Tuesday 6 January 2015

January 3 - Esperanza and Hope Bay

We have not had internet since leaving the Antarctic peninsula. The course of the ship and the satellite configurations, left us cut off from the world for about 48 hours.

We left Yankee Harbour in the late afternoon for our sail across the Bransfield strait. During recap and briefing I reminded everyone we were sailing over new oceanic crust - just 4 million years old, with several very large submarine volcanoes, only one of which, Deception Island is emergent.  I think everyone was impressed to think there were volcanoes underneath of them! Anyway, we sailed through Antarctic Sound in the early morning hours and stopped off the Argentina station of Esperanza and Hope Bay. The wind was pretty fierce, but we got protection from a large tabular iceberg and started operations at 6 AM to try to avoid the wind. The highlight here is Adélie penguins as well as the dramatic cliffs and glacier at the head of Hope Bay. I was pared up with Iggy and we made several trips to the bay – each one calmer and warmer than the one before! It was remarkable how sunny and calm it became.  It was still very cold (I had on two layers of down).  

Over 150, 000 Adelie penguins live in the rookery here at Esperanza.
The Adélie penguins are really very hilarious, the walk in long lines, toboggan both up and down hill and stand on the shore line in large groups waiting for someone to make the first move to jump in! We had great views of the adults as well as quite a few chicks. There was even a leopard seal!  We saw a carcass being fed on by giant petrels, which had probably met its end at the mouth of the seal. Given the dead penguin we had seen they have every right to be scared.

Those strange objects in the water are porpoising Adelie penguins!

Note the very regular lines of penguins marching to the sea!

Two penguins contemplating the jump into the sea.

More porpoising penguins!

In addition to the tabular icebergs there was lots of interesting sea ice formations around.
It was very clear so we were able to see the subglacial volcano of Brown Bluff about 20 km away as well as James Ross Island, a very large island in the Weddell sea.  It is about 70 km away so just the top appeared as a rounded hill in the far distance. It is a volcanic island that is at least as old as 6.5 million years, but has had fairly recent eruptions.  In addition to the view of James Ross Island we were treated to the sight of many tabular icebergs. They are from the collapse of ice shelves in the Weddell Sea and carried northward by the Weddell Sea gyre into the Antarctic circum polar current.
We lost internet access today as we headed out of Antarctic Sound, we did not get it back until we were fairly close to South Georgia. 

Zodiacs waiting to "go up on the hook" with James Ross Island volcanic complex in the distance - looks a bit like a cloud.

Brown Bluff is a sub to englacial volcanic complex to the east of Esperanza.

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