Thursday, March 23, 2017

Coronation Island

We had an unusual task on 21March. Another British research ship, the RRS Ernest Shackleton, had an AB ("able body seaman") to transfer to our ship. We met the Shackleton next to an iceberg near Coronation Island, which is part of the South Orkney Islands. This task was quite exciting for the scientists. First, we got to see a zodiac speed from the Shackleton to the Ross, bringing the AB and his gear to our ship. Next, and the most highly anticipated part of the day, was gaining a view of Coronation Island.
An iceberg in the distance, with a lee-wave cloud formation. It was a black/white photo day, prompting me to play around with the filters available on the Mac Photo application.
Just prior to Coronation Island, we saw a whale (likely a humpback) approach the ship, just checking us out. I found it splendid to see the excitement of everyone, even the veteran scientists, when the whale approached. We also saw more swimming penguins. And then, we caught sight of our first iceberg in the far distance. Needless to say, this was not our last berg!

A Minke or Southern Right whale through the UIC window (photo from an iPhone taken by Christian Buckingham)
Note the bluish colour of the iceberg, and bergy bits in the foreground.
Coronation Island in the distance, with sun trying to poke through the clouds, offering a mysterious otherworld look to the photo.
Land viewed on our cruise is treasured, since we are focusing on open-ocean research questions and thus in general not getting very close to land. Although cloudy and a bit rainy, Coronation Island offered us splendid views. This island has massive mountains that are being eaten alive by huge glaciers spilling into the ocean. Everyone's spirits were very high as we experienced the beauty, remoteness, and power of Coronation Island. Heart openings were easily realized in the presence its pristine and raw natural forces, even when standing on the deck of a metal ship with rumbling diesel engines many miles away from shore.

A view of Coronation Island with a mountain and glacier spilling into the ocean.
Another photo of my favorite iceberg pair, this time in black/white.
RRS Shackleton with a zodiac awaiting our arrival.  Note some of the crew members on the back deck.
The absence of any civilisation, prior to 19th and 20th century explorers and scientific camps, makes the Southern Ocean, its islands, and the Antarctic continent, an extremely unique place on the planet. I have read about those heroes who explored here in sailing ships, and have spoken to colleagues who have been here on oceanographic cruises similar to this one. To actually be on a cruise here, and to witness the wonder, is beyond words for me, and at times quite emotional.

Coronation Island was an opportunity to experience the gratitude each person on ship has for being on this cruise. Regardless the whys and hows of each person's role, everyone appreciates the incredible privilege we have to experience the planet at its essence. Even when it is cold, wet, rough, and dark, each person is cleansed by the sea, sky, clouds, ice, and land.

Many of the photos shown here are best viewed, in my opinion, in black and white.  There were not many colours during the cloudy day.  But the light was still wonderful, and the purity and simplicity of the land, ice, ocean, and sky made for some dramatic views. I wonder what sort of photos Ansel Adams could produce had he been here!

In just the one week of my being here, I have felt deeply invigorated. My body has felt the wind, really felt the wind! My mind is pondering the research questions while a bit overwhelmed with the idea of floating on top of a swelling and rolling 5km column of cold and circulating ocean fluid. My heart is tasting a piece of pure and raw existence that cannot hide itself even when surrounded by engines, computers, fluorescent lights, and metal. Words and pictures can only offer a tiny semblance of being here.
An appreciative and wind-blown blog author, with Coronation Island in the background.


  1. Great pic's through the straits, Stephen. I really like the one of the glacier spilling into the sea. Such gnarley terrain.

  2. Hi, Stephen. Alan, Scarlette and I are enjoying your blog! It's exciting to follow your journey and see the fabulous photos you're posting along the way! We will keep reading and learning so please keep writing! Following you from afar is wonderful. Thinking of you and sending our love. Be safe!