I am norwegian doctor who worked as expedition doc on the Antarctic research station Troll for the summer season 2007-2008. NB: This blog is intended as a personal and ecological account from The Ice Planet - fully independent of the Norwegian Polar Institute, their official web page being: npweb.npolar.no

18 Dec 2007

The shelf - meeting the locals

I didn't have to wait long.
Right next to our trailer park, 100m from the ice edge, a colony of Adelie penguins were nesting. These small smoking-clad penguins come ashore during the Antarctic summer to breed, spending the rest of the year among the pack ice, eating krill. They were constantly scuffling around their little hill (actually on top of some iron scrap left from previous dockings), fighting over the best position, and stamping on each others eggs. They were very curious too, and liked to join in when we went outside our little hut to relieve ourselves.

A flock of Antarctic petrel ridge soaring along the shelf edge. The Antarctic petrel breeds far inland, in the mountains near Troll. This is their regular home, amongst ice and krill. Norwegian ortnithologists have done a substantial amount of research on these birds at the bird colony Svarthamaren (If I'm really, really lucky, I might get there later in the summer).

The worlds most southerly mammal, leisuring on the sea ice. He (?) didn't mind me walking all the way up to him - I sat there for a while, listening to his rumbling belly. The Weddell seal can dive to 700 m, holding its breath for over an hour. They are very adapted to the pack ice, and can keep breathing holes open during winter, by gnawing at the ice with their incisors.

Not minding me at all (I kept telling myself).

Wildlife encounter of my life coming up.
As I was watching the Weddell seal, 2 penguins came out of the water, belly-hopped unto the ice, and started waggling towards me. Twice the size of the Adelie penguin, and distinctly more regal in style and manner, I was face to face (okay, 2 m away!) with the Emperor. They act like they own the place, and in a way, they do. As everyone who watches french new age cinema documentaries know, these penguins breed during winter - on the ice - the males doing the hard work - incubating the egg on their feet. Here they are, next to the seal, and me.
Mission accomplished.

A third emperor came out of the water, and after some trumpeting and neck-waving, they walked off together.

The next day the ship arrived, and as it approached the shelf, the sea came alive with emperors apparently swimming for the safety of the ice. During the first day of offloading, 19 emperor penguins kept standing there, watching us, looking indignant.

The adelies didn't seem to mind, though.

Going back we got stuck in loose snow, just after crossing the hinge zone.
Our expedition leader celebrating.

The going got better as we climbed back up to 1200 m elevation. Great weather coming back, and has been, since. Yesterday we had above freezing for the first time this summer. Coming back to Troll a small lake had formed at the bottom of the hill. Getting out our beachwear soon.