Today marked another exciting event here onboard the Aurora Australis. We are sailing through previously uncharted waters. Due to Big Berg (B9B) busting off part of the Mertz Glacier two years ago, we are now the first to sail across the stretch of water where the tongue of ice used to be.
We like to think that we are intrepid explorers like Mawson and his crew, minus the hardship and with a lot more variety for dessert. (I kid you not we had 5 different desserts to choose from last night, I shall have to be dragged kicking and screaming from the ship……or depending on how much dessert I eat perhaps fork lifted kicking and screaming from the ship).
I also had a very interesting chat with our Voyage leader, the marvelous Rob Clifton. Both Rob and another expeditioner, Ben, have overwintered in the Antarctic and I find this experience to be a fascinating one. A small group of people must live together for 8 months. There are months of no natural light (combusting seal blubber doesn’t count), and blizzard conditions, and you have NOWHERE TO GO. Although there is psychological testing, the individual might be fine but you never really know what will happen with the group dynamic. I keep thinking back to the 6 men Tony spoke of last night, trapped in an ice cave for 7 months. Can you imagine the psychological strain? Ben and I were wondering whether they would still keep the British stiff upper lip, “I say good sir, you ARE jolly annoying, would you kindly go to billy-o”, or something to that effect?
In today’s penguin report, I have been rolling around laughing as I watch the little black and white bombs hammering the side of the ice floes. There are many successful landings, and the occasional truly spectacular face plant, or the scramble up the ice that results in more face planting, the waddling around in circles bumping into one another, then face plant and well, you get my drift. There was another excellent lecture this afternoon from the penguin biologists, and it would appear, as with so many other areas of research, that we still have a lot to learn. There have been some attempts at tracking, but their foraging behaviour away from the colony is still largely unknown. A number of individuals were tagged recently, and although they were not travelling together they all made the same astonishing 4000km journey, catching a ride on the east wind drift. Then within the same week they all headed north until they were in the west wind drift and rode the currents back to the original colony to breed.
And in even more interesting news (she tilts her hat to phytoplankton physiologists of the world), we have passed over a massive phytoplankton bloom that has drawn CO2 in the surrounding waters down to some of the lowest levels recorded in the region. If only I could photosynthesize, perhaps I could stay away from the dessert bar….