group mail play plus user camera comment close arrow-down facebook twitter instagram

Gerlache Strait

Trinity/Spert Islands and Cierva Cove 

As we sailed on, icebergs hunched in the water like a hierarchy of Chinese pagodas, Etruscan palaces, grain elevators, Boeing aircraft hangars, and alpine peaks. Some had been whipped by the wind into castellated spires, others had grottoes and natural arches, and still others looked like frozen shipwrecks of long ago, their masts petrified by whiteness. In a heavy overcast they had eerie bluish-white phosphorescence, but when the sun’s slanting beams struck them they’d turn from white to blue to pink and even to black. 

Lawrence Millman 

Calm seas and a light breeze. As we head south towards the Antarctic Peninsula the scenery redesigns. Higher mountains covered by extensive ice fields work as a perfect framework for an increasing amount of drifting icebergs. Of any kind, color, and size those artistically carved ice masses shine and glitter under the morning sunny skies. 

A peaceful start to the day in contrast with the swells and strong gusts from yesterday and last night, when Europa passed through Neptune’s Bellows and left Deception island behind. 

We steer towards the area where the wide open waters of the Bransfield Strait turn narrower, becoming now the Gerlache Strait. A famed and really scenic waterway named after the renowned explorer who first had the audacity of exploring these waters all the way back in 1898.

Aboard the ship Belgica Adriene de Gerlache was the leader of this scientific Expedition from Belgium which also endured the first ever Antarctic winter, besides mapping and naming no less than 88 geographical features in the area. That was also the journey that planted the seed in the head of the young crew member Roald Amundsen for a future expedition to reach the South Pole. The holy grail of the Antarctic exploration, which he attained 13 years later in a sort of race with the British Scott. 

Otto Nordenskjöld, another illustrious name, most famous for his discoveries and struggles in the Weddell Sea during the years 1901-04, visited as well the very same area where we find ourselves this morning. This Swedish Expedition charted areas on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula too, including the spot where we lower our anchor this morning, between the islands of Trinity and Spert.  

Rocks and shallows. Meandering narrows amongst vertical cliffs. Towering glacier fronts and large icebergs. A promising combination for this morning’s planned zodiac cruise.  

A place of severe and savage beauty where the drifting ice finds the shallows of the coast, the uneven rocky sea bottom, and the passages amongst sheer cliffs. As impressive as it can get. A landscape of water, vertical dark crags, and plenty of ice. Narrow ways between rocks and icebergs lead to even narrower alleys and around the corner to new and exciting cruising amongst more sculptural icebergs. At the foot of the glacier fronts at either side of the widest channels lay resting numerous Weddell Seals, Giant petrels, skuas, and a few Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins.  

Leaving Spert and Trinity behind on our way further South, there is enough time in the afternoon to take it easy with the ship, let her drift for a while, and drop a zodiac to collect data for the Polar Collective Citizen Science projects. A framework for data collection in the spirit of an international effort to increase our knowledge about these remote Antarctic waters. A dream already in the mind of some of the early Polar Explorers such as Richard Evelyn Byrd (October 25, 1888 – March 11, 1957) American naval officer and pioneering aviator. His epic flights crossed the Atlantic Ocean, a segment of the Arctic Ocean, and a section of the Antarctic Plateau. He had in mind a setting for the White Continent based on collaboration, peace, and science, later on shaped and structured by the signature of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959.  

I am hopeful that Antarctica in its symbolic robe of white will shine forth as a continent of peace as nations working together there in the cause of science set an example of international cooperation.  

Richard E. Byrd 

Two guides and 4 of the voyage crew embarked and loaded all the necessary equipment in their little scientific quest built upon such a worthy concept. 

In particular, the FjordPhyto project is elaborate because water samples need to be taken and a small trawl needs to be deployed to collect plankton samples as well. 

At the same time, various measurements of water properties are collected. Secchi disk was put in use too, dipping it into the depths until it was lost from sight at 12.7 meters. This project also looks at the color of the water, as well as the acidity. The latter was estimated with a piece of pH test paper and was found to be 6. 

While the Secchi Disk measurements were taken, information on cloud cover was needed, so the Polar Clouds project was also done. The sky was fully overcast (8/8 cloud cover) with stratocumulus clouds that obscured the sun. 

Finally, a prototype of the iSPEX experiment for ocean color was performed. The iSPEX device is an optical accessory that is attached to the camera of a smartphone. The camera then records the spectrum of the light from the ocean when the camera is pointed at it.  

About an hour and a half passed, Oceanographic research equipment packed, zodiac on deck, it is time to resume our way towards the neighbor Cierva Cove. The large Breget and Gregory glaciers debouch their ice in calving fronts into this bay. A scenic and heavily glaciated embayment whose place names remind us about aviation innovators: Juan de la Cierva (1895-1936), the Spanish designer of the autogiro, the first successful rotating-wing aircraft, in 1923. In 1907 the French aircraft designer Jacques Breguet built and flew the first helicopter to carry a man in vertical flight. Franklin Gregory was an American pioneer in the development and use of helicopters.  

Although bearing those distinguished names, the steep and glaciated landscape doesn’t really make for any aircraft landing or take off. Instead, Cierva shows steep sides, high mountains in the background, and vertical glacier fronts and it holds too a good amount of icebergs, bergy bits, growlers, and brash ice. Weddell and Leopard seals rest on the ice floes as the ship goes deeper into the bay and the amount of ice increases.  

There, enclosed by the icy waters of Cierva Cove, the Europa stops her engines and drifts for the first part of the night before resuming her way, southbound along the Antarctic Peninsula. 

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

Comment on this article