Antarctica, Day 10: A jaunt along the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula

March 12, 2022 • 9:30 am

Yesterday we were supposed to visit Brown Bluff, a basalt tuya, with “tuya” defined by Wikipedia as “a flat-topped, steep-sided volcano formed when lava erupts through a thick glacier or ice sheet.” Brown bluff is a tourist spot on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula, on the Weddell Sea.

Alas, there was too much ice near shore to allow Zodiac landings, so instead we cruised up the east side of the Peninsula from south to north. And there’s lots of animal life, though it’s a bit late for the Adelies.

The site has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports a breeding colony of about 20,000 pairs of Adélie penguins, as well as about 550 pairs of gentoo penguins. Other birds nesting there include cape petrels, Wilson’s storm petrels and kelp gulls. Weddell seals regularly haul out, and leopard seals often hunt offshore.

I could have used the sight of a few Adelies, and I’m lecturing on Weddell seals and their adaptations, so it would have been cool for the passengers to have seen one of those big boys, but alas, it was not to be.

Here’s a picture I took that I thought was isBrown Bluff,  but doesn’t seem to be, for below that is a photo from Wikipedia that’s definitely Brown Bluff:

Definitely Brown Bluff (from Wikipedia):

At any rate, we didn’t go ashore but cruised slowly northward. Since my balcony is on the port side, and so was the Peninsula, I was able to sit outside for a longish while and take photos. So voilà: the weathers of the Weddell sea, replete with much ice:

The icebergs really shine when they catch the light.

A small glacier:



They come in all shapes and sizes:

The wind was very strong yesterday; you can see that either by going on deck, or watching it blow snow off the land:




This is mostly windblown snow, not clouds:

Since I had only oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, and skipped lunch, I had a decent dinner. First, steamed and fried dumplings, a selection with dipping sauces.

Lamb hot dog with fries (I have no control over the dispensation of ketchup here):

As I tucked into my usual blueberry milkshake for dessert, a monster iceberg floated by:

A photo can’t convey how big that puppy was. I’m absolutely sure its surface area would cover several square blocks, and it was flat as a pancake on top.

20 thoughts on “Antarctica, Day 10: A jaunt along the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula

  1. Aw man – a number of these photos are pieces of art … the fundamental story (Antarctica visit – and a bit sad, because of sudden return), mood, the composition (the two icebergs in particular ), the color palate… if this was my set, I’d be figuring out how to print them out nice n’ framable… easier said than done… stand there and take ’em in from time to time… wow…

    1. Agreed. The photos of the glaciers, especially, would have pedagogical value in geography texts demonstrating in dramatic fashion the conversion of an ice sheet into a flow of ice into the sea. Wonderful.

      1. And I think the pair has the “beryl blue” in it!… a bit of a stretch, but :

        It’s cool because it could be titled “beryl blue”, the viewer – of, perhaps pessimistic mood – would wonder “eh? Blue? It’s just all cold, gray and depressing..”

        … then they see it – “ahhhhhh… beryl blue”

        And I say “yeah, that’s what CHARLES DARWIN said!”


        Ok, hubris… gotta calm down..

  2. I think all of the regular readers enjoy living vicariously through your travel posts, and share a strong disappointment that your trip will be cut short.
    I particularly enjoy the images. Even when I got to and photograph really interesting places and events, the images make them seem boring. Yours do not.

  3. PCC(E), Thankls for another wonderful travelogue, sorry that your full trip was curtailed. Just curious, what sort of berg detection/avoidance tech is used to ensure safe navigation? The visible bergs are plentiful enough to be a concern, but it’s the possibiity of striking a submerged berg would make me VERY nervous.

    1. There’s no such thing as a totally submerged berg; about 13% of the floating ice bits are above the water. But this ship has incredibly sophisticated radar and sonar depth-finding stuff, and we can also go through a meter of solid ice without any problem. We hit floaters all the time, but little ones; the big ones are detected by radar and visually, as someone mans (or woman’s: we had one woman captain last time) the bridg 24 hours a day.

    2. Modern radar makes something like that pretty easy to detect and track. As Dr. Coyne mentioned, the percentage of the mass of the berg under vs above water is known. Thus, one low enough to escape notice is going to be no problem for a reinforced bow.
      One time, in very calm seas, I was able to acquire and track a duck flying low above the water. The “tracking”part means that the signal was strong and consistent enough for the computer to determine the duck’s course and speed.

      1. Astonishingly, radar has been used to track insect migration. Butterflies and moths migrating at heights that put them far out of visible range have been tracked and somehow it is even possible to identify the species involved. This method was used in recent years to solve a long-standing mystery concerning the painted lady butterfly in Europe. The species migrates north out of North Africa and up through Europe as far as Britain and Scandinavia going though several generations on the way (numbers migrating vary hugely between years). Until recently there was no evidence of any return migration and as the species cannot survive the winters of northern Europe it was supposed that those that migrated so far north had simply overshot into a dead end. Using radar studies though it has now been shown that there is indeed a return migration in the Autumn but whereas the Spring migration involves butterflies flying close to ground level, the return takes place at high altitude.

        The painted lady is a relatively large butterfly (but still a tiny object compared to typical radar targets) but radar has also been used to track much tinier species including the diamondback moth Plutella xylostella a near-cosmopolitan migratory species that is a pest of brassica crops in various parts of the world. Individuals of this moth are about the size of a grass seed! The radar, I guess, is detecting and tracking swarms of the insects rather than individuals but it is still and impressive feat of technology!

  4. I’ve been enjoying the posts and photos about the trip immensely. I look forward to seeing new posts each day. Kind of like being there too. Am also sorry to hear it got cut short. Everything looks fantastic. Including the meals! It’s especially interesting as I am currently reading “Madhouse at the End of the Earth” about the Belgica’s journey into Antarctica. Fascinating.

  5. Nice lookin’ grub, as has been the case the entire trip. That huge rectangular berg was something else. You could probably land a ski-plane on that. Thanks again for sharing the magical views you are witnessing. Fingers crossed that you’ll be out again in a week or two.

    1. “That huge rectangular berg was something else. You could probably land a ski-plane on that.”


      [ strokes “beard” ]

  6. In your lecture on Weddell seals, did you discuss any of the calls that they make? I worked on a summer research project in undergrad listening to audio from The Perennial Acoustic Observatory in the Antarctic Ocean (PALAOA)/helping to develop a sound library for humpbacks. The Weddells were always a fun interruption, and have such neat calls – sweeps and chirps at varying amplitudes/frequencies. Do you have any Weddell seal interesting facts?

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