Inclement Weather on the White Continent
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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We had been forewarned that "our exact itinerary would depend on ice and weather conditions"
In the following two days the inclement weather persisted, and prevented a landing in Paradise Harbour in the Neumayer Channel, with a visit to the Chilean research station there
In all, we made three landings - carefully orchestrated and controlled affairs, and quite a logistical challenge with six zodiacs plying back and forth carrying fourteen people at a time. The Marco Polo follows the guidelines of IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) and allows only 100 people on shore for an hour at a time, with one naturalist guide for every 20 visitors. There is a mandatory briefing for everyone on the strict rules for behaviour, and areas that can be visited are well defined in advance
Besides detailed lectures during the week on a variety of topics - including seabirds, penguins, marine mammals, history of exploration, ecology, geology, fisheries, and scuba diving under ice - there was also some discussion of the current issues of antarctic research and management. This continent is unique in having no indigenous human habitation, no territorial ownership and no recognised government. The Antarctic Treaty of 1957 has now been signed by over forty countries, and all individual sovereignty claims are now held in abeyance. Since the Madrid Protocol of 1991 there is now a fifty year moratorium on any kind of mining, commercial or military operations. The isolation and extremely severe climatic conditions make monitoring and enforcement very difficult, but it does appear that there is good cooperation in research activities in many disciplines
The continent is being particularly affected by the depletion of the protective ozone layer due to the concentrating polar effect, and research results indicate that global warming is now starting to affect the immense icecap. For the moment the circumpolar current still keeps the area largely isolated from the warming influences of other oceans, and it continues to plays a major role in regulating global temperatures. Believe it or not, some forty million years ago this area enjoyed a temperate climate and fossil evidence suggests a profusion of ferns and plants. Even further back in the mists of time, about 200 million years ago, antarctica and all the southern continents formed the huge Gondwana landmass, which over time gradually separated at the dizzying rate of up to five cm per year into the geographic order that we are familiar with today.
There was still plenty of time between lectures and landings to continue enjoying our luxuriously comfortable surroundings, good company, impeccable service and gourmet meals. We read about the amazing accomplishments and hardships endured on expeditions led by Scott, Amundsen and a myriad of other explorers, especially during early part of the 20th century - the "heroic age" of exploration. One afternoon, after watching the "Shackleton" movie - starring Kenneth Braghnagh (and brilliantly depicting the work of Hurley, the expedition photographer), it was surrealistic to emerge from the comfort of the auditorium into the same unforgiving conditions that they faced
As we sailed cautiously back through the Antarctic Archipelago there was often a flurry of excitement as a pod of Killer Whales was sighted in the distance, or a pair of Humpbacked Whales spouted nearby. We were often accompanied by a group of Cape Petrels (their Spanish name 'Pintados' better conjures up their black and white paint-splotched appearance), or by a Wandering Albatross or some Terns skimming the waves or plunging for fish. Our final landing was on Half-Moon Island in the South Shetlands, where we delighted in spending some more time with the penguins - this time the distinctive Chinstraps - to the backdrop of spectacular blue-tinted icebergs in the channel off Livingston Island.
Before we left antarctic waters, we were determined to take another dip, despite the continuing inclement weather. But this time we were a little smarter, and opted for a quick visit to the steaming jacuzzis on the top deck of the Marco Polo!
We are still receiving poems www.michaelchanner.ca
There's a lion on the runway
and he doesn't want to move
I need to land my plane, tell me
what, what am I to do?
Shall I circle up above him?
or detour down the strip.
Do I throw my hands up in the air
...never take another trip?
No, I think that I will land my plane
the best that I know how.
I'll work around my obstacle
as best my fate allow.
And when at last my feet touch ground
my lion I shall meet,
Not with anger, questioning or hate
but with respect I greet.
For my foe is not the lion
who stands in front of me
It was the fear unknowing
and in knowing now I'm free.