It's an icy season. For the first time in ten years, the summer crew had the opportunity to walk to nearby islands over the sea ice. An early season science group was trudging out to their sampling station and collecting sea water through a hole in the ice. Of course, that ice broke up while I was still on the Gould, just days before my arrival on station. But that's OK, as the visiting McMurdo fuelies said, "What's the big deal? We land airplanes on sea ice!!"
In order to travel with Kim, I deployed about a month behind the rest of the summer crew, which meant I missed seeing a frozen Arthur Harbor, but I got to visit the South Shetland Islands on the way down. Part of the Gould's mission during my transit was to open up a field camp on King George Island called Copacabana. We call it "Copa" for short (or perhaps we only add "cabana" as a joke, I'm not sure). It's here:
Of course, it would have been cool to hit Nelson Island, or even better, Deception Island, which is an ancient caldera with hot spring beaches. Still, I'll settle for anything out of the ordinary routine here. In October Copa is still a sheet of snow and ice between a rocky ridge and a rocky shoreline. Later in the season it will melt out to become a grassy, mossy field of tundra.
It's a small camp, housing only four scientists for about five months. They are located in an area containing colonies of all three types of brush-tail penguins (Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap), making it an ideal place to observe biological and behavioral differences between species. When we arrived, hundreds of Gentoos had already begun nesting, just feet from the camp.
This is the first Gentoo colony I've seen up close, and they are definitely my favorite of the brush-tails. Unlike the loud, grating and incessant squawking of Adelies, Gentoos have a much more pleasant call, and they use it more sparingly. It sounds exactly like Chewbacca, but with a higher pitch. Imagine a baby wookie, or Chewie after being kicked in the 'nads.
We ferried twenty or more Zodiac loads of equipment, food and fuel to the shore, then pulled it on sleds the extra hundred yards to camp. If I ever have to carry another rusty-enough-to-explode-at-any-moment canister of propane, it will be too soon. A few of the Polish winter crew from nearby station Arctowski (no joke) lent a hand and shared a beer afterwards. Next stop: Duthiers Point...
...where an ailing GPS unit needed repairs. Down the Gerlache Strait and tucked into the mouth of Andvord Bay, we stood on deck and enjoyed an ice-choked sea surrounded by glacial cliffs posing as the toes of snow capped mountains.
The water was inky black, calm and crystal clear, allowing the larger chunks of ice to display their nether-regions below the surface.
And there must have been more than a few penguin colonies around, because there were schools of them swimming all over the place. I have yet to get a good photo of them porpoising; this is the best I've done so far:
As we pulled away, back into the Gerlache and on our way to Palmer Station, we motored lazily past this large chunk of orphaned glacier.
Cape Petrels circle endlessly around the Gould as soon as she leaves port in Chile. They breed along the Antarctic Peninsula, but it is rare for us to see them on station.
In the evening, the wind leapt up and fat snowflakes began to fill the air, obscuring the view ahead, even thwarting the Gould's intense headlamps.
Just a little fun with the camera in the snow and lights: