Antarctica, Day 5: Deception Island

March 7, 2022 • 9:30 am

To see a lot more photos, have a look at my post from this same stop in 2019.

We are now inside the caldera of Deception Island in the South Shetlands, an archipelago that I described this morning and showed some maps. It’s a relatively quiescent volcano that blew up and collapsed thousands of years ago, but undergoes semi-regular underwater eruptions, the last being in 1970.

It’s about 15 km (9.3 miles across), and is a perfect natural harbor, which meant that sealers and whalers moored here and dealt with the animals. Sometimes 100 ships at a time were moored in the quiet waters, all bent on killing sea mammals. Here’s a map. At the bottom you can see “Neptune’s Bellows” a 500 meter opening that is the only entrance to the caldera. We landed at “Telefon Bay” to the NW (named for a ship, not the instrument) to the northwest) and climbed to the top of Telefon Ridge.

The fur seals were nearly extinct by the mid-18th century, and so they turned to whales. Who knows how many mammals gave their lives for fur or oil. Fortunately, the carnage is prohibited now, and the only people here are tourists, as well as the people who manage two research stations during the summer: a Spanish one and an Argentinian one.

Here’s what I think is the Argentine base:

Inside the caldera: a panorama (I can never do good panoramas):

The Amundsen at rest in the caldera, photographed from shore. The waters are calm and peaceful.

From the far end you can see the small opening of Neptune’s Bellows. There are 500 m separating the sides, but for a ship like the Amundsen, there’s only 200 feet of navigable space because of rocks beneath the surface. Had this opening not existed, a lot more animals would have survived the sealers and whalers.

Our goal is that distant ridge, the summit of Telfon Ridge to the left of center (the area where we landed is called “Telefon Bay”). If you enlarge this or the next photo, you’ll see people standing on top of it. It’s a stiff hourlong climb for an oldster like me, and there are places where, if you slip, you fall off the ridge down the rocks and die. I have to admit that I was a bit scared at times.

The goal (a high zoom from the ship). I made it, too. So did many people who were old like me, but many of them are Germans and intrepid hiking is in their genes.

Views on the way. When I was last here in October of 2019, that mini basis was filled with beautiful green water. (You can see that in my earlier post.)

Hiking up. You can see two passengers to the left, wearing, as do I, the official Hurtigruten red rain parka:

I took a selfie in the goggles of our resident ornithologist, but I forgot to look out from behind the camera (these are taken with my Panasonic Lumix):

The caldera and ship from the top of the ridge.

Views on the way down, which was much easier than on the way up, but there were still dicey bits where you could fall.

Descending:

And back to the landing spot after a two-hour trek, which I hoped burned off at least the equivalent of a milkshake. Notice the group to the right. They were doing the “Antarctic plunge”, taking off their clothes and jumping into the water, which I’m told hurts like hell. But you get a certificate for it (not me!) and the Expedition Team is there with dry towels.

The Zodiacs back to the ship, with the masochists to the right. I wonder if they will frame their certificates.

Notice the orange bags: the “land kit”, which contains supplies to allow people to overnight on the island should there be an emergency, as well as other requisites (presumably stretchers and the like).

After a stiff hike, lunch at the Aune. Menu items exactly as listed:

“Rbeef tenderloin carpaccio with lingonberries relish, smoked mackerel with lemon sour cream, rocket & almonds, hummus, bruschetta & ricotta.”

This is basically a gussied-up hamburger:

“Beef Lindstrøm, asparagus beans, cauliflower, sautéed mushroom and pan fried rice.”

“Brownies with cream and applecompote”

And then a stroll around the top deck, some posting here, and then our egress through Neptune’s Bellows. We get very close to its rocky walls:

The Bellows from the outside. It doesn’t look too daunting, but for a big a ship like the Roald Amundsen, it’s like threading a needle. Because of the subsurface rocks to the left below, you have to pass close to the rock wall on the right. No errors can be tolerated!

Some more reading (I’ll be finished with A Suitable Boy in no time!), and then dinner in the Fredheim. A fairly light dinner: a beer, three steamed buns, and a blueberry milkshake.  (BTW, I am getting emails from people worried about my diet. DO NOT WORRY!)

While I was consuming my shake and chatting with the waiter (a great guy named Emmanuel,), we saw a seal porpoise out of the water right in front of us—twice. What a treat!

21 thoughts on “Antarctica, Day 5: Deception Island

  1. To paraphrase Vonnegut, “Everything* is beautiful…but that blueberry milkshake hurts**.”

    *Meaning the pictures and the descriptions and just generally the vicarious experience.
    **Because I cannot have one.

  2. You won’t get any critical remarks from me about the food — it looks just great!

    What are the temperatures there? [You’d be walking to work in cold and snow if you were back home.]

    1. My first bet would be a fault line scarp, but noting the way the N and S ends have slightly prominent headlands, which look to me like “parasitic cones” of the main volcano – probably containing a small “stock” of lava or agglomerate in addition to the layered ash and lava deposits typical of stratovolcanoes – they *might* be “anchors” for a “sector collapse” bounding fault. People do occasional bouts of “the sky is falling” excitement over the instability of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma in the Canaries, and the potential for a major tsunami affecting all coasts of the North Atlantic, but really, these events are very common. A volcanology holiday I did in the Canaries included an after-dinner game of “spot the sector collapse” with bathymetry data from around the islands. We found 22 or 23 of them with nothing more than the human eyeball. How many collapses there are around the Hawaiian chain, I don’t know.
      There are processes that turn more-or-less circular stratovolcanoes into more-or-less triangular islands, and sector collapse is high on that list of processes.
      To argue against the sector collapse scar interpretation to a regular tectonic faulting interpretation, I’d add that typical sector collapse “headwall scar” faults are concave outwards. But “typical” is an important caveat there.

      1. Yes, Mr. Inspector. I saw a show a few? decades ago about a particularly fragile LARGE part of one of those Canaries which, if it slipped into the drink would result in a tsunami that could wash out New York City. Being a NYer this caught my attention. I presume that area is still very “in play” given the recent eruption there.
        D.A.
        NYC

  3. Had this opening not existed, a lot more animals would have survived the sealers and whalers.

    … but equally, most of the (resident/ visiting) seal population wouldn’t have been able to find room on the external beaches, and the internal beaches wouldn’t have been accessible.

      1. Hmmm. Debatable. Developing the “cracking” and “refining by distillation” techniques – for the oil shale industry in the 1840s or so – started to produce “mineral oils” which could compete with whale oil for producing a low-smoke lighting oil … so people could have a longer working day, particularly in winter.
        (BTW, the considerable majority of oil production comes from ages when the only dinosaurs around to crack into oil were birds. The North Sea is somewhat unusual in having nearly half of it’s production from Jurassic-age rocks, and some of it from Devonian-age source rocks.
        Some true-but-irrelevant verbiage coming out of a Green MP today : it is true that the typical time from discovery well for a field to first production is in the order of 28 years. But she neglects that there are literally hundreds of prospects which have been discovered, then delineated, and had their production capabilities tested – then been put on the shelf (say, because they need sustained oil prices above 60$/bbl) waiting for suitable economic conditions. So maybe I should be sending Putin a “thank you” letter. Ah, economics – the Scylla to the Charybdis of politics.

        1. I never regret making a throwaway remark when you are in the neighbourhood. I always learn something.
          My reference was to a line from “Free in the Harbour” by the late Canadian singer-songwriter Stan Rogers. He juxtaposes whales swimming in Hermitage Bay, Nfld., with former fishermen from the dying town who’ve migrated to Alberta to work in the oil patch and “who once did pursue them as oil from the sea. . . ,”. (Some poetic licence as Newfoundland never had a commercial whaling industry.)

  4. “The waters are calm and peaceful” No disrespect, but if in a nearly closed caldera the waters are not ‘calm and peaceful’ my reaction would be: hey guys, maybe this is the opportune moment to l get the hell out of here.
    Unless you are vulcanologist, but we all know these guys and gals are tainted with this tiny dollop of minor crazyness.
    (and I should know, my first wife was a vulcanologist, a geologist specializing in, well, volcanos).

    1. Well, I’d tolerate a few fumaroles going off in the caldera – above or below water. As long as they’re stable they’re a reasonable indicator that nothing much is changing in the Stygian depths. And no volcanological change is a good thing for planning visits.

      On the subject of Stygian depths, we had a 2 hour radio play a couple of weeks ago adapting Verne’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” – rip-roaring adventure yarn, with occasional moments of rolling in the aisles, helpless with mirth for the volcanologists in the audience.
      If you’ve got access to the BBC “Sounds” site, you can download it from https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08j9r66 .

  5. That food looks absolutely mean , out of this world, mouthwatering, and free wine too? I’m kinda glad i cannot afford such a trip. I would end up like those guys in “La Grande Bouffe”.

  6. I wondered why it is called Deception Island. Wikipedia gives the answer: it is so-called because of its outwardly deceptive appearance which gives no clue to the presence of the large flooded caldera. It was named by an American sealer called Nathaniel Palmer in 1820.

  7. The station in the photo is the Spanish Gabriel de Castile Base, where they study the seismic activity within the island, among other topics. We rely on them to give us fair warnings in case of increased activity.

    The Argentine station is practically abandoned, I haven’t seen anyone there in years.

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