Tag Archive | Antarctica

Ushuaia’s Twisted Trees!

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The weather in Ushuaia is directly influenced by its proximity to Antarctica and by the towering Andes that surround the region. It is a Magellanic subpolar climate. Winds are always present, but especially intense during the winter season. Trees in Ushuaia tend to follow the wind direction in an uni-directional growth pattern creating a twisted appearance. These trees are referred to as Flag Trees because they are permanently shaped like flags blowing in the wind. The particular trees in these photos are Southern Beech Trees.

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Beech Trees have shallow root systems and intense winds in bowl-shaped areas can wipe out entire forests.

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Some of these areas remain devoid of trees because of the steady and intense wind.

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This is a harsh, yet fragile environment. The strength of these polar winds creates a unique landscape in Ushuaia of savage and intense beauty.

Antarctica Journals!

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My husband, Jim, handed me a travelogue he kept of our Antarctica trip in 2008. I had forgotten that we both had written trip journals and it is interesting to see a lot of the details I had forgotten. The following include excerpts of these travel journals that weren’t included in my prior post.

Day 1-2: Jim’s notes state that we cross the 400 mile Drake Passage with Beaufort force 3 winds. The Beaufort Scale winds range from force 1-12, and relate wind speed to observable effects on land and sea. Force 3 winds are gentle breezes that create wavelets that begin to break, causing whitecaps, i.e., easy-peasy seas.

We pass the Antarctic Convergence in the afternoon. This is a continuously circling body of water where cold Antarctic waters converge with warmer subantarctic waters, causing the colder water to sink, leading to upwelling where marine life is intensely prevalent, including pelagic birds such as several types of Albatross, and Skuas.* The Antarctic convergence is the largest biological barrier on earth. Crossing the convergence marks entry into the Southern Ocean which has it’s own currents. We are entering the world’s largest wilderness, with the highest concentrations of wildlife on the planet. It is also the coldest, highest, windiest, iciest and least visited of all the continents i.e. PARADISE!

Map of Antarctica Convergence:
download

 

Day 3- Reach Elephant Island part of the South Shetland Isands, that is named after resident elephant seals. Along with the seals there are several species of penguins. Air & water temperature mid-day, 1 degree. Floating icebergs becoming impressive. Our naturalist explains that most of the bergs we are seeing now come from The Wedell Sea, via The Antarctic Sound. When we leave this area, we will be sailing on seas that will be covered in sea ice all winter.
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Day 4- Cross the Antarctic Sound enroute to the Esperanza Research Station run by Argentina. Winds are force 8, which is gale force, wind knots 34-40, waves 18-25 feet. Cannot attempt Esperanza due to conditions. By mid-afternoon, weather improves dramatically, captain sets course towards to Admiralty Bay on King George Island. We reach the Chilean and Polish Research Stations and visit with the Polish Scientists, who after many attempts board our ship for dinner. By now penguins are everywhere in the millions, Gentoo, Macaroni, Chinstrap and Adele. Later we will see Kings. The weather is excellent and the scenery magnificent. Sun sets at 1 am rises at 4 am.
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Day 5- Captain sets course south through The Branfields Strait. Continue southerly course. Navigate through the incredible Gerlach Strait. Force 3 winds, air temp 1 degree mid-day. Ice surrounds us everywhere. The ship, navigated by the ice pilot, seems to sail through ice not water. It is daunting. Growlers slam against the hull. We hold our breath when the ship approaches the larger ones, they bang along the hull making constant noise.

Day 6- We head to the Neymayer Channel with incredible scenery, glaciers calving into the ocean, craggy cliffs, ice precipes and peaks, boundless untouched snow and ice, sea mammals, birds and penguins everywhere. They are friendly and approach. We see Wedell, Crabeater and Leopard Seals, Orca, Humpback and Minke whales.

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Growler

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Day 7- Course to Deception Island, a collapsed volcanic caldera. Deception Bay is stunning and the island is full of very smelly, very friendly penguins. The waters are warmed by volcanic process which also makes the island the most ice-free that we saw. You can take a dip if you choose. The water is a mixture of very hot and cold currents, moving in little riverlets around you. Weather this day was gray, foggy, and overcast.

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Day 8- Course north back through The Drake Passage. As we cross the convergence, the temperature rises to 7 degrees, the warmest in a week! Again we have smooth seas and the albatross are our friends. Enroute to the stunning Beagle Channel and Strait of Magellan.

Towards the end, we get our roughest weather yet, force 9 winds, 41-47 knots, waves 23-32 feet. Strong gale. Wow! It was spectacular and unforgiving. And then we are in the blissful Beagle Channel, through the straight of Magellan to Chile.

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We are going back in 2013, to Patagonia & The Beagle Channel. Less than 30,000 people are visiting Antarctica annually now.

* Note: we saw a similar fascinating upwelling phenomena crossing out of the Sargasso Sea which is essentially a large gyro, an ocean bounded and defined by currents. We sailed through the Canary Current where the upwelling attracted scores of Blue Whales, Pilot Whales, Orcas and other marine life, everywhere in incredible quantity! The Sargasso Sea itself seems desert like. Crossing it for eight days, we saw no animals, birds, or ships. Will write about this trip, that we did this year, in another post.

Forgotten Antarctica Journals!

DSC03891

My husband, Jim, handed me a travelogue he kept of our Antarctica trip in 2008. I had forgotten that we both had written trip journals and it is interesting to see a lot of the details I had forgotten. The following include excerpts of these travel journals that weren’t included in my prior post.

Day 1-2: Jim’s notes state that we cross the 400 mile Drake Passage with Beaufort force 3 winds. The Beaufort Scale winds range from force 1-12, and relate wind speed to observable effects on land and sea. Force 3 winds are gentle breezes that create wavelets that begin to break, causing whitecaps, i.e., easy-peasy seas.

We pass the Antarctic Convergence in the afternoon. This is a continuously circling body of water where cold Antarctic waters converge with warmer subantarctic waters, causing the colder water to sink, leading to upwelling where marine life is intensely prevalent, including pelagic birds such as several types of Albatross, and Skuas.*  The Antarctic convergence is the largest biological barrier on earth. Crossing the convergence marks entry into the Southern Ocean which has it’s own currents. We are entering the world’s largest wilderness, with the highest concentrations of wildlife on the planet. It is also the coldest, highest, windiest, iciest and least visited of all the continents i.e. PARADISE!

Map of Antarctica Convergence:
download

 

Day 3- Reach Elephant Island part of the South Shetland Isands, that is named after resident elephant seals.  Along with the seals there are several species of penguins. Air & water temperature mid-day, 1 degree. Floating icebergs becoming impressive. Our naturalist explains that most of the bergs we are seeing now come from The Wedell Sea, via The Antarctic Sound. When we leave this area, we will be sailing on seas that will be covered in sea ice all winter.
DSC03665
Day 4- Cross the Antarctic Sound enroute to the Esperanza Research Station run by Argentina. Winds are force 8, which is gale force, wind knots 34-40, waves 18-25 feet. Cannot attempt Esperanza due to conditions. By mid-afternoon, weather improves dramatically, captain sets course towards to Admiralty Bay on King George Island. We reach the Chilean and Polish Research Stations and visit with the Polish Scientists, who after many attempts board our ship for dinner. By now penguins are everywhere in the millions, Gentoo, Macaroni, Chinstrap and Adele. Later we will see Kings. The weather is excellent and the scenery magnificent. Sun sets at 1 am rises at 4 am.
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Day 5- Captain sets course south through The Branfields Strait. Continue southerly course. Navigate through the incredible Gerlach Strait. Force 3 winds, air temp 1 degree mid-day. Ice surrounds us everywhere. The ship, navigated by the ice pilot, seems to sail through ice not water. It is daunting. Growlers slam against the hull. We hold our breath when the ship approaches the larger ones, they bang along the hull making constant noise. 

Day 6- We head to the Neymayer Channel with incredible scenery, glaciers calving into the ocean, craggy cliffs, ice precipes and peaks, boundless untouched snow and ice, sea mammals, birds and penguins everywhere. They are friendly and approach. We see Wedell, Crabeater and Leopard Seals, Orca, Humpback and Minke whales.

DSC05463 (1)

Growler

antac

Day 7- Course to Deception Island, a collapsed volcanic caldera. Deception Bay is stunning and the island is full of very smelly, very friendly penguins. The waters are warmed by volcanic process which also makes the island the most ice-free that we saw. You can take a dip if you choose. The water is a mixture of very hot and cold currents, moving in little riverlets around you. Weather this day was gray, foggy, and overcast.

anta0004 (1)

Day 8- Course north back through The Drake Passage. As we cross the convergence, the temperature rises to 7 degrees, the warmest in a week! Again we have smooth seas and the albatross are our friends. Enroute to the stunning Beagle Channel and Strait of Magellan.

Towards the end, we get our roughest weather yet, force 9 winds, 41-47 knots, waves 23-32 feet. Strong gale. Wow! It was spectacular and unforgiving. And then we are in the blissful Beagle Channel, through the straight of Magellan to Chile.

DSC04785 (1)
DSC04454 (1)

We are going back in 2013, to Patagonia & The Beagle Channel. Less than 30,000 people are visiting Antarctica annually now.

* Note: we saw a similar fascinating upwelling phenomena crossing out of the Sargasso Sea which is essentially a large gyro, an ocean bounded and defined by currents. We sailed through the Canary Current where the upwelling attracted scores of Blue Whales, Pilot Whales, Orcas and other marine life, everywhere in incredible quantity! The Sargasso Sea itself seems desert like. Crossing it for eight days, we saw no animals, birds, or ships. Will write about this trip, that we did this year, in another post.

South America, Patagonia and Antarctica~

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This was our most epic trip, so we did it twice, in 2008 and 2013! The Antarctica component was nothing short of surreal. A trip to Antarctica begins by departing Ushuaia Argentina by ship and crossing the infamous Drake Passage. Wandering and Giant Albatross began following our wake as soon as we entered the passage and wildlife is viewed up close and personal 24/7 in Antarctica. Upon entering the passage, skuas landed on the ship and stayed for days. Minke Whales, orcas, grey whales, leopard seals, crab eater seals and penguins were not only seen every day, but the deeper one gets into Antarctica, the more curious and fearless they are. Whales were continuously spy hopping alongside the ship watching us with their huge eyes, curious and very unafraid.
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Growlers and icebergs, and stupendous tabular bergs (some as big as Rhode Island) became our constant companions for the next eight days as we explored the peninsula. It was very cold, but clear, unbelievably pristine, with fantastic visibility. 16 hour days were the norm in Antarctica with brief breaks taken to eat, use the bathroom and sleep, all of which were done grudgingly. In 2008 we learned that just over 100,000 people had visited Antarctica making it the most pristine, untouched place anyone will ever see on the surface of the planet. Huge fields of snow and ice that have never been marred by human contact are everywhere. It is ethereal and otherworldly. We also had an ice pilot who navigated us through the bergs and growlers, and lectured us on how he achieved this amazingly difficult feat. Everyday we watched his eerie skill with wonder.

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A biologist who was a penguin expert gave fascinating spontaneous lectures about the wildlife as it appeared.

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We saw penguins by the 100’s of thousands.
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In Antarctica we visited the volcanic and warm Elephant Island. We saw Shackleton’s winter shelter and navigated the treacherous Lemaire Channel clogged with shifting ice and fierce winds. We visited the often-impassable Paradise Bay in the sunshine and explored countless bays and channels. We visited a scientific station and had the scientists attempt and succeed a very risky boarding operation by zodiac in high winds and rough seas. We wittnessed leopard seals hunt penguins causing them to leap out of the ocean like burnt toast from a toaster. They usually were toast too, once the leopard seals had them in their sights. When they caught the penguins, the leopards would shake them like rag dolls, effectively skinning them before swallowing them whole.
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We skirted a Japanese whaler in close proximity for several days that was hunting Minke whales which was quite dismaying, especially since the animals were so curious and had little fear of humans.

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Our luck held out for the entire Antarctica experience as we had spectacular weather the entire time. The Drake Passage is the roughest ocean passage in the world and can be terrifying to cross. Rarely, it is calm as glass. When it is calm it is called the Drake Lake, and this is how both passages were for us.

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Leaving Drake on the return trip, we entered the spectacular, glaciated, Beagle channel, teeming with wildlife.

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We got off the ship and spent time in gorgeous Ushuaia on the Beagle Channel,

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ethereal El Calafate,
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and wonderful South American cities like Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
We closed our trips with four nights at the spectacular Iguazu Falls.
We understand that increasing tourist restrictions are being implemented in Antarctica. So, if you want to go, don’t tarry too long, you will be so glad to have this seen this incredible, unspoiled part of our planet, before it is ever altered by global warming.