Today marks the last of our nets. We have traversed the Southern Ocean and crossed the Antarctic Convergence. With the temperature of the water below us dropping significantly and warmer northerly wind over head, we have descended into a deep fog. The ocean is still calm but the ship has had to drop speed, as anywhere below around 54 degrees south there is potential for icebergs. Yesterday evening Delphine and I went for a stroll out on the deck, somewhat of an evening ritual, and it is was eerily beautiful. The fog surrounds us so that the vast expanse of ocean yesterday has been reduced to 50 metres of visibility. We were discussing with the ship’s doctor, Dr Mel, the possibility of ghouls and monsters just beyond the fog, or even mermaids and mermen (this being an equal opportunity vessel).
I’m currently sitting in the mess amongst the hub bub from the Commonwealth Bay briefing. There is much excitement as we figure out what everyone is to do in the next 5-7 days. There are a number of things to look forward to. I have entered in the “when will we see the first iceberg” sweep. I never win these sorts of things but the money goes to charity, so in effect we all win. Yes that is what I tell myself for being a loser. Then we shall ram our way into Commonwealth Bay.
As with all things oceanographic we are at the mercy of the weather.
We are looking at ‘blizz’ conditions (yes ‘blizz’ not ‘blizzard’) so it is unlikely we will be able to land directly until Friday at the earliest. Instead we shall head to Mertz Glacier to conduct some oceanographic measurements in the area and possibly drop off Benoir so that he can collect his equipment that has been monitoring the glacier for the last two years. And I do really mean drop off. The ‘glacio’ guys get to fly up in one of the three helicopters we have on board. Another team will take a chopper to monitor a few of the Adele penguin colonies. And then if the ‘fast ice’ has broken up in the bay then we will be able to ferry everyone onboard off using the zodiacs, to stake their claim on the frozen continent. If not then the visiting dignitaries with their fur trimmed collars will have to be choppered off four at time to attend the centennial ceremonies commemorating the extraordinary men, and their extraordinary expedition, 100 years ago. And the rest of us shall admire Big Berg, officially known as B9B from the decks….and perhaps cry a little that we got so close to the continent but didn’t get to walk on it.
But back to Big Berg.
B9B calved off the Ross Ice Sheet in 1984. That is not a typo, Big Berg has been bouncing around the continent since I was a child (ish). For 17 years it parked itself in front of the Mertz Glacier and then dislodged about a year ago and moved along to Commonwealth Bay. It is due to the presence of Big Berg that the bay is not currently ice free and why we may not get to land. To be honest just getting to see an iceberg this size will be awe inspiring. Big Berg is approximately 90 kms long and 30kms wide, and our resident glaciologist tells me that the height above the waterline is likely to exceed 40 metres! Smaller icebergs have been calving off Big Berg and the coastline will be strewn with literally thousands of offspring. Yes I shall be coming back with many a photograph. We are not supposed to send attachments so if you check the Karen Barlow’s blog from the ABC you can get a preview.
Actually speaking of the ABC they interviewed Donna and I today.
Usually I don’t go silly until several weeks at sea……but I have taken to wearing my beanie on the outside of my helmet. I’m not sure who is going to be more proud, my parents or my university?