Monday, December 31, 2007

More B15D

I just noticed in the photo that I posted on my last post about the current location of B15D that it is now north of Elephant Island rather than south of the island when I saw it. Between early November and late December it made it's way between the islands. When I looked at the photos from here, it appears that in early December Clarence Island was nearly surrounded by by B15D and C21A and these bergs probably collided south of Clarence. Both are have now moved much farther north and it looks like C21A bounced off of B15D and headed north on the east side of Clarence. It will be interesting to see where they go during the austral summer and just how far north they get before disintegrating. Here are the photos from early November to late December.

November 13, 2007

November 28, 2007
December 11, 2007

December 26, 2007
Here is another image from November of the entire peninsula with the iceberg and Elephant and Clarence Islands at the upper right portion of the photo.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Spectacular Highlight - B15D

B15D looking north

I have spent all my time in Antarctica along the Antarctic Peninsula but this time I finally saw the other side of Antarctica, the Ross Ice Shelf. Well, I saw a portion of the Ross Ice Shelf and I didn't even have to travel to the the Ross Ice Shelf, it came to me.

On November 12th we left Point Wild and headed east towards Clarence Island. Just south of Clarence Island was a grounded iceberg known as B15D, a portion of what was once the largest iceberg ever recorded (Elephant Island and the iceberg are located in the lower right portion of the photo above. Click on the image to make it larger). We approached the white island from the west and came within about 150 ft of the edge of the berg. It was massive, about 100 ft tall, 33 miles long and 9 miles wide. Although the edge of the berg look straight with the resolution in the satellite image from above, our vantage point showed large scalloping along the edge with cornices from snow blown across the flat top of the berg.

Cape Petrels along the face of B15D. Notice the striations in the ice. Layer upon layer of accumulated snow from the other side of the continent.

B15D started it's life in March 2000 as B15, the 15th iceberg tracked in the B quadrant of Antarctica (see photo below). When it formed it was 183 miles (295 km) long and 25 miles (40 km) wide, roughly the size of Jamaica. Shortly after it broke from the Ross Ice Shelf it began to break into smaller pieces (currently 15 tracked icebergs). In 2001, the largest portion of the iceberg, B15A blocked the normal Adelie Penguin migration route to their colonies on Ross Island. The presence of the iceberg and the resulting increased expanse of sea ice resulted nearly a complete breeding failure of some of the colonies on Ross Island (Sheperd et al. 2005), caused a decrease of nearly 40% in the primary production in the region (Arrigo et al. 2002), and disrupted shipping and resupply into the research bases on Ross Island, primarily McMurdo. In 2006, an ocean swell from a 2005 Alaskan storm broke B15A into many smaller icebergs.

Here are a couple of maps depicting the route that B15D took from the Ross Ice Shelf to Elephant Island. The top map depicts the route around East Antarctica and the bottom map continues to Elephant Island. Each mark is coded with the date of the location with the year followed by the Julian date of that year. Each position is approximately 3 months apart with a large gap in the data from 2002.

Snow Petrel along the face of B15D

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Antarctic Highlights

I had two real highlights on my last trip. One was special on a personal level, the other was just plain spectacular.

The first highlight was my first landing at Point Wild on Elephant Island. Those of you who know your Antarctic history will remember that this is the place where the bulk (22) of Sir Ernest Shackleton's men lived from April through August 1916. They were rescued from Point Wild by Chilean Captain Louis Pardo in the Yelcho after Shackleton and five men, including Tom Crean, sailed to South Georgia to find help.

Point Wild. The location of the shelter the men used is right below the dark triangle of rock in the center of the photo. Lots of Chistrap Penguins breeding there now.

I have been fortunate to visit many important historical locations of Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition over the years. In February 2005 I was very privileged to visit South Georgia and see the first landing site at King Haakon Bay, the eventual starting point for an unbelievable hike across South Georgia. I was also lucky enough be be able to trace a portion of the route that Shackleton, Crean, and Worsley took as they headed from Fortuna Bay into Stromness including a look at the waterfall they climbed down as they headed towards the station and a visit to the periphery of the station itself (it is closed to entry for safety reasons). I have visited Shackleton's grave at Grytviken. Point Wild was the last place I could visit of significance to the expedition* and probably the hardest to get to. I have seen Point Wild a few times but landings were not an option on any of the past trips, primarily because the point is so exposed and the swell usually will not permit a landing. This time there was no swell and even better, the large boulders that form the middle of the point were covered in a nice layer of snow making it easier to walk around. Nothing of the expedition remains on the point and the only reminder of the expedition is a bronze bust of Captian Louis Pardo.

Point Wild with a bronze bust of Louis Pardo and the National Geographic Endeavour in the background.

To top it off I was able to share this experience with Edward Shaw, a naturalist with Lindblad whom I had recently met, who also was enjoying landing at the site for the first time. Eduardo is a great guy and I look forward to more trips with him in the future.

Me, Eduardo, and Stefan Lundgren at our usual breakfast dining area.

Next, the spectacular special part of the trip.

*The South Pole Inn at Annascaul in Co. Kerry Ireland, home of Tom Crean is another place on my list but more because of Tom Crean than the expedition alone. I can't resist posting his photo again.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Header Photo

I am not sure what is going on with Blogger and my header photo. I thought I had it all worked out until I noticed that something had changed and only a severly cropped portion of the photo I had selected was showing up. I tried to change it and wound up with the whole photo again only it was shrunk and left justified. I just tried to get around it by inserting it as a stand alone photo above my header text but Blogger does something to the resolution when I place a photo there and it now looks crappy. But at least its the whole photo. For now I think I will leave it but hopefully they fix it soon.

Monday, December 17, 2007

fire and ice

The following photos are from Deception Island. Deception is a volcanic island with a number of recent eruptions. These photos are of the glacier near the landing at Baily Head on the outside of the island. This glacier has layers of ash mixed in the layers of ice.

Snow Petrel

One of my favorite Antarctic birds. There was a lot of sea ice along the Peninsula this year. Snow Petrels are normally found in areas of sea ice so this year was a a good year to find them and get photos.

Seabird gallery

Instead of blow by blow accounts of this recent trip, I am going to post a few photo galleries of portions of the trip. The first is a group of seabird photos taken in the Drake Passage or along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Cape Petrel or Pintado
Grey-headed Albatross
Light-mantled Sooty Albatross (great views of this species this trip)
Wandering Albatross
Southern Fulmar
Antarctic Petrel
Blue Petrel
Blue Petrel - this species is very difficult to get a photo of. They are fast and twist along the waves but this trip they were coming near the boat because of the wind direction and I was able to get these photos.
Black-browed Albatross

Torres Del Paine Day 2

At this rate I will be back in Antarctica next year before I finish blogging about my trip this year. I was out of town this past week in Boulder, Colorado for a business trip and a search for smoked paprika to cook pheasants (picked up the chestnuts when we were in Billings on our way home). These are a bit hard to find in Glasgow. Now, where was I?

Our second day in Torres we backtracked a bit right away in the morning to get a closer look at the Nineo bushes blooming. I remember this plant blooming from my first visit into the park but I hadn't been back at the right time of the year to see it again until now. They were just starting to bloom and the color of the blooms ranged from deep red to light orange. These plants (like most bushes in Patagonia) are dense and spiny, possibly a defense against Pleistocene herbivory. Today only the guanacos are left to graze on them. We did see a few guanacos too.

Neneo or Mata Guanaco (Anarthrophyllum desideratum)

Neneo with the Torres massif in the background.


One of the hard parts of leading people into the park who have never been there before is trying to convince them that they will see more guanacos closer to the road. The first views are generally outside the park and at a distance with the number of animals increasing closer to the park. I kept telling the people in the bus that we were not going to stop at each group of guanacos we came across and eventually we had good views of a number of herds of these interesting camelids. We were a bit early to see the new crop of young guanacos known as chulengas.


We stopped at the more popular waterfall, Salto Grande, where I now spend more time looking for flowers along the trail than looking at the waterfall. This trip I didn't even make it to the waterfall but I did find one orchid (below). This is the same area where we found a Magellanic Orchid (Chloraea magellanica) in January.

Zapatito de la Virgen (Calceolaria uniflora)
Black-faced Ibis

Long-tailed Meadowlark

Lesser Rhea

Firebush (Embothrium coccineum)

The firebush was in full bloom too. On our way out of the park the hillsides were covered with this shrub in bloom and from a distance the hillsides looked rusty, like the leaves had turned.
We made our way to the Grey Glacier area and had lunch at the hotel there. After lunch we headed towards the beach at the end of the lake where small icebergs from the glacier often come to rest. The beginning part of the trail to the lake heads through some old Nothofagus (Southern Beech) trees with very evident sign of foraging Magellanic Woodpeckers, a species I have looked for without success since I began birding in Chile many years ago. A few years ago my guests even took a photo of a woodpecker to show me after we returned to the bus. He might have gotten away with it too but I recognized the photo from the bird book. Today was no different than any trip I have ever done to Glacier Grey. It rained and I didn't see a Magellanic Woodpecker. I did enjoy wonderful views of a Huemul however. The Huemul is the native deer to southern South America and is quite rare although I have been very lucky to observe them many times in Torres.

Huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus)

Austral Parakeet - these are quite common near Lago Grey.
After we returned to the Hotel are Rio Serrano, Maritza, Sergio and I headed down the new road out of the park for a way just to see what the country was like. We found a small pond off the road with a pair of Spectacled Ducks and a couple of Ashy-headed Geese on it. I managed to get a couple of photos of the ducks and ran across a Chilean Flicker in the trees near the pond too.

Chilean Flicker

Spectacled Duck

Spectacled Ducks

The next morning we headed back to Punta Arenas via the new road. We stopped at the Milodon Cave on our way out. This is a spot the has more literary interest than real natural history interest as it is the supposed home of a piece of Milodon hide that has ties with Charles Darwin and Bruce Chatwin.
The next morning we joined the charter flight in Punta Arenas and flew to Ushuaia, Argentina and boarded the National Geographic Endeavour for the next phase of our journey - Antarctica