Friday, January 12, 2018

Antarctica Aboard Le Lyrial

The new year found me once again on the White Continent! I agreed to serve as a geologic lecturer with Abercrombie and Kent on the ship, Le Lyrial. She is a beautiful vessel only 3 years old and taking the seas quite smoothly. We enjoyed two relatively calm crossings of the Drake Passage and had plenty of sun during our five-day stay. One day however, we saw wind and snow - on what would be the July 3 equivalent calendar date in the Northern Hemisphere. This was my 33rd trip to Antarctica and I don't think I can ever stay away for very long.


Ushuaia, Argentina, the world's southernmost city, is the jumping off place for most Antarctic expedition cruises. The city is located on the shores of the Beagle Channel and the international boundary with Chile runs through the middle of the channel at this location.

Our first stop was at a highly eroded volcano called Brown Bluff. The isolated knob may be a vent for the volcano, the cliff face on the right does contain pryroclastic ejecta that thins away from the knob.

On all landings survival gear is brought ashore in case of unscheduled stays!

Adele penguins (Pygocelis adeliae) go for a swim while Le Lyrial remains anchored offshore.

A penguin strolls in front of a large boulder that came down from the cliff above.

Lichens give this rock a colorful "glow" but beneath the lichen is also gold-colored pyroclastic ejecta. This color and texture indicates that the rock is palagonite, an eruptive form of basalt that indicates quenching in the presence of water. Since Antarctica was once more heavily glaciated in the Ice Age, Brown Bluff may be a sub-glacial volcano. Imagine a volcano erupting beneath a thick sheet of ice! In August of 2017, a group of UK researchers documented the presence of 91 sub-glacial volcanoes in Antarctica. As one of Earth's seven continents, there is no reason why there should not be volcanoes here - they are just buried in ice! Read about their finding here.

Leaving Brown Bluff, we entered the Antarctic Strait where huge tabular icebergs are often found. These are broken off of large ice shelves located east of the Antarctic Peninsula that ultimately drift north and west into the Strait.

Le Lyrial anchored off of Half Moon Island in the South Shetland archipelago.

Morning mist as seen from Half Moon Island.

Deception Island is the most interesting volcano in the Antarctic Peninsula region and last erupted in 1970. This tuff cone is located outside of the famous flooded caldera known as Port Foster.

Once inside Port Foster, we landed at an old whaling station and hiked to Neptunes Window. The gold-colored palogonite strewn-about here also indicates an eruption beneath a former ice sheet.

Palagonite boulders awash in a sea of black scoria from the 1968 eruption on Deception Island. There were three eruptions - 1967, 1968 and 1970. The volcano is considered active. Spanish and Argentine stations located on the shores of Port Foster regularly monitor magma movement with seismometers.

A beautiful summer morning view of Ronge Island off of the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Another view of Ronge Island. The amount of glacial ice is impressive!

Ice cups, as seen on the surface of this iceberg, form when previously submerged portions of the berg roll over and become exposed to the air.

Wildlife is abundant in the Antarctic and here a Leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) yawns while napping on an ice floe.

The crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophaga) actually eats krill, a shrimp-like zooplankton that holds the most mass of any species in the Southern Ocean.

Gentoo penguins (Pygocelis papua) appear to lead the way for these red-coated bipeds (Homo sapiens antarctensis).

Late eventing light at the entrance to the Lemaire Channel.

Uma Peaks stand as guardians at the north entrance of the Lemaire Channel.

View to the south down the length of the Lemaire Channel at sunset.

A closer view. The local time is about 10:30 PM.

Many people were on deck for this transit, which did not end until after midnight. Our furthest south on this voyage was a little over 65º south.

The next day was very cloudy with light snow falling.

But it did not keep us from enjoying a morning glass of champagne. Le Lyrial sails under the French flag and the grape products were outstanding (or so I heard from beyond my beer mug).

A grounded iceberg is elevated above the water line at low tide. Melting of the icebergs is more prominent to portions in the upper water column this time of year.

While cruising by Zodiac in Charlotte Bay, someone noticed humpback whales frolicking in the snowfall. Fin-slapping has been shown to be a form of communication between whales that are just arriving or leaving from the group.

These humpback were very curious about us and seemed to come over to have a look.

Sure enough, I was driving the Zodiac, standing in the stern with my hand on the tiller when I noticed that one of the whales was swimming directly beneath us. You can also see the ruffled water and misty breath from the whale at the bottom of the photo. Wow!

When the whale arches its back for a deep dive, it usually indicates that the fluke is soon to appear above water.

There they go!

This gives a sense of what we experienced - just fantastic! Another day at work.

We were also able to visit the Eduardo Frei research station located on King George Island and operated by the government of Chile.

This is the place where in the 1980s, Chile sent a wedded couple to conceive and birth a child, hoping to serve notice that the land is sovereign to the Chilean nation. Here is the bank located at the station.

There is also a display of fossil trees found on King George (and nearby Livingstone) Island(s). The trees date from the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, about 54 million years ago, when Earth's average temperature was about 15ºF warmer than today. At that time there with no ice at either pole and King George stand would have contained forests similar to those found in southern Patagonia today.

Next door to Eduardo Frei Station is the Russian station of Bellingshausen, where in 2004 the Holy Trinity Eastern Orthodox Church was consecrated.

Votive candle altar at the entrance to the church.

Our last stop on Penguin Island was made on a beach full of well-rounded boulders.

This is one of the only two flowering plants found in Antarctica, Deschampsia.

Hiking up to the scoria cone with Le Lyrial in the background.

Many of us walked around the perimeter of the summit crater, seen here in this panoramic shot of Penguin Island. The name really baffles me -in this area there are literally hundreds of penguin breeding colonies but only one recently erupted and perfectly preserved scoria cone.  So they call it Penguin Island? Come on! It's Scoria Cone Island to me!

Perhaps not visible in the pano shot above is the resurgent cone found on the floor of the larger outer cone. A possible vent tower or fumarole stack is seen to the left. I got to hang out here for 3 hours explaining to volcanology to anyone who listened.

Close-up off the inner crater on the floor of the summit crater on Scoria Cone Island.

One of our guests found this unusual feature on the summit and I surmised that it might be a squeeze-up that was extruded into very cold air (winter), causing it to harden quickly while more wet material pushed it aside. If it formed on a slope, then the "frozen" squeeze-up might roll over on the downhill side. Using this interpretation, the inner part of the roll is the older part.


Looking across to the northeast corner of King George Island as we prepare to return to South America. This was an excellent trip! Next week I'll be blogging from the Galapagos.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

how fascinating!!! i can't help thinking what a bonding trip this was for all participants, as they formed a community of two-legged red jacketed homo sapiens! what a wealth of knowledge that head and heart of yours has accumulated in one lifetime!!! i'm in awe!!!