The Voyage Home
by David Krakowski
After three months of hard work and
wonderful experiences, it was finally time for the two of us to bid farewell
to Palmer Station and its summertime inhabitants. We had made some
very close friends, particularly within our own research team, and saying
good-bye was hard. We were lucky enough to be scheduled to ride home
on the M/S World Explorer. During the summer months, tourist ships
frequently happen by station as they take their passengers around the northern
Antarctic to give them a small taste of the vast pristine environment.
When ship routes pass near Palmer Station, these ships will ask permission
to visit the station. A visit to working research station is considered
a welcome treat , and in exchange for tours of station they bring us fresh
vegetables and fruits. This year however, the tourist ships were
performing the extra service of transporting researchers and personnel
to and from Palmer Station. Earlier in the season, the M/V World
Discoverer (Image 1) stopped
at station bringing a larger group of scientists. The Explorer and
Discoverer are sister ships, and are very similar in size and layout.
Both are very luxurious inside. After an extended good-bye, we boarded
the Explorer and left station for the last time.
The Explorer was scheduled
to navigate it's way north off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, stopping
in the South Shetland Islands. The next day we arrived at Deception
Island. Deception Island is so named because of it's shape.
It is roughly circular, with a small opening at the southern end into a
flooded central cavity. It is essentially a donut with a small bite
taken out of it. Early explorers were "deceived" by the apparent
impregnability of the interior of the island, hence the name. This
peculiar shape is testimony to the origin of the island. Deception
island is actually the top of a volcano which is mostly submerged below
the surface of the ocean. There have been eruptions in parts of the
island in recent history, including a series of very destructive ones in
the late 1960s and early 1970s. As we approached the island, we aimed
tonavigate the narrow opening into the flooded caldera. This opening
is known as Neptune's Bellows (Image 2), so
named for the howling winds that careen through the mere 300 meters wide
slice out of the island. The ship landed at Telefon Bay (Image 3),
a large ash beach near a crater left by a recent eruption. The ship
anchored off shore and zodiacs were lowered into the water to transport
the tourists to shore. Once ashore, we hiked along the fine volcanic
ash inland and up the side of the crater. At the top, we could peer
tentatively into the immense crater (Image 4, 5,
Eruptions have in the past destroyed research stations on Deception Island,
and many were consequently abandoned.
Another area of interest
we visited was Pendulum Cove. There are thermal vents at this beach
which bubble up very hot water through the volcanic sand. The hot water
mixes with the icy ocean water, creating a bearable, if heterogeneous temperature
mix which can actually be basked in. Many brave tourists, including
Yours Truly, tested out these waters in nothing more than a bathing suit
What a weird feeling it is to be laying out in the Antarctic!
Our next stop was
Elephant Island. This island was renowned among sealers for it's
huge elephant seal populations, which were subsequently decimated for their
blubber. Sealing has long since been abandoned here, as it has been
everywhere else in the Antarctic, and so many species of both seal and
penguin find this island a safe haven to breed or bask. We came ashore
in our zodiacs to find a large colony of nesting chinstrap penguins (see
Penguins/Seals entry) and gentoo penguins (Image 8).
The scenery was astounding. Narrow channels were skirted on either
side by thousand foot peaks (Image 9). Huge
glaciers spilled out between hillsides onto the flat beach.
Next we spent three
days on and around an island that is reputed to be the "jewel" of the Antarctic,
South Georgia (See "South Georgia" entry). There we saw an abundance
of wildlife and scenery that was unparalleled throughout our voyage home.
Our final stops were
at the Falkland Islands. The Falkland Islands are a small group of
islands east of southern Argentina, and were made famous by their central
involvement in a war between Great Britain and Argentina in the early 1980's.
Sparsely inhabited, much of the land serves as grazing pasture for herds
of sheep. However, the islands are not without their unique wildlife.
There we saw nesting Penguins, and cormorants (Image
as well as numerous other species of Bird. Most interesting of all
were the rockhopper penguin colonies (Image 11).
Nestled at the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean, these penguins coexist
near king cormorants and raise their young in a fashion similar to gentoos
(Image 12) and chinstraps. They are quite noisy little penguins,
and the colony was a continual cacophony and bantering of adults and chicks.
True to their name, these little birds are quite adept at negotiating the
rocky terrain of their nesting site.
The Once in the Falkland
Islands, we traveled to Port Stanley, the capital, a tiny town of 2,000
people, where we boarded a plane bound for Chile. Our trip home from
Station lasted eleven days, and afforded us sights and experiences that
we never would have had the opportunity to enjoy. Our voyage home
was truly the icing on the cake that was our expedition to Antarctica!