Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

January 21: The Larsen B, finally

We had a beautiful day on the East coast of the Peninsula yesterday, and an ok day on the West side. But it was good enough to fly. So Erin and I headed to Foyn Point with a seismic installation. I believe it is the only one in the Larsen B embayment and we expect great things from it when the remainder of the ice shelf breaks out. The picture in this entry is not the greatest, but it is my only one that shows the Larsen B. I took it out of a helicopter looking South. Most of the area shows the sea ice covered bay. All of this was covered by an ice shelf several hundred meters thick, that disintegrated during a few weeks in 2002. The only part that remains of it is the Scar Inlet in the distance.

When these ice shelves break up, the glaciers behind it accelerate and start dumping a lot more ice into the ocean. The Flask Glacier, where we were two weeks ago, is expected to react strongly when the Scar Inlet disappears. This is likely to happen in the next few years, because the ice shelf is already quite fractured.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

February 20: Return to the ship

Yesterday evening we returned to the Nathaniel B Palmer. Somebody on
Palmer Station had the idea that we could use another ship, the Laurence
M Gould, to get back. The Gould was just waiting at Palmer. So the five
of us got a taxi ride, and the two NSF Antarctic vessels met up in
Andvord Bay for a nice evening rendez vous.

Friday, February 19, 2010

February 19: Palmer station

Yesterday the whole glaciology team (Erin, Ted, Terry, Ron, and myself) flew from the British Rothera station to the US Palmer station with a Twin Otter. Palmer is a relatively small and very friendly station (about 40 people). There was a great turnout of people to watch the rare occasion of a plane landing here. The Twin Otter landed on the ice cap behind the station, which drops off quite steeply on all sides, making for an exciting landing.

Palmer station is mainly devoted to biology and oceanography, so we are a bit different with our interest in ice. But we have been treated like kings. The food is great, last night we had a hot tub, and today we got a boat tour to a penguin rookery.

It is late season for penguins, and most have left the island by now and are out at sea again. But there are a few stragglers who are still waiting to finish molting and will head out to sea for fresh food as soon as their coat is fresh.

The current plan is that we will rejoin the ship tomorrow and do some helicopter work from there.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

February 17: Boat trip

We are still in Rothera. The weather is beautiful here, but not at Palmer Station where we are trying to fly to in order to rejoin the ship. While waiting we had the opportunity to join a boat tour of the area around Rothera with some beautiful views of icebergs and seals.

We stepped on a small island (Lagoon Island) that has a little refuge cabin. The island is densely populated with seals and skuas. Skuas are the ravens of the southern hemisphere. They are smart birds, but very ferocious. As I walked up a little outcrop, two of them took off and started dive bombing me, coming within centimeters of my head. This is quite impressive, as they are big birds (about the same size as a raven).

The whole area around Rothera is populated by seals of many kinds. We didn't see any of the Leopard Seals (also known as the wolves of the sea), but we did encounter many fur seals, some crabeaters, and elephant seals.

Fur seals are fun to watch. They behave a bit like dogs with frequent playing and fighting and barking.

The elephant seals are not very active. They are molting right now and basically just waiting for their new fur to grow. Basically they resemble giant farting and belching sausages.

Crabeaters seals.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

February 16: Back in Rothera

A little over two weeks ago we left Rothera by Twin Otter to do four glacier installations and some radar work. We came back yesterday. The Antarctic Peninsula lived up to its meteorological reputation and we spent much of our time in whiteout conditions. It all started ok, with a landing on the upper Flask Glacier. Our intended landing site was obscured by fog, so we were dropped off a bit further upstream. The picture shows the Twin Otter taking off on a beautiful evening. The next time it could land here safely was eight days later.

By the next day, the view changed to mostly white, a common theme for the following two weeks. Here is our camp:

The weather had changed too quickly to bring out the GPS installation, so we didn't have much of our equipment. However, we did manage to tow a radar across the glacier to measure how deep the glacier is. Erin is trying to navigate without much visual reference. I am dragging another sled with the radar receiver and computer behind me.

About a week later, the weather broke and we were treated to two beautiful days, and for the first time this field season, I saw a nice moon rise. This made me think of Sonja who promised to send kisses to the moon for me. So I sent one too.

This weather wasn't there to stay though. It took another week before we had flying days again and last Saturday we made it to the adjacent Leppard Glacier, and on Sunday to our final destination at Scar Inlet. This is the last remainder of the Larsen B ice shelf. It will also disintegrate in the next few years, and then the glaciers behind it will start flowing much faster. We are now well positioned to measure and document this change.

Now we are back in Rothera, hoping to rejoin the ship via a flight to Palmer Station.