Friday, December 26, 2014

Day 8 – As Far South as We Can Go

December 25, 2014

Today our expedition took us as far south as we could go; farther, in fact, than any other ship this season!  To get there, we sailed through the very narrow Lemaire Channel.  Judging by the scenery on the horizon, I could not believe that we would even fit through the channel, but as we approached it, a gap appeared seemingly out of nowhere. 

Understanding scale is one of many keys to navigating this area.  Mountain ranges here are so high and the sea so expansive, it is challenging to comprehend just how massive these landforms are.  

To help us make images that adequately represent what we are witnessing visually, we have learned a few tricks from the photographers involving the use of scale.  When showing how high a mountain is, we have tried to include the ship in the picture because seeing the relative size (the ship to the mountain) helps paint a picture for people who have never seen a place to get a sense of what it was like.  Often, we have used the kayaks, zodiacs, penguins, or rocks in images as another way of showing scale.  It also helps to use the right photographic lenses to highlight the foreground or background depending on the image being created.

The practical application of scaling gave me a conceptual understanding of the intersection of math and geography.  Estimating length (length of hiking trails, distance between objects, or, in our case, the width of the opening to a channel) and height (incline to a mountain peak, distance to a lookout, height of an iceberg) are skills that explorers use to better understand their environment.  Out in the wilderness there are no mile markers, no buildings, and no standard measurement tools.  Figuring out ways to help our students think flexibly and spatially about our environment will give them strategic skills that they can apply to any situation around them.  In addition to the technical skill of surveying an area, it also has implications for art, such as photography, to help students incorporate scale to make their images come alive for viewers.

After traversing the channel, we paused for a visit to another penguin colony on Booth Island.  Surrounded by mountains and ocean, the Gentoo and Adelie penguins were nesting on lookout points.  We were excited to see that one of the Gentoos was warming two fuzzy grey babies!  As these little chicks grow, they will need a lot of food as well as protection from the predatory skuas that are hovering above in search of a meal.
In addition to the Gentoo babies we were intrigued by the story of the Adelie penguins.  As the climate changes and Antarctica warms up (it is the fastest warming continent on the planet), these polar birds are being pushed to the mainland of the continent.  As a result, they will likely become extinct in the peninsular area that we are currently exploring.  Incidentally, the mainland of Antarctica is also where the massive Emperor penguins live, which, unfortunately, means that we will not be able to visit them on this expedition.

We departed Booth and took off in search of sea ice in the Penola Strait.  Standing on the bow of the ship, we cheered as we plowed our way through the icebergs bursting them into smaller pieces of ice.  In the distance a large mountain range formed the background for tabular icebergs that were likely a mile or longer in length.  Tides gently lifted the sea of ice rippling through the entire strait and gently rocked our ship.

Along the way, we caught glimpses of Weddell and Crabeater seals lounging on icebergs.  (The name “Crabeater” is actually misleading; these seals don’t eat crab at all!)  They snaked their torpedo-shaped heads to observe us as we passed by, curious about our intrusion into their secluded world. 

We celebrated our journey to the furthest southern region of this voyage with a toast to the great Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew. 

Our trip South had officially ended and we began the arduous journey back home.

As close to cuddling Gentoo penguins as one can get

Adelie penguin

Leopard seal

Crabeater seals

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