We’ve reached that time of the year where the weather becomes pretty much unpredictable, and as a result we’ve experienced some of the wildest swings I’ve ever seen. We started out August with a pretty heavy cover of pack ice out in the harbor, and clear skies that led to some amazingly pink sunrises. Pack ice is cool to watch because it’s so surreal…a lot of time it’s really just ice chunks floating in water that hasn’t developed it’s own solid surface yet. The ice moves en masse as the tides rise and fall, and wind will blow the bigger chunks around in a kind of aquatic ballet.
After a few days of watching the pack form tighter and tighter, the weather changed completely, and we had a few solid days of warm (around 30 degree) temperatures, and tremendous winds. Our top gust this month was around 65 knots, and we had about four solid days where the wind never dropped below 30 knots. Of course all this wind is bad for the ice pack, and we actually had a really nice warm evening with no ice right off of the pier. Now, what does one do when it’s the middle of August in Antarctica, and there is a bunch of open water? Well, you do a polar plunge and go swimming of course! Yeah, it sounds dumb, and it probably isn’t good for the cardiac system, but there’s just something invigorating about hurling yourself into below freezing water and swimming around for a few minutes (ok, seconds) and then heading for the hot tub.
Twenty-four hours later, and the temperatures were heading back down again. Three or four days of 20 degree weather with not much wind was just right to set up a nice smooth layer of ice on the ocean’s surface. If you hike up the glacier now and look out over the ocean, it’s just solid ice as far as you can see. It’s really cool, but hopefully it’ll go away in less than a month so that the ship can come back and bring us salad!
Besides the arrival of the summer crew, the upcoming month of September is usually known for the return of the local wildlife. While there have always been a few gulls and sheath-bills around, we haven’t seen any seals for at least six weeks, and no penguins have been spotted for at least four months. Well, all that started to change this month. We saw a lone seal sitting out on an ice floe just before the sea froze over completely a couple of weeks ago, and last Sunday on the coldest day of the season we got our first bunch of penguins walking toward the station. We’re not really sure where they came from, but at about 10:00 am Sunday someone radioed that there were penguins on the ice. Everyone ran out to check it out, and sure enough, there were 18 gentoo penguins marching around the point, and heading up to Hero inlet. I grabbed my camera and headed out to see what kind of photos I could get. The light was lousy…completely flat with no contrast, but out of the 100 or so shots I took, I’m very happy with about five or six of them. We haven’t seen any more since then, but we’re expecting the mass migration to Torgeson island anytime now.