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Josh's Australian Antarctic expedition 2 - icebreaking

I have just put up a personal profile for Josh on the ICTAR website if you would like to know more about him

Thursday, 3 November 2011

After a few days of steaming through pancake and first year ice, we are now solidly into the pack, at times having to reverse and charge forwards, breaking through ice over a metre thick which considerably slows our progress. We are below 60° South, with air temperatures around -3° C and minimal breeze.

Aurora Australis ship icebreaking


The first day in the ice was incredible weather, crisp blue sky and bright sun, although it has got cloudier and visibility decreased markedly. A lot more people are to be seen up and about now, as there is absolutely zero swell or chop to disturb them. Crushing through the ice can be very loud at times, with rumbles like thunder reverberating through the ship as ice scrapes against the hull.

We did hit some rough(ish) weather a few days out from the ice, with swells reaching 8 metres one night; there was minimal sleep to be had as one struggled to stay in the bunk during rolls of over 35° either side!  No seasickness for me though thankfully. It was an incredible sight to see these waves crashing into the bow and the spray obscuring all view from the bridge.

Wildlife has increased greatly as we push south. More Albatrosses (wandering, black-browed, and light-mantled) were sighted over open water, always amazing to watch. We also saw plenty of snow petrels; very pretty little pure white birds which are incredibly difficult to photograph. A small pod of Minke whales was sighted on the first day in the ice. Now that we are in the ice proper it’s even more exciting, with penguins and seals regularly sighted. A few Ross Seals, some with pups and some heavily pregnant, have been seen expressing their anger at our intrusion into their domain. They snarl and bare their teeth at the ship, before escaping rather gracelessly across the ice. Emperor penguins watch on rather indifferently unless the ship heads directly for them, in which case they calmly move aside. The little Adelies (my personal favourites so far) on the other hand are much more affected by our presence. They run to and fro in a panic, flapping flippers, slipping over and belly sliding in their rush to escape, sometimes finding clear water to disappear into. Despite the intensity and seriousness of their behaviors, these little guys are very comical, and always elicit laughs from all observers.

I have been spending as much time as possible outside, even late into the night; it’s quite a surreal experience watching ice go past under the spotlights, with light snow falling around you and the odd huge berg looming out of the darkness. Sitting up top on the monkey deck, listening to music, the hours go past very quickly. We spotted a very faint aurora a couple of nights ago; pale green shimmering curtains stretching across the sky. Incredible sight, but no way near as beautiful as what you see in photos. Since then clouds have obscured the night sky. Fingers crossed for one decent light show before we
enter continual light.

The nightly seminars are very interesting, particularly those by Tui de Roy – a photographer now based in NZ; I highly recommend people check out her work, published in several books, she’s captured some incredible sights from all around the world. We have also been having daily briefings and training sessions in preparation for arrival at Davis; our team will be patrolling the fuel line along the sea ice during the refuelling operation.

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