Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Yay! More eyeballs!

Hello to all of you coming from the article about Mindy at! As you can see, we're only about half-finished uploading Mindy's pictures and video from the trip. More to come!

Monday, January 28, 2013

UPDATED: Mindy's Footsteps

We're beginning the process of building in some of the photos and other artifacts from Mindy's trip.  We'll start with the GPS data from Mindy's camera receiver.  The data isn't a complete path, as she only had partial reception during some of the sea voyages. But it should give you a sense of where she went.

Unfortunately, the Google Earth plug-in doesn't seem to be working right now - but if you cut and paste the link below, it should open in a Google Map.

UPDATE (30 Jan): For those not wishing to engage in the GooglePlex, you can download the KMZ file here with no login, registration, or other pesky identifying info:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Journey's End (updated with pix and video)

From Mindy, dated 19 January:

Argentina coastline (click to enlarge)
We had a beautiful sunrise this morning, and got to watch the rugged mountains along the coastline pass by as we slowly made our way back to civilization in Ushuaia, Argentina.  At about 6:30 am, we heard our last wake up call from Ted Cheeseman ("Goooood morning, shipmates...").  The ship was making about 7 knots speed, Mount Olivia was dead ahead of the ship, and a few miles to go before we docked.  The air temperature was 11 degrees C, water 9.5 C, with a light breeze and the barometer at 1008.

Ushuaia (click to enlarge)
Ushuaia (click to enlarge)
The port at Ushuaia is a very quaint little harbor, picturesque against the southern tip of the Andes Mountains.  The tree line on the mountains was unmistakable, and the summer weather made the town look so inviting.  A handful of people on our trip had decided to spend an extra day or two in this part of Argentina just exploring (I wish I had more time to do the same...) (Ahem - Ed).

It was a morning of goodbyes, to the crew and to our fellow passengers.  We each had a truly amazing adventure and ended the trip with about one hundred new friends.  While the Group was heavy on U.S. travelers, we also had folks coming from Canada, Scotland, England, Sweden, India, China, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, France, South Africa, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia!  Our most energetic passenger was Abdulaziz from Saudi Arabia, who almost didn't make it on the trip (because it was sold out) but held out hope and got all of his visas in order just in case.  It was lucky he did because there was a cancellation about 3 or 4 days before the trip and Abdul joyfully claimed his spot.  What a pleasure he was to have on the trip, too... so much zest for life, and he constantly reminded us of sticking to your goals and having faith that things will always work out in the end.

The group flight back to the U.S. (there were 62 of us going back to LAX) was long, but most of us were still in a daze from our adventures.  3 hour flight to Buenos Aires, 2 hour fiasco of a transfer to the international airport in Buenos Aires (but I was humming the Buenos Aires song from the musical Evita the whole time), dinner in the airport (great bruschetta and even better company), 5 hour flight to Lima, 9 hour flight to Los Angeles, 2 hours at customs, then for me a 1 hour flight to Phoenix.  My parents and my sweet son picked me up at the airport (I was slacking elsewhere - Ed.).

A few things that I already miss (as I type up my notes a few days after returning) are:

- Knowing that no matter what time of day or what location we were at we could always look outside and take in beautiful scenery worthy of taking our breath away.

- Hearing Ted Cheeseman's voice as an alarm clock each morning (towards the end of the trip several of us joked that we need to get Ted to record a "back to reality" wake up call telling us it wasn't a dream, but that we do have to get out of bed and go back to work).

- Letting somebody else plan our entire day, and knowing for sure that no matter what eventually happened would be once-in-a-lifetime amazing and awesome (It's sort of like living with Mr. Belvedere - Ed.)!

- Spending time with new friends that quickly melded into folks you felt like you had known for a decade or more.
New friends (click to enlarge)

- Seeing penguins, hearing penguins, and a tad bit even smelling penguins.  Just when I thought I was sick of taking pictures of another penguin, I would see another penguin and immediately giggle and melt, saying "aww, it's so cute!"

- Being around geologists... I almost forgot how much I love geology (almost...), and it warms my heart to hear beautiful geo words woven into conversation like strata, hinge, turbidite, greenschist, serpentinite, batholith, Scotia Arc, chevron folding, ophiolite, Sandebugten, cirque, tabular, and yes even dike... (Welcome to my dinner table. - Ed.)

To all those who read this blog, thanks for sharing the adventure with me.  Thanks to my wonderful husband for being my "webmaster" and providing comical editorial comments (Thank you very much! Tip your waitresses! Try the veal! - Ed.).  And if any of you are planning on taking any "trips of a lifetime" in the near future, I wholeheartedly recommend trying to do it with Cheeseman's Ecology Safaris ( )... You'll feel like your favorite relative is bringing you along on an amazing adventure that is one for the history books!

As our ship's bartender, Joaol, would say at happy hour each day... Tooloo!
The whole group (click to enlarge)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Die, Rats, Die! (updated with pix and video)

From Mindy, dated 18 January:

Cape Horn (click to enlarge)
This morning we will sail around Cape Horn, and after we make the turn the captain has promised calm seas (we'll then be on the leeward side of the tip of South America).  As we woke up in the morning (58 miles away from Cape Horn) the ship was sailing at 12 knots, there was a 2 meter swell, 20-25 knot winds, barometer rising at 1005, air temperature 8.5 degrees C, water temp 7.2 C.

Ship's Navigation (click to enlarge)
In the morning we tackled some logistics for ending the trip, settling accounts, packing, and making sure everyone has the right information for traveling home.  A small group from our trip will be spending an extra week going to Tierra del Fuego with the some of the geology trip leaders (think of it as "reverse snowbirding" - Ed.).

Photographer Tom Murphy shared some amazing photos with us from his 35 years of Backcountry Skiing in Yellowstone National Park.  He has published some coffee-table books and a 2013 calendar that show his amazing work.  With Tom giving us insights on how the photo was taken, and the lengths he went to in getting to these locations, you really get an appreciation for how utterly amazing these images are!

Richard Alley gave one last talk on "highlights from 4.6 billion years of climate change." He did an excellent job of explaining and summing up so much climate history so clearly and succinctly.  I will really miss having the privilege to hear his lectures in person (as well as the other amazing brain power on this ship)!  He treated us to an encore of his song The Great Penguin Waltz, complete now with penguin photos from our trip.

Dolphins on the ship's bow
(click to enlarge)
In the afternoon, we held a silent auction to raise money for rat eradication on the South Georgia Islands, being done by the South Georgia Heritage Trust.  The story here is that South Georgia is one of the places we visited on this expedition, and they have an organization who began to work on preserving the natural ecosystem several years ago.  South Georgia used to be abundant in many species of birds who would use the islands to nest and in part of their migration pattern.  But, over the years whalers and explorers inadvertently brought rats with them on their ships, and the rats thrived on the islands.  The rats eat the eggs from nesting birds, and have become a real problem.  As areas have been cleared of rats, the birds have slowly started to return to the islands.  About $145 US dollars can ensure that one hectare of land is cleared of rats, and they are just a few years away from complete rat eradication!

Whaling vessel (click to enlarge)
Before we all came on this trip, we knew about this auction and were encouraged to contribute unique things to auction.  I brought some hand-made note cards (the kind I send as my Christmas cards each year), some wine gift certificates from the first carbon neutral winery in the U.S. (Parducci in Mendocino County, CA), and I also crocheted some scarves (during the trip) that we named based on the yarn colors and how they mimicked the rock formations we had seen on the trip (Sandebugten, Blue Schist, Green Schist, and Serpentinite) (Yes, my wife crochets rocks - you got a problem with that?! - Ed.).  Other really cool stuff in the auction (just to name a small few) included a South Georgia flag flown over Grytviken, historic books, artwork, a hand-made penguin quilt wall-hanging, 1915-era cigarette cards (sort of like baseball cards) of Shackleton's Antarctic expedition, rare rock samples from the Sudbury Impact Structure in Canada, and so many other special mementos from the trip.  A new friend of mine from this trip, Natalie (who you might recall from an earlier blog post has a fear of fur seals) knitted a miniature fur seal complete with toothpick-fangs, red eyes, and red-yarn "blood" dripping from its mouth!  The fur seal went in the silent auction for near $200!  By the end of the auction, we had collectively raised over $14,000 for the South Georgia Heritage Trust Habitat Restoration Project.  Another organization pledged to match funds up to $10,000 and some anonymous donors pledged several thousand dollars outside of the auction.  So, all told we were able to send nearly $30K for rat eradication.  This amount is enough to clear rats from land the size of Elephant Island (if you don't think this is way cool, you're dead inside - Ed.)!

After the auction we had a special dinner with the Captain of the ship, and after dinner we all watched the group photo slideshow (collected and culled by Scott Davis).  Then it was time to pack and get some last visiting in with friends at the ship's bar.  At about midnight we went out on the deck to see the night sky (we hadn't had true darkness for a couple of weeks) and a couple of us got to see the tug boat greet us and drop off the pilot who would take over sailing the ship for its final approach into the port at Ushuaia.  In the morning we will be flying home... can you believe we just went to Antarctica???  None of us can still believe it!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Coming Back (updated with pix and video)

From Mindy, dated 17 January:

Enjoying the Southern Ocean
(click to enlarge)
Rough days at sea ahead as we go back through the Drake Passage.  I shouldn't complain, because we are actually experiencing rather calm conditions for this notoriously violent section of ocean.  As we get our daily wake up call from Ted Cheeseman (who has such a calming and optimistic voice that it makes you excited about the day as soon as you hear him) (what else would you expect from a guy named "Cheeseman"? - Ed.), we have a thick fog and the ship is navigating by radar.  The water temperature is 1.5 degrees C, air is 3 C, barometer at 994, and there is negligible winds with 1-2 meter swells.

Rough sea at sunset
(Click to enlarge)
If you read the blog post for Jan 8, you might remember that we had some rough seas going through Drake passage the first time.  Well, last night we found out that a whopper of a storm came in right behind us that day.  Sometime shortly after there was another cruise ship of similar size taking the same route... They got caught in the monster storm, and the windows were blown out on the bridge (several people were injured by shards of glass, and the ship returned immediately to Ushuaia, canceling that cruise and the next scheduled cruise for that ship)!  With that shocking story, we were all reminded of the luck we are having with weather, and I have nothing to complain about with today's ship jostling (I have at least been able to function for a majority of the day, although with somewhat of a green face).

We had several lectures throughout the day from our geology and ecology expedition leaders.  I missed several of them because it is very easy to get queasy in the lecture room (it is on the bottom deck and right at the center of the ship with no windows).  Pauline Carr shared stories of ocean explorers in a lecture called "Terra Becomes Cognita: the Heroic Age Explorers." Ian Dalziel spoke more about the geologic history in the region, summing up "Antarctica and Supercontinental Evolution." Rob Dunbar gave a talk on "Climate Change in Antarctica: Stories from Sediment Cores." Michael Moore gave a very insightful talk on "Penguins, Whales, and Climate Change."  Finally, Richard Alley spoke about "How Glaciers use Earthquakes to Make Beautiful Scenery." (Californians, take note - Ed.)

I only mustered enough energy to make it to Richard's talk (although I had to lie on the floor to calm my stomach), but I learned some unexpected things about glacial weathering...  one of them being that glaciers can modify landforms quicker than rivers (but sometimes they don't).  The Taku glacier in Alaska has been measured at 3 meters/year erosion rates, and the Riggs glacier, also in Alaska was measured at 30 meters per year sedimentation rates in front of the glacier!  If you think about the Antarctic continent, and you just assume a 1 cm/yr erosion rate (the common average of all glaciers measured) the whole continent should be gone under the Antarctic ice sheets (and in fact the ice would have worn down to the earth's mantle by now), so something is moderating the potential behavior of the Antarctic ice sheets so that they are not eroding like other ice sheets.  To stop a glacier from transforming the landscape underneath it, you can either have it frozen solid onto the bedrock, or have a thawed bed but no meltwater.  Earthquakes can then play a significant role in shaping the landforms because they essentially allow hydro-fracking in the cracks in rocks (this explains how you have sharp "cliff-like" edges in glacial geomorphology (otherwise, the ice would have rounded everything and polished it much like river cobbles over the years). (Got all that? - Ed.)

Several folks on the trip completed a final drawing workshop with Edward Rooks to work on their pieces of art from the trip.  Everyone feverishly edited and organized their photos (with the help of professional photographers Tom Murphy and Scott Davis) so that we could collect the best ones for a group slide show.  We also turned in items for an auction to be held on the last day of the trip, raising money for a rat eradication project on South Georgia Island.  More on that exciting tidbit tomorrow.

Late in the evening there was a screening of a movie called "Around Cape Horn" which was made by Captain Irving Johnson in 1929 during the last great days of sailing. I could not stomach watching a movie that was shot with a hand-crank camera on rough seas (and shown in a notoriously risky room for getting sea sick).  But, I heard rave reviews from everyone who saw it, and I will definitely track down this movie when I get home. (See link above - Ed.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen (updated with pix and video)

From Mindy, dated 16 January:

A bittersweet wake up this morning as everyone realizes this will be our last zodiac landing day.  We are sailing along at about 10 knots speed, with negligible wind.  The air temperature is 3.5 degrees C, water near 2 degrees C, barometer at 988 and clear skies.  Looks like the weather will be kind to us again today with sun and balmy (once again, I want it on record that my wife called 2C "balmy" - Ed.) southern ocean summer winds.

The beach at Binn's Bluff
(click to enlarge)
Bouma and flame (click to enlarge)
For our morning landing, we set off on the Hurd Peninsula to Binn's Bluff in False Bay.  This is a relatively out of the way beach with not much wildlife, so it doesn't get much human attention.  Many well-travelled Antarctic experts on our ship have never landed here.  On the beach we found some copper deposits on large boulders.  We also found some pretty nice examples of Bouma sequences in turbidites (a Bouma sequence is a characteristic pattern in rocks that indicates a series of underwater landslides over time).  There were some nice flame structures in the sediments (good "way up" indicators), and even a dike about 20-30 cm wide.

I'm "lichen" it (click to enlarge)
Moss on the cape
(click to enlarge)
There were some really nice looking lichens on the rocks along the beach and on the marine terrace.  A fellow passenger, Cath, taught me about the three types of lichens: crustos (painted), folios (leafy), and fruiticos (bushy) (good to know for all of us who usually just say "moss" - Ed.).  In False Bay, there are two of the three kinds of lichens growing on nearly all of the outcrops (fruiticos and crustos).  There are also some really cute little tufts of grass known as hair grass.

(click to enlarge)
Pearl Wort and Deschampia
(click to enlarge)
In the afternoon we landed at Hannah Point on Livingston Island, which is one of the most biodiverse places in terms of wildlife on the South Shetland Islands.  At the beach we could see the only two flowering plants in Antarctica (Pearl Wort and Deschampia Grass).  The volcanic rocks in the area had a mineral called Chalcedony in them (pretty unusual here).  Further down the beach from our landing site there is a grouping of large boulders where everyone collects any fossils they've found.
Collection of Specimens (click to enlarge)
 It is against the law to take fossils from the beach (and in fact if any of us on the tour took fossils, it would be our tour organizer who would be prosecuted under U.S. law).  The fossils were amazing!  Petrified wood, fern leaves, marine fossils, etc.

Gentoo nest (click to enlarge)
Elephant seal wrinkles (click to enlarge)
Whale bones (click to enlarge)
The animal life at Hannah Point was quite fun to see one last time on our trip.  There were penguins and chicks (with lots of penguin poop!), elephant seals lounging (and making foul noises), and skua with skua babies.  We even saw a skua steal a penguin chick and take it over to the nest to feed the skua babies (disturbing, but at the same time amazing to see the circle of life as they say) (cue Disney music - Ed.).

Copper schist
(click to enlarge)
Fern imprints (click to enlarge)
Petrified wood (click to enlarge)

Back to the ship for warm drinks and a hot dinner.  It was sad knowing that this was our last landing, but happy because we had such a wonderful day.  The sun was shining, the seas were relatively calm, and the winds were not that bad.  In passing conversation, I heard Ted (our expedition leader) saying that luck actually happens all the time, you just have to be ready for it.  What a great way to capture our trip and the serendipity of all of us geologists and scientists being together here!

Last Look (click to enlarge)
At about 10:30pm, we were catching our last glimpse of the South Shetland Islands.  Smith Island is about 7000 feet tall, and made of blueschist (one of the rock types that eluded us earlier in the expedition).  This island was only mapped a few years ago, and Ian Dalziel told us how rare it is to actually have weather good enough to see the island.  The sunset was beautiful, and silhouetted the snow-covered peaks in a beautiful pink light (with the moon rising to the east).

And now it is two days at sea while we make our way to Ushuaia, Argentina for flights homeward.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Solid South (updated with pix and video)

From Mindy, dated 15 January:

This morning we reach our southernmost point in the cruise.  The barometer was at 989, water at 1.8 degrees C, air at 1.5 degrees C, negligible wind.

 After staying up for the sunrise at 3:23 am, it was tough to get up early, but one look outside and I couldn't miss the view.

Captain on the bridge (click to enlarge)
Mindy at Lemaire Channel
(click to enlarge)
We sailed through the Lemaire Channel, which is a very narrow and scenic channel at about 64 degrees West longitude and a little south of 65 degrees South latitude.  At the southernmost point in the channel, the captain stopped the ship and turned the boat around.  What a treat to see the channel twice!  Next we sailed through Neumayer Channel to Weinke Island.

Port Lockroy (click to enlarge)
At about 10am we made it to Port Lockroy, a former British Antarctic Survey (BAS) base in a sheltered harbor.  The port was named by the French explorer Charcot in 1904, and is named after the French politician Edward Lockroy (who founded Chacot's trip).  Cath and Ben, two of the staff from Port Lockroy, came on board to give us some background information about the base and the surrounding area before our landing.  The geography of this bay lends itself well to whaling, and whaling was common here from 1911-1931.  By 1931 the whalers could work off of ships and didn't necessarily need sheltered harbors to process the blubber.  After World War II there was a secret British Navy operation to set up the BAS base.  The sailors didn't even know where they were going when they left (Ben told us one sailor sent a letter to his mom saying that he was issued sunglasses so he must be headed somewhere warm!) (Also known as the "mushroom method of personnel assignment" - Ed.).  They meant to set up the base at Hope Bay (to monitor the naval activity around the tip of South America), but couldn't access it that year because the ice pack was too thick.  Instead they established Base A at Lockroy.  The first thing they officially established was a post office (in true British fashion) (I'm betting a tea shop was second - Ed.).  After the war there wasn't much utility to the base, so they handed it over to scientists and science was the main purpose of the base from 1945-1962.

Gentoo Family
(click to enlarge)
"The Beastie"
(click to enlarge)
One particular machine they used daily was an ionosond, which was referred to by the men as "beastie" because it was huge, heavy, regularly caught fire, and often interfered with BBC transmission signals.  Now the base is managed by the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

At the base, there are only two small buildings, one is a museum and the other is where the staff live (maybe 4 of them?).  You can mail a post card to anywhere in the world from here for $1 (the card goes to the Falkland Islands, then to the U.K., then it enters the U.K. postal system).

At Port Lockroy, some scientific experiments have been conducted for 16 years evaluating the impact of tourism on the ecosystems.  The area around the base has been split in half, with one half open the human traffic and the other an exclusion zone.  The results so far indicate no major difference in biodiversity between the two zones, which either means that people are respecting the rules about minimal impact activities or that the management plans for Antarctic tourism have been effective so far.
On the island at Port Lockroy there are sheathbills, penguins, roaming skuas, and an insect named Belgica Antarctica.

Peninsula Group Volcanics
(click to enlarge)
Jougla Point dike
(click to enlarge)
Across the bay from Port Lockroy we landed at Jougla Point in Alice Creek Cove.  There was a Wedell seal lounging on the beach, some whale bones assembled on a bluff (supposedly from a blue whale, but more than likely a mishmash of several whale types).  The geology here is a hybrid of Andean intrusion suites (igneous rocks) from the Peninsula Group Volcanics.
Weddell Seal
(click to enlarge)

Upon return to the ship, we were treated to a BBQ lunch outside on the deck. True "southern" BBQ (becaus we are so far south...) (Larry's would beg to differ - Ed.).  We took a group photo and prepared for a quick jaunt over to Neko Harbor (our last chance to actually walk on the Antarctic continent).  As we sailed we passed a harbor named Paradise Harbor, and the light and scenery really made it look like paradise!  Our little Neko Harbor is a bit more intimate though, and we had a delightful landing.

Real Southern BBQ
(click to enlarge)

Half of the ship decided to cruise in zodiacs while the other half landed for hikes and more penguins.

Humpback Whale
(click to enlarge)
 The zodiac cruisers were in for a real treat as they got up close and personal with several Humpback whales.  One zodiac was even bumped by a whale (Paul's zodiac), and another zodiac got close enough to catch a glimpse of a whale with an underwater camera (Greg's videography skills and an icy cold plunge of the hands).

Mindy at Neko Harbor
(click to enlarge)
The hikers were greeted by beautiful pink granites on the beach, a really nice dike, and gentoo penguins.  I was with the hikers, and we hiked up a rock face and snow slope to get a good view of the glaciers coming out of the mountains.  The beach here is dramatically different than it was just a couple of years ago (it has been shaped by tsunami-type waves created when the glaciers calve off the cliff face).  This landing was our last chance to set foot on the Antarctic continent.

We hiked up a snowy rock face to get a good view of the glaciers surrounding the bay, and then slid down the snow in dramatic glissade form ("Glissade" is apparently geologist-speak for "sliding on your butt like a five-year-old" - Ed.).  The glissade was quite fun!

Fun with Black Ice
(click to enlarge)

Natalie's Knit Fur Seal thru Black Ice
(click to enlarge)
On the way back in the zodiac we saw two humpback whales fairly close by, and one of our passengers (Heather) found a really cool chunk of ice that you could see through (and there was much fun taking photos of our faces in the ice like a funhouse mirror).  Upon return to the ship, the crew had hot chocolate and brownies waiting for us outside the mud room.

Paradise Bay at Sunset, Leaving Neko Harbor
(click to enlarge)

All in all it was one of the best days so far... But there is one more day of landings to go, so we'll see what it brings tomorrow!