March 15th, 2020

by Liam Johnson

As we finish our last day sailing across the Drake passage, we are all patiently awaiting news regarding the fate of the world! Although we could dwell on possibilities, we have been trying to spend time reminiscing on our amazing trip thus far. Today we experienced the Drake shake; swells were reaching 8 meters! This was definitely the highest sea that I have ever been in, which has been the consensus for most of the class. Understandably, a number of us were quite seasick today and out for the count, but some of us were able to attend the daily talks given by the expedition staff. Since there wasn’t a whole lot to look at (we had brief glimpses of Wandering Albatrosses), I figured I would write about how we are keeping busy on the ship!

            The first talk of the day was given by Federico (the only Argentine expedition guide) about Adrien de Gerlache’s Antarctic expedition. De Gerlache was a pioneer for Antarctic exploration as he charted much of the western Antarctic peninsula and was one of the first explorers to spend a winter on the continent. One of the main challenges for his crew was scurvy, due to a meat-centered diet and minimal sunlight. De Gerlache had spent a number of years prior to his Antarctic expedition up in the Arctic and had learned from Inuit people that raw meat can be a source of vitamin C. Although eating raw seal meat was compared to eating a cocktail of reject beef cuts, it severely reduced the number of cases of scurvy among the crewmembers. Another landmark of de Gerlache’s expedition was the creation of an ice channel to free the Belgica from the consolidated ice floes. Even though it was treacherous work, they managed to make it home before spending yet another winter in Antarctica. De Gerlache never returned to Antarctica however, one of his crew members (Roald Amundson) later was the first explorer to reach the geographic south pole.

            The second talk was given by Yvonne, the on-board geologist. Her talk was a discussion of the fate of the Antarctic ice shelves, with rising global temperatures. Unfortunately, I was quite seasick for this one and was quite drowsy. One take home message from this talk was the relative speed of glacial melt vs ice shelf melt. Glaciers will generally melt via drip (and as such, much slower), whereas massive icebergs can break off of ice shelves and drift out to sea, melting much quicker. Although breakage events are not particularly common, the Larsen ice shelf (on the eastern side of the peninsula) has had two major bergs break off in 1995 and 2002. The problem with the disintegration of ice shelves (as a result of increased carbon emissions), is that the glaciers that “feed” these shelves no longer have a barrier and subsequently flow faster into the sea. One implication is that once the temperatures in the southern areas of Antarctica reach a certain threshold, there will be a massive ice shelf breakage event, potentially causing mass sea level rise.

            All in all, morale is high. For dinner we ate tuna tartare, duck breast and espresso mousse. We have been both eating and sleeping well. Now to keep busy for the next couple of days to avoid cabin fever! Attached are some of my favorite pictures thus far.