Where we are (icebergs and penguins, oh my!)

November 6, 2019 • 7:45 am

We’re pretty far south now, and Internet is quite poor, so I can’t post a picture of what it looks like outside the ship. You can see our live view by going to the Panomax Camera site for the ship, but the “rolling” waves are very distorted! At least you can see that it’s gray and overcast today, with a bit of rain. If there are no posts from me tomorrow, it will be because Internet isn’t available off Antarctica. (Note: I’ve found a way to post some of my own photos, but have to reduce the quality. See below.)

The rain will presumably abate since it’s below freezing at our destination: Yankee Bay on Greenwich Islands, one of the South Shetland Islands that are considered “maritime Antarctica”. Here’s our position; we should reach the islands by noon:

South of the islands you can see the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula itself, where we’ll be landing tomorrow morning. But today we’re going ashore for a few hours on Greenwich and are promised (well, sort of, as nothing is guaranteed here) sights of gentoo penguins, seals, and all manner of sea birds. PENGUINS AT LAST!

Below is a fuller map of the South Shetlands. They’re claimed by the UK, Chile, and Argentina, so nobody’s officially in charge. There are sixteen research stations on the archipelago.

Elephant Island, to the northwest, is famous as the site where the men of Ernest Shackleton’s 1916 Endurance expedition were marooned after the breakup of their eponymous ship (see below).

Elephant Island in the South Shetlands (upper right):

After their shipped was trapped in and then crushed by ice, the Endurance’s 28 men drifted to Elephant island on ice floes and set up camp; Shackleton then took off with five of them in an open lifeboat, hoping to reach South Georgia Island 1300 km away, where there was a whaling station that might facilitate a rescue. That journey, wonderfully recounted in the book Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, was dicey and rough, but it succeeded: Shackleton made it to the whaling station, and procured a tugboat from Punta Arenas, Chile, that rescued all the men. They had waited on Elephant Island for 3½ months, and all survived.

Photos exist of Shackleton’s team leaving Elephant Island in a lifeboat, the James Caird, and also of the crew waiting on the island. Subsisting on seal and penguin meat, they never gave up hope.

Here’s Shackleton leaving in the lifeboat, cheered on by his men—an amazing photo. They rowed for 800 miles!

The Elephant Island crew. An hour after the rescue tugboat landed on the island, the men were on their way to South America.

This afternoon we’re headed for “Yankee Harbor” (also called “Hospital Cove”) on Greenwich Island, the island marked in red below. The Harbor (named after the American sealers who plied their trade there in the 19th century) is a quiet place in which landing is easy, and harbors the flightless birds and seals that are our “target animals” for today. 

According to Wikipedia, Greenwich Island is:

. . . an island 24 km (15 mi) long and from 0.80 to 9.66 km (0.5 to 6 mi) (average 5.23 km or 3.25 mi) wide, lying between Robert Island and Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands. Surface area 142.7 square kilometres (55.1 sq mi).[1] The name Greenwich Island dates back to at least 1821 and is now established in international usage.

Fragment of George Powell‘s 1822 chart of the South Shetland Islands and South Orkney Islands featuring Yankee Harbour (as ‘Hospital Cove’), which I’ve indicated in red:

Update: We just saw our first iceberg, and riding on its southern side was a bunch of penguins!

I’ll try to post it here.

It worked! But I had to severely reduce the quality of the photos. Still, you can see some stuff, and thus I will be able to post a few pictures when we’re actually in Antarctica.

My first iceberg! Note the black dots at lower left.

Penguins (species unknown, probably gentoo penguins, Pygoscelis papua) hitching a ride:

73 thoughts on “Where we are (icebergs and penguins, oh my!)

  1. Exhilarating!

    I wonder if there are physical factors to explain poor wireless communication at the South Pole? e.g. magnetic, angles from satellites, etc.

    1. I’d have thought the very fact that you are having to use satellites would be enough.

      Don’t forget that Jerry won’t be the only person on the ship looking to post photos on the Internet. If the ship is full, there will be 500 passengers on it, all trying to post photos to their blogs, social media accounts or, as with Jerry, web sites.

      1. I just wrote “satellites” without much thought- coujd satellites be deployed in orbits optimized for where most people live? That is, not near the poles? And if they are in free fall, does proximity to the pole matter?

        could a radio antenna on South America work?

        1. I am not a rocket scientist, but …
          geostationary satellites have to be above the equator, more or less – they’re around 22000 miles up, so coverage decreases as you get nearer the poles, and most communication satellites are geostationary.
          GPS satellites are around 11000 miles up, and in various orbits, but even they have poor coverage in high latitudes.
          A number of military and weather satellites use polar orbits, just to cover the world as it rotates – probably some of the military satellites are for communication, but not for commercial use.
          Comsats don’t have to be geostationary, but if they’re not, then they are only above the launching country for a part of their orbit, decreasing their value to the launching country.
          End result, as I understand it, satellite communication capabilities decrease dramatically in the polar regions.

          1. Anything that is going to be “geostationary” (remaining above one location on the ground) for more than a few hours has to be very close to the Earth’s equatorial plane. otherwise it will track north and south of the equator on the sinusoidal curves familiar from watching the ground track of launching or returning spacecraft. If you turn on your rocket motors, you can travel on an arc that is not part of a great circle concentric with the Earth. But once the motor runs out of propellant, you continue on a trajectory determined solely by your velocity vector and the location of the centre-of-mass of the Earth-satellite system.
            All the exceptions that Newton allows you apply. Viz, no exceptions.
            (OK, the Moon, the Sun, and Jupiter complicate the situation slightly. You’d need a good telescope to tell the difference.)

            GPS satellites are around 11000 miles up, and in various orbits, but even they have poor coverage in high latitudes.

            The orbits are all fairly similar – 55degrees inclination from the equator ; six planes equally spaced around the equator ; four satellites unevenly spaced around each orbit. Each orbit takes about 12 hours. Coverage is fairly similar all over the globe. The military don’t make much of a deal of it, but one of the main design purposes was to facilitate nuclear exchanges over the Arctic ; having adequate signal there dictates having adequate signal in Antarctica. With more satellites in lower orbits, you could have better coverage in some areas than others, but at much increased cost. And since fighting nuclear war is the raison d’être of the GPS system, that ain’t gonna happen.
            The military origin of the system is why nobody trusts the US Govt to continue with it when it becomes inconvenient for them. Which is why (at least) Russia, China, Europe and India are developing and deploying their own. Russia and China need to steer nuclear weapons globally, so their systems are going to have to be global too. But the Indian system could have more equatorial orbits and acheive adequate equatorial coverage at lower cost. Unless, of course, they too have ambitions for nuclear exchanges at high latitudes.

            End result, as I understand it, satellite communication capabilities decrease dramatically in the polar regions.

            It’s there. It’s just expensive because there are fewer users to spread the cost among. The last time I had to get receipts for data transmission near the Arctic Circle, a 9600bps data or voice link cost $8/ minute. 72kb per dollar. Prices have probably decreased since then.

              1. True. But rental costs are an allowable business expense, and CapEx is spread over a period of time. The Boss told me to record that, but not to consider it as a disabling issue. That was his and Bean-Counter Central’s decision to make.

            1. Thanks for the elegant explanation.
              On GPS, Japan has launched the initial phase of its own GPS satellite system, Michibiki (Wikipedia has details). Japan is far enough north that GPS coverage in downtowns (especially places like Tokyo) is degraded by the low angle of the satellites in the sky, so the signal is blocked or weakened by the skyscrapers. So what they have done is put three satellites in what is effectively a figure-8 orbit at the longitude of Japan. When each is over Japan, at the northern end of its range, the GPS signal is much more vertical and they can get centimeter positioning accuracy – at the southern end of its range, it is over Australia, which gets better GPS as a freebie. Michibiki also includes one true geostationary satellite.

              1. Interesting comments to everyone here

                I thought of another dumb question:

                Is there any reason the iPhone compass won’t work right in Antarctica?

              2. To Thyroid : Suppose you were standing on or near the magnetic south pole, with a compass, any compass, nothing to do with iphones. In which direction do you think it would point?
                It’s a bit like the joke about standing on the actual South Pole and trying to travel south. Or maybe, trying to head in the true, true, really true northerly direction.

                Or like the puzzle about the person who travelled 1 km. due north, then 1 km. due east, then 1 km. due south, ended up exactly where she started, which is where?
                Actually, the answer usually given, if you hadn’t heard it, is pretty obvious from the context here. (We are assuming, untrue, but very nearly true, that the earth’s surface is a perfect sphere.)

                HOWEVER, most assume there could be no other solution. That is wrong. There are infinitely many additional solutions. Find them. (Again, perfect sphere assumed.)

                So far as the untruth of spherical perfection, did you realize that the highest point on earth is in Ecuador, not Nepal? Explain.

                This geography exam ends at midnight, Chicago time.

              3. I thought the needle of an analog compass would continually seek true north because it is on the opposite side of the earth – or, because south is right below it. So an inconclusive result.

                I know that puzzle and I saw a PhysicsGirl YouTube video on the range of solutions – wasn’t aware before that. It’s a cool puzzle.

              4. I’m not ready for a quiz just yet. I haven’t read the first chapter.

                In aerial navigation, there is a difference, of course, between true north in (the northern hemisphere) and magnetic north. True north follows the geometric lines of latitude and longitude on maps. Magnetic north is what a compass points to. The difference between true and magnetic directions is called variation, which runs from + 20 on the East Coast of North America to – 20 on the West Coast. Depending on where you are when measuring with a compass, you have to add in the variation to get true direction.

              5. Yes, Ecuador as you say, specifically the summit of the big volcano Chimborazo (sp.?)
                It’s virtually right on the equator. But there’s a ‘trick’ there: I’m defining height as distance from the centre (of mass, or of volume) of the earth. Everest is only between 1 and 2 km. higher above sea level, whereas that equatorial bulge gives a much bigger amount, but invisible to the astronaut’s eye.

                Humboldt and mate had the world’s climbing altitude record when ascending on Chimborazo around 1800, however height is to be defined, though they didn’t make the summit.

              6. Very interesting!

                You know I just typed into Google and the results guided me to the right answer. Now with your interesting comments I can read some more about it.

              7. Wikipedia:

                “Despite being 2,585 m (8,481 ft) lower in elevation above sea level, it is 6,384.4 km (3,967.1 mi) from the Earth’s center, 2,163 m (7,096 ft) farther than the summit of Everest (6,382.3 km (3,965.8 mi) from the Earth’s center).[note 4]”

              8. Thanks for looking that up for detail.
                I’d actually got the numbers slightly wrong, Everest being about 1 km higher than Chimborazo than I said, relative to sea level, and somewhat less lower, relative to the centre of the Earth. I’d thought Chimborazo was a bit higher than Denali (McKinley) in Alaska, but I guess not.

              9. Hmmm. I’ll have to research that. I’m struggling to work out how to represent that in the context of a rotating Earth, and the movement of the Earth though the Solar-Jovian gravity field.
                The “Concrete Canyons” effect is well-known and real. Before the burglars had it, my GPS handheld had an option for displaying the visibility of satellites from the ground, and TFM made a specific point of excluding the effect of concrete canyons, wet leaves, etc from that. In retrospect, I think it was calculated, not measured from the signal processing array.

  2. Those penguins – how did they get on there??? Surely the iceberg must have had a softer slope when they hopped on? Do they drift until the berg shrinks or they get hungry or it takes them into better fishing grounds?

      1. They can propel themselves out of the water quite a way when they’ve been swimming through it can’t they? I’d have thought they did that, then climbed. Some of the inclines aren’t as sharp as the others.

        Either that or they flew there, obviously.

        1. “Some of the inclines aren’t as sharp as the others.”
          That’s right. Especially–nobody insists that penguins, or mountaineers, go ‘direttissimmo’ (sp.??). Just get on the ‘berg’ at sea level and slither along almost sideways, just slightly upwards, like skiing uphill, back-and-forth.

          But maybe there is a (penguin) ski lift on the other side of the ‘berg’ for alpine-style penguins, as opposed to nordic style ??

    1. Could temperature shifts together with salinity account for a translation of the berg up and down such that it could mate with a surface where the penguins might have been?….

      Or simpler : the berg stopped by a ledge and the birds hopped on…

      Or both…

      1. The water temperature is pretty tightly buffered. If it rises above 0deg C, the ice melts and drags it back down ; if it drops below -2deg C, the seawater starts to freeze onto the ice.
        Saul has the answer.

          1. Think you might have had Better Call Saul in the back of your mind.

            I much prefer Saul Has The Answer though 👍

    2. My first thought, “How the heck did they get up there?”

      I know they can launch themselves out of the water pretty well but that high?

      A quick search found this interesting tid-bit. Penguins using technology the US Navy (and others I’m sure) have been trying to make feasible for years!

      “When an emperor penguin swims through the water, it is slowed by the friction between its body and the water, keeping its maximum speed somewhere between four and nine feet a second. But in short bursts the penguin can double or even triple its speed by releasing air from its feathers in the form of tiny bubbles.” [thekidshouldseethis.com/post/emperor-penguins-speed-launch-out-of-the-water]

      They use this cavitation trick to increase speed to launch out of the water onto the surface.

    3. The ice on the left side of the photo is darker. Is it pee? If it is, those penguins have been on that iceberg for a while.

  3. Excellent photos I would say. Imagine trouble with the internet in Antartica. I had heard that complaint in parts of Iowa and Kansas.

  4. I asked the dad of my daughter’s 5 year-old friend of Irish descent, Georgia, why the name?

    He explained that she was the great-great niece (or some such relation) of Tom Crean, one of Shackleton’s crew who made the sea-journey to South Georgia.

    Wow. That was impressive.

      1. Thanks, Jerry. The story of the South Georgia expedition is mind-boggling. Not only the sea-voyage, but they arrived on the “wrong” side of the island. So they had to climb over the snowy mountains to get to the Norwegian station. Adventure tales like that make one realize how bourgeois one is! Bonne route & bon voyage.

        1. Yes, I was planning to mention that climbing and descending traverse of South Georgia, by 3 of the 5 IIRC who made it to South Georgia.

          In addition, again IIRC, the whole lot of them had a very long distance dragging of two lifeboats full of stuff, from the site of their ice trapped ship which had finally sunk, to the point where they could finally float on huge ice floes and eventually launch the life boats. Again, IIRC, the number remaining on Elephant Island sort of slept underneath the other lifeboat.

          Quite a contrast with the earlier Scott debacle and tragedy. Scott had treated Shackleton rather badly after an earlier expedition where they came within a few days of reaching the South Pole first, with one or two others.

          Shackleton is really the great Irish/British hero of a century ago. He died and is buried on South Georgia, there on a later expedition. I think Mawson, the Australian geologist, who lost two companions and somehow survived an Antarctic expedition (not towards the Pole), is an almost equal hero of the anglophone Antarctic explorers at the time.

          But Amundsen is ‘my hero’, despite a certain amount of subterfuge in heading south with the borrowed ship (‘Fram’ IIRC) from Nansen, when he’d pretended he was heading north. Every last crew member, given the chance at Madeira IIRC not to, decided to stick with him.

          1. All of the stuff around the (final) Scott Expedition is well told in The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard.

            Those guys in that expedition were true hard-men.

          2. Various friends who have wintered in the Antarctic for the BAS have been unanimous – they’d choose Shakleton over Scott, before asking “Where are we going?”
            The dream team would have been Shakleton and Tilman.

              1. Sorry to disagree re Scott.
                Perhaps you read my reference to the book “The Last Place on Earth”: Scott was a tremendously persevering, extraordinary aerobic workhorse himself. But he was an absolutely dreadful leader for that expedition in several different ways, as I delineated there.
                I know that the obtaining of geological samples was a very worthwhile secondary scientific objective. At the point where staying alive was coming closer to being hopeless, he might well have found a way to cache them for others on his very large expedition to recover later. He did not do so. That is yet another indicator, along with the stupidity of non-skiers, of attempting to use horses rather than dogs against the good advice of Nansen, and a few other matters I mentioned there. To repeat, I believe his stubborn vainglorious attitude was the main reason that he lead, in the style of a military commander, four other men to their deaths.

                Great as leaders and explorers: Shackleton, Mawson, Tilman, and others–yes. But not Scott as a leader.

  5. Wow, the ocean looks calm (that must be a relief), and the iceberg with the penguins on it – it appears to be the one off the back of the boat in the distance (on the ship cam).

  6. I got so excited to see the penguins on the iceberg and I’m not even there.
    Keep posting if you can!

  7. Holy mackerel – now that I see the penguins, I can tell how big the iceberg is! It’s like a big hill!

    1. It’s odd the shift in perspective between the two pictures, isn’t it? Only in the close-up do you get a feel for just how bastard-huge these things are.

  8. The Shackleton adventure is really amazing. He must have been a brave and resourceful human being. 800 miles in a row boat? How’d they do that? …and that it was so nicely photographically documented!

    I saw the icebergs the ship must have recently passed, and photographed, on the horizon of the boat cam. Things are getting interestinger.

        1. They just had a couple of degrees of possible error to not miss South Georgia. I think that prevailing winds and ocean currents made that the choice; the tip of South America is a bit closer to Elephant Island IIRC, but likely an impossibility for that lifeboat.

    1. The iceberg is in full view on the 05:10 panorama (on the starboard side of the ship). Unfortunately the penguins are hidden on this view.

  9. This is the first trip of yours I’m truly jealous of, Jerry. Your jaunts to Paris and Hawaii (and even New Zealand) are all available to anyone with a couple weeks of free time and the financial wherewithal. This is a once-in-a-lifetimer.

  10. I love this. The view is breathtaking, especially the sun glinting across the water and turning everything into vanilla ice. Thanks for taking us along on your great big adventure, Jerry!

  11. Dumb penguin question. I know I could look it up, but I figure it is more fun to ask the experts.

    How the heck did penguins get to Antarctica? Did they evolve elsewhere and swim to Antarctica? Seems a long way. Or did they evolve on Antartica from birds that flew there? Not sure that could even happen. Or did they evolve when Antartica was closer to or joined to other land masses? I am guessing the latter.

    I bet this question is answered in PCC’s next lecture on board the Roald Amundsen.

      1. But then they’d have been cooked by the water boiling from the accelerated plate tectonics needed to square (slightly) “Flood geology” with the real world.

        1. Not if god put them in a magical trance that made them invulnerable or something.

          You say ‘unfalsifiable claim’, creationists say ‘thankyou, I take that as a compliment’.

          1. Dear Creationists,
            Attached please find some writing paper to improve your “arguments”. It is soft, strong, and very very long, and only slightly soiled.

    1. Penguins do have a fossil record, but I can’t remember details. It’s only about 30 million years since the Drake passage opened and the climate of Antarctica worsened drastically. I’d expect that even if they weren’t spectacular fliers, they could have coastally migrated from South America before then.
      Nope, seems they originated in place. But that was well before Antarctica was in the southern polar regions, and even further before Antarcica separated from the rest of Gondwanaland.

  12. I am gassed (expression from my youth) by the images from the hurtigruten.panorama site. Beautiful weather for amazing landscapes. Maybe I don’t know how webcams work, but this one seems to project one still image for a while. Nobody moves and they are still in the same place the next time around, or so it seems to my eyes.

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