoirs of magma (white granite) which intruded into black shales millions of years ago. The roots of ancient volcanoes, these mountains were then uplifted and eroded (dissected) by glaciation in the later epochs of the Cenozoic. A similar process formed the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula, which lay far to the south attached to Antarctica.

Antarctica 2009 - Fig. 2Figure 2: Mason Fried '10 attends to drilling and fitting the pipe frame for one of our GPS stations. This equipment needed to be checked and completely assembled to assure us that it would work properly once off loaded onto the rocks in Antarctica.

Antarctica 2009 - Fig. 3Figure 3: Final off load of our cargo late Friday was completed with the expert help of Raytheon Polar Services and Edison Chouest personnel. Here Jack Greenberg and Sean Bonnette assist in transfer of the battery and computer boxes which will comprise the core of each GPS station.

Monday, March 23

Antarctica 2009 - satellite image of stormMonday, March 23rd finds us in the second day of running a weather pattern. We have been going north and south along a short stretch of water between Tierra del Fuego (west) and Islas de los Estados (east). The sky is partly sunny with spectacular views of the rugged hilly terrain of these remote headlands. However as today's satellite image shows there is a rough sea between us (yellow box) and our destination (pink box). This storm should run east through the Drake Passage in 12 more hours and then we hope to make our dash for the Antarctic Peninsula. But we will wait until dawn and further weather updates to make our decision. In the meantime we have had a chance to fix some additional gear.

Wednesday, March 25 - Thursday, March 26

Antarctica 2009 - After the StormMarch 25th. After some awfully large swells on the 24th and 25th, we finally saw some change in the weather. This view of the bow was taken mid day on the 25th, after the seas had calmed somewhat. We observed 35 foot swells and some nearing 40', the wind was 30 kt out of the west across our bow and we took the swells from that direction as well. The result was that the Gould was tossed quite a bit, and it made it difficult for anyone to get any sleep for two nights. But the bridge crew did a fantastic job, as always, and we managed to get clear of the main part of the storm by waiting two days in the Straits of LeMaire.

Antarctica 2009 - March 26Early in the morning of the 26th saw us cross onto the South Shetland platform, a part of the Antarctic plate, and near the two islands of Smith and Snow. Dawn was welcomed with calm seas, a few rain showers, and the pink clouds of a new day.

Antarctica 2009 - Whaler's BayAs we put into Whaler's Bay in Deception Island several folks went ashore including Mason Fried, who took this picture from the small boat (zodiac). The island is a large caldera formed from the collapse of a volcano about 6,000 years ago. A minor eruption in the late 1960's was severe enough to cause the abandonment of two research stations. The harbor was first used as a whaling station in the early 1800's but was eventually abandoned as factory ships made it uneconomical. Biologist from the University of Minnesota (Ben Held and Brett Arenz) went ashore to sample for fungi and other microbial organisms for a study of preservation methods in historic wood structures.

Antarctica 2009 - wildlifeThe beach on this day was not so crowded as it may have been a few months ago, but three gentoo penguins, two skuas, two fur seals, and three humans are in this scene. Can you find the second fur seal? If you can, e-mail me and I will bring you a treat from Antarctica. The beach seems to be steaming because it is, this is caused by the circulation of seawater beneath the thick volcanic ash and the heating and rising of that water in the subsurface. The water vapor (rich in sulfurous gas) comes and goes depending upon the shore breeze and ambient air temperatures. But I have been here three other times (since 1987) and this very same stretch of beach always breaths volcanic steam.

Friday, March 27

At present we are trapped by a bad gale blowing winds from the NE and E. As we are in the middle of Deception Island and the entrance (King Neptune's Bellows) faces east, we can not move out under these seas. This was to be our last day working ashore at Deception Island but even in the protection offered by the caldera we can not put boats in the water, as winds exceed 40 kt.

So we are hoping that the weather dies somewhat so we can sneak out of the bay before last light. Otherwise another night in the volcano called Deception.

Yesterday the 27th of March was a fine and sunny day and the two biologists from the University of Minnesota completed a full day of sampling the wooden structures at the old Chilean base. Others spent the day on the beach or bathed in the warm waters heated from below by geothermal groundwater. The sky was blue for most of the day and provided magnificent views of the glacier rimmed inner edge of the caldera.

Antarctica 2009 - Ben and BrettFigure of Ben Held and Brett Arenz taking wood samples from the old Chilean base Pedro Aguirre Cerda which was obliterated by a volcanic eruption in 1968. The volcano has not been as active since but there are still fumerols, hot springs, and signs of hot rock not too far below the surface.

Sunday, March 29 - Monday, March 30

Antarctica 2009 - Branbant IslandMarch 29th we spent transiting from Deception Island through the magnificent Croker Passage which runs between Brabant Island and Trinity Island. The view in the first image shows the low sun close on the fall equinox at 64o South. The small rocky knoll near Kayak Bay is off Brabrant Island and holds a penguin rookery on its top, can you make out the penguins still sitting there this late in the year?

Our goal was to reach Duthier's Point to recon a landing site for the GPS unit we will deploy later in the cruise. We arrived just as the last light faded and we scouted the shore with the LM Gould's lights, we think we can do it, we hope we can do it, in a few days find out if we did it.

This morning we arrived at Palmer Station with first light and began off loading cargo. I went for my ritual walk across the barren ground moraine (rocky glacial debris) that lies in front of the Marr Ice Piedmont. This large ice cap has been steadily retreating since the 1950's and every time I get to Palmer I check out the latest ice front, which was quite some distance back from when I was last here in 1998.

Cargo Offload at Palmer Station - Antarctica 2009The mission for the LM Gould for the next two days is to off-load needed cargo (food) and fuel for the US Palmer Station which is one of three year round research bases in the US Antarctic Program. The lifeline of the base is the cargo and supplies which the LM Gould delivers. The image shows crew and Palmer staff assisting in the container transfer using the big crane. Ernest Stelly is in the aft control room, Elfren Prado is in the crane loft, and Jack Greenberg is on the hand line (on deck).

— Eugene Domack, the J. W. Johnson Family Professor of Environmental Studies