Antarctica: Dispatch Number Six
February 22, 2010
Antarctica: Dispatch Number Six
It’s Day Three of a very rough crossing of the Scotia Sea. We expect to reach South Georgia, the Galapagos of Antarctica, in about 10 hours. In order to avoid personal injury – while the ship is rolling and pitching – we must keep all four points (hands and feet) on the walls, railings and floors, while traversing the boat and climbing its staircases.
Today, we attended lectures on Sir Ernest Shackleton, the commercial krill fishery in Antarctica, and the royalty of Antarctic a (Emperor and King penguins). I presented my lecture on the geology of Antarctica and South Georgia, describing how plate tectonics played a huge role in the formation of the Antarctic continent, and in the distribution of fossilized dinosaurs and petrified trees in Antarctica. The geological outcrops of Antarctica are simply spectacular, with modern-day volcanic islands, pillow lavas, and granitic and esitic rocks exposed in outcrop. Antarctica and South Georgia both contain ocean spreading zones (similar to the mid-Atlantic Ridge), and areas where the Pacific oceanic plate is being sub-ducted under the Antarctic continent.
According to Steve Nicol, the Expedition’s Antarctic krill expert, a commercial fishery has been operating in Antarctic waters since the late 1960s. To date, said Nicols, over seven million tonnes of krill have been harvested by fishing nations including Japan, Norway, Chile, Korea, Poland and Russia. During the 1980s, catches peaked at half-a-million tonnes a year – today, the current annual catch is around 150,000 tonnes. Krill are used for human consumption, for aquaculture feed, and for the production of valuable chemicals. Rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, krill are sold as nutritional supplements; they also contain strong enzymes suited to a variety of medical and industrial uses. The fishery is managed by an international body (the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) which employs an ecosystem approach to management, ensuring that the needs of all members are incorporated in establishing the catch limit. Because krill are integral to Antarctica’s food chain, it’s imperative that the fishery be managed sustainably, ensuring that the entire ecosystem is protected. The krill sampling net, the holocamera, and the video plankton recorder were deployed this evening, and the Scientific Crew expects to be up late tonight, examining and cataloguing the plankton haul.
Some of my blog readers are disappointed that I’ve not sent any photographic images from Antarctica. Unfortunately, there’s a simple explanation for this – with full intentions of communicating with the outside world, I rented my own Iridium satellite phone. However, to date, I’ve been unsuccessful in transmitting images or emails via the Iridium satellite network. In fact, it’s quite an arduous process to use an Iridium Satellite phone in Antarctica – I’ve tried, on several occasions, and have failed miserably.
In order to obtain a satellite connection in Antarctica, one must climb to the highest deck of the ship, hook up the satellite phone to the laptop, point the phone’s antenna to the horizon, and try to establish an internet connection on the laptop. Add additional variables to this tenuous process – a wildly pitching boat, a snowstorm, freezing rain, and sub-zero temperatures – and, it’s not surprising that I’ve failed at sending texts or images, using my Iridium phone. Plan B, however, is working well – I’m using the Professor Molchanov’s Iridium system (which is part of its navigational computer system). Sadly, the Molchanov does not permit the transmission of photos. I’ll update my blog with photos upon my return.