Friday, December 7, 2018

Antarctic ice grips your senses

Vertical blue streaks interact with horizontal layers of ice at Portal Point.
On our Antarctic excursion, the first sight of glaciers outside our cabin window was totally exhilarating. Later that morning, as we skimmed the ocean’s surface in a Zodiac from the expedition ship to our first continental landing at Portal Point, the peninsula’s glacial plateau came ever closer. Beautiful slopes of snow and ice and a spectacular rocky peak of a nunatak rising out of the glacial masses was simply breathtaking.

Variations in color, shape, and texture make each iceberg unique.
For me, seeing the indescribably beautiful ice of Antarctica was emotional. The enormous ice sheet stretches as far as the eye can see and is even visible from space. Viewing this distinctive sight seemed surreal, unlike anything else on Earth.
Maneuvering around brash ice can be tricky.
 It’s this amazing visual that brings most visitors to Antarctica—the full kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and sizes. Shades of green, blue, and white. Some icebergs smooth and glistening; others with a grainy or crunchy appearance. Pointy, triangular, chunky, or flat on top. Small bits of brash ice or giant islands moving slowly through the water.

Compression of ice over layers of air make interesting structures
in the ocean.
But if you listen closely, you realize that the ice has a voice. The most noticeable sound is the loud crack heard when a chunk separates from a larger mass and falls into the ocean, a process known as calving. If the chunk is very large itself, the noise can be almost deafening—and the situation dangerous. But there are more subtle sounds such as the whoosh of gases releasing from floating bits of ice or the gentle swishing of movement in the ocean.
It's hard to imagine than 2/3 of the iceberg lies underwater!
Touch a piece of glacial ice, and you’ll immediately feel a stinging cold. Glacial ice is denser and has larger crystals than ordinary ice, so it feels much colder and melts much more slowly. Put a piece in your drink, and it will last all day.

Sharp points are common since pieces of ice often break off
from large icebergs such as this pure white beauty.
Another sensation created by icebergs surprised me. At times, when we were floating in a Zodiac, it felt like the sea was shifting under the weight of these enormous ice sculptures. Since most of an iceberg is underwater, the whole structure could heave with the rolling waves. One day, as we approached Cierva Coves at the southern end of Trinity Island, our Zodiac dodged brash ice while we watched icebergs surf the swells, rising and falling with ominous force. Needless to say, we kept our distance.
Wind and water can create peep holes like this in the ice.
From our guides we learned that even though many glaciers are retreating and there is 40 percent less ice worldwide than 50 years ago, sea ice such as in Antarctica is advancing and as a whole is increasing in volume (surface area and thickness). Still warmer temperatures affect the food chain and wildlife in different ways, which is an ongoing cause for concern.

The blue color of this smooth iceberg contrasts with clouds in the sky.
The ice of Antarctica is a wonderland of incredible beauty. To me, the experience felt like skimming through a dream—like Alice in the rabbit hole viewing impossible sights that couldn’t be imagined unless you were there. I never tired of watching the infinite ice forms move through the ocean water. What a thrill it was to discover this magical land!
The bumpy surface of this iceberg resembles a half-eaten snow cone.
 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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