January 3, 2015

ANTARCTICA: Pleneau Island

End of the day Koerner Icecap update:
This afternoon we hiked to the top of Koerner Ice Cap in the Wauwerman Islands.  This 70 m tall ice mass has been a Students On Ice research site since 2009.  We were hunting for a stake that was drilled into the ice that supported a temperature sensor and data logger.  When we crested the hill we spotted the stake, retrieved the instrument and replaced it with a new one.  We also measured how much of the stake was poking up out of the ice and snow, as this will tell us whether the ice cap shrunk or grew since the last visit in 2012.  This year we brought more stakes to take more of this kind of measurement, we dug a pit to look at the snow layers and we took an ice core.  To top it off, we noted the position of all the stakes and the temperature sensor using a GPS receiver.
In the expedition spirit,
Derek Mueller 
Expedition update 6:00pm:
Geoff called SOI HQ this evening via satellite phone from the Koerner icecap to give us a live update! He also passed the phone to three students, Joanne (from Beijing), Stephanie (from Port Moody), and Piari (from Kuujjuaq).
This morning they went down the Lemaire Channel. Although there was quite a bit of ice, they took it slowly and were able to get through. Though the entire way a minke whale followed the ship and put on a show for almost an hour. Joanne described the view from the top deck of the ship. She said it was quite the scene watching the minke whale surface on the starboard side, and everyone run over there watching it and taking pictures. Then it would disappear, and reappear on the port side, everyone repeating the process, running to the port side and watching until it disappeared once more. Stephanie recounted how experts onboard the ship, Olle and Santiago, said this kind of behaviour was extremely rare.
Once they made it through the Lemaire Channel they spotted a pod of orcas! Piari says although he’s used to seeing orcas and many other species of whales in his home in the Canadian Arctic, he’s struck by how the penguins and other animals in Antarctica haven’t learned to fear humans.
The first landing of the day was on Pleneau Island, during which the expeditioners got to see gentoo penguins and four different species of seals: Elephant seals, crabeater seals, leopard seals, and weddell seals. Stephanie says one of the highlights of her day was visiting the “iceberg graveyard” near Planeau Island. Students took a zodiac cruise, and got up close to iceberg after iceberg of all different shapes and sizes. Piari says the colours are absolutely unbelievable. 
At around 4:30pm they stopped at the Wauwerman Islands, and they are still currently on the ‘Koerner Icecap,’ a place informally discovered and named by Students on Ice where expeditions have been doing glacial monitoring since 2009. This program is in a way, a legacy for the man the island was named for, the late Dr. Roy “Fritz” Koerner. Here is a video from back in 2009 recounting his legacy and following the first expedition to visit the Koerner Icecap:
The last time a SOI expedition made it to the Koerner Icecap was over two years ago. So digging the weather monitoring equipment out of the ice and snow was an incredible feeling, and it’s now been replaced it with a new weather computer and pole to be retrieved next time.
Soon the expedition will be heading back onto the ship for dinner, and tomorrow will be the last day on the continent! 
On the radar for tomorrow is a visit to Neko Harbour and some workshops on the shore.
In the expedition spirit,
The SOI Team
Housekeeping notes: More blogs are being added to previous days! 
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“Today was absolutely amazing (shocker) and breathtakingly beautiful. While sailing through the Gerlache Strait and into the Lemaire Channel, we were able to see a pod of orca in the distance. We also had a minke whale following our ship and showing off! Don’t worry, I got a lot of photos. Our first landing was on Pleneau Island. Here we saw four different species of seal: a leopard seal, an elephant seal, a crab-eater (which doesn’t eat crabs), and a Weddell seal! We also saw many more penguins with a beautiful rocky, snowy, mountainous backdrop across the channel. We then took a zodiac cruise to an iceberg graveyard and experienced the most deep and rich shades of blue and teal ice that I could ever imagine. These icebergs were enormous and photos can’t represent the magnitude of them! It was truly an awe-inspiring sight. Our second landing was on a small unnamed island where we hiked to the top of the ice cap. While there, we retrieved a hobo from two years ago that has been taking air temperature measurements. We then left a new one in its place and also dug a hole down to the ice layer to take ice density measurements. We then also took an ice core from the bottom of this hole! Results to come… It’s now bed time for me as my voice is still gone and I’ve also got a double eye infection… Hopefully this clears up quickly because we’ve got two more landings scheduled for tomorrow that I can’t wait to experience!
~Olivia Sayer, Littleton, Colorado
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“An expedition to Antarctica is completely encapsulating. You know you should blog, nap, read, reflect, learn more, sleep early… but you’ll choose to spend every spare moment on the ship deck instead. While sailing through the Lemaire Channel my eyes had to dart from monoliths to iceberg galleries to spy-hopping Minke whales to a pod of Orcas and back again. After a few dozen minutes, I turned to Patrick and he smiled at me and said, ‘good morning’! It was only 9 am. I’ve lost myself to the magic of Antarctica.
“This morning, we cruised around in a zodiac through an iceberg graveyard –an area where currents bring ice from all over the continent and push it into shallow water enough water to ground the majority of them. I think part of the reason that this place sparks so much wonder is that every moment could be a moment you will remember the rest of your life. Loading into the zodiac, we were expecting to look at some icebergs up close but I’d say that most of us loaded into the boat knowing that we’d experience much more than that. I think that was one of the most memorable zodiac rides I will ever have. Each iceberg had different pattern and shapes that gave clues as to its past. With some help, it was possible to discern if the iceberg flipped after a chunk of ice calved off the side and how rough the oceans was that it once traveled through. It may be a human condition, but often times I find myself relating these experiences to life lessons. After some time spent looking at these well-traveled pieces of ice, a juvenile leopard seal poked its head up right beside the pontoon. He inspected our wide-eyed faces and it was truly an exchange between young curious minds.
“Then, behind the seal, an iceberg calved and created enough wake to rock our zodiac! As the seal made circles around us, another piece of ice calved off and I had the serene moment of not knowing what to be more astounded by. If I could only remember one moment from this day, I would have no problem being content with that one. As the young leopard seal escorted our zodiac towards Pleneau Island I couldn’t believe I was leaving that place for even more wonder and possible lifetime memories. “We landed at Pleneau and the familiar smell of penguin rookery filled my nostrils. When I got up onto the beach, Gentoo penguins greeted us and three different types of seals decorated the exposed rocks. An elephant seal, crabeater seal, and a smiling Weddell seal were three species I added to my wildlife log today!
“This afternoon, we added to a Students on Ice legacy. We visited an icecap in slightly uncharted waters where a glaciologist known as Fritz Koerner decided to empower the students to start taking some long term data in Antarctica. He helped the group that passed through in 2009 set up a weather station that would continuously measure the atmospheric temperature. The acronym for the device is HOBO. That, paired with ablation stakes and a rough gps transverse of the area each year will give the data needed to give a rough idea for how the Koerner ice flow is changing over time. It was a powerful experience to become a part of this tradition for the late Fritz, an individual who seemed to inspire everyone around him.
“This is really how life should be lived: surrounded by those who want to get the most they possibly can from every day on earth and in a place that continuously sparks wonder even after many years.”
~Sabrina Clarke, Whitehorse, Yukon
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“Evolution is a truly remarkable thing, especially in the rough Antarctic environment. This process through which organisms develop to survive in an environment and fill a niche is incredible. The prime example is the elephant seal we saw today on Pleneau Island.
“This young male seal that was wedged between the rocks seemed to be the epitome of laziness. It would move around and it’s blubber would flop and make plopping noises, or it would scratch and pick its nose. Without knowing it, there is no way to even imagine that it is a magnificent squid eater that could dive to three thousand meters. Nor could you tell that it had special circulatory mechanisms and rib cage contractions that prevent the effects of water pressure at those depths.
“These thousands of years of engineering has moulded these creatures into spectacular machines that the human species probably wouldn’t be able to achieve in the recent future.
“Nature is truly an amazing place and anyone who doesn’t see it is silly to not take it in and absorb it. 
“PS. Happy birthday Mommy! Emily and I left you a birthday present, it’s in the cupboard in my room where we store the camera equipment.”
~Eva Wu, Toronto, Ontario

“Yesterday could not have ended any better. After writing my journal entry we went out to a small island. My group went onto the island first and observed penguins and massive whale bones. One vertebrae was almost five feet tall. It was amazing to put the animals into perspective and stand right next to the skeleton. After an hour of exploring we took a zodiac to a British museum that had once been a base. It had been abandoned in the 60’s and revisited in the 90’s. There were many paintings of women lining the walls of the station that had once been put there by a lonely artist. They were covered over with paint but while restoring the buildings they found them and preserved them for visitors.

The way back was the best zodiac ride by far. The wind was blowing and the water was rough. Many of us were yelling due to the bouncing boat so our driver told us to sing. After a moment we began singing stuff from theme songs to the Phantom of the Opera and some songs by Bob Marley. Some of us could barely sing due to our laughter. After warming up and eating diner we were all gathered and told about the incredible kayaking expedition that Dr. Kate and Eric went on. It was really inspiring to listen to. With a few more words from Geoff we went to bed. It was a wonderful ending to an insanely wild day. Defiantly something I will never forget.  
~Rachel Aiello, Toronto, Ontario

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“This morning we had one of the most magical and unique experiences ever. We were out on deck and in the distance we saw a small Minke Whale. The whale (which we named Minky) came right beside our ship and partially breached before it dove, and we thought it was gone. Then suddenly Minky appeared and continue to swim with us for around 3 hours. During that time Minky rolled around underwater, swam right in front of our bow and even showed its tail a couple of times. Minky only left when we started moving towards a small pod of Orcas in the distance. We then landed on Pleneau Point and saw a Weddell seal, an Elephant seal and a Crabeater seal! After point Pleneau we took a zodiac cruise out into a patch of icebergs. During the cruise we saw a Leopard seal and a bunch more Weddell seals. We also saw a few spectacular icebergs, the colours on the ice were varying from almost green to dark blue. After lunch we landed at an unnamed island where students on ice had set up experiments in the past. We actually found the device that the previous group left on the island which was really neat. After setting up some experiments of our own we returned to the ship for the evening. Tomorrow is our last day landing in the Antarctic.”
~William Sanderson, Perth Road Village, Ontario
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“It might be fair to say that today has been one of the best days of my life, and it is only half over. This morning after breakfast we were going through the Lemaire Channel, and when we went out on deck we saw a Minke whale, which followed us, jumping up and flipping in the water for about 3 hours. Nobody wanted to go inside. The water was so clear and we could see everything. Then in the distance we spotted some Orcas, which have these huge dorsal fins that can be up to 6 feet tall. When the ship got closer, the Orcas disappeared, which was bad for us but good for the Minke whale that was following us.
“After getting warmed up from the chilly time on deck, we did a zodiac cruise throughout the icebergs which were so spectacular and HUGE. On one of the icebergs there was a female Leapord seal lying on the ice, and it was bigger than me! Got everything on film.
“On our landing we saw even more seals! There was a young Elephant Seal, a Weddell Seal and a Crabeater Seal. And of course there were the Gentoo Penguins which strangely enough are beginning to feel normal to me. Seeing the porpoising through the water is nothing new anymore compared to the first day we saw them!
We are beginning to turn back and the day after tomorrow we will be going through the Drake Passage again. Its sad, but I am excited for some pizza (hint hint mom). We have been learning a lot about the history of Antarctica, and the countries involved in the Antarctic Treaty to protect Antarctica, and it is a little upsetting almost that Canada isn’t involved in it. I really hope that coming home, everyone on this trip from Canada can convince our government to start changing their ways even if they don’t sign the treaty, because everyone’s actions affect this delicate ecosystem.”
~Alissa Sallans, Whitby, Ontario
“What a morning yesterday. A landing, a zodiac cruise, a piece of ultimate beauty. This entire trip has been one of discovery, of getting out on deck and experiencing a completely new adventure every morning. Today continued that legacy of exploration and the inspiration of awe
First stop this morning – cruising through the Lemaire Strait. When Geoff told us we should wake up for this,I laughed to myself. Why wake up just to see the ship sailing? This questioned was answered as I got out on deck to behold a sight which will be truly imprinted on my mind forever. The Lemaire Strait is a  beautiful sight to behold – mountains and glaciers at every corner. It was majestic to see these steep mountains rising into the layer of clouds straggling down low over the peaks. And the glaciers were so blue, no photograph or memory will ever be able to recount the vivid blue of those ice masses.
A special treat awaited us in the straight. As we cruised into a channel of mountains, Olle alerted us to the presence of a whale in his trademark excited voice. It was beautiful to see the Minke whale, one of the fastest moving and elusive in Antarctica, breach just hundreds of metres from the sides of the boat. But this was not just a “one and done” deal. The minke followed our boat for the next TWO HOURS!It was a spectacle to observe this fascinating creature follow our vessel, curiously toying with both our hearts and our camera shutter buttons. There were rushes from side to side on the boat to observe the new location of the whale. I don’t think one person left the deck in this two hour epic, and by the time we came in not one person could actually feel their fingers or toes.
Our first landing today was on Pleneau Island. Before my group could land, we participated in an iceberg zodiac cruise. What a fascinating voyage to see these monstrous towers from up close!Their shapes curved and spiked with wind erosion into beautiful cornucopias of geometric form and design. Not only were they gorgeous, but also they were unique. Each one was formed specially, like individual fingerprints. We never got bored of looking at the same thing over and over again! But the most exciting part of this voyage was definitely the opportunity to see a Leopard seal sit atop an ice flow. As it lied there majestically, we watched in total awe. The leopard seal has a notorious reputation for being the “big bad penguin eater” But I must say that such a cute and playful looking animal I have never seen before in my life (other than penguins, of course).
Upon landing on the beach at Pleanau Island, we were treated to a majestic sight. Along a steep and rocky beach, Gentoo penguins waddled to and fro along their well-beaten paths. The black rock contrasted with elevated rocks in the background from which a multitude of penguins nested. As always, it was exciting to observe these creatures fumbling along in their natural habitats – sitting on eggs, carrying around rocks and squawking at each other in playfully menacing ways. We also observed four species of seal on the island – a leopard seal, an elephant seal, a weddel seal and a crab-eater seal. To finally observe an elephant seal was quite a majestic experience. I have such respect for this creature, who seems like a lazy blob of fat on land but is actually one of the most dextrous and versatile animals that exist in the sea.

However,despite all of the wildlife at Pleanau Island, what really caught me eye were the rocky plains upon which the penguins nested. The rock was stained in guano – splotches of colourful excrement everywhere. One would believe that such a dirty environment would invoke sentiments of disgust and wrinkled up noses. But instead, I saw the opposite. To me, the guano merged together to form the most beautiful rosy-white colour I have seen in my entire life. It turned into a gentle carpet which appeared both humble it its formation and majestic in its beautiful appearance. I think that this further testifies to the paradoxical nature of Antarctica. Just as the continent is both one of beauty and destruction, the rocks I saw today were both beautiful and repulsive at the same time. Neither the continent nor its microcosm are what they appear to be, and sometimes it’s difficult to determine if they are anything at all. It can be that the beauty is a function of the repulsive hostility. Elephant island is beautiful because of its desolate atmosphere, just as these rocks are beautiful because of their disgusting penguin guano. Overall, it is easy to say that Antarctica possesses both beauty and horror at the same time, and any judgement made which leans towards one of these opinions is easily invalidated by the other perspective. As great Canadian band Rush once sang, “All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary, everything in life you thought you knew”.
~Robert Adragna, Toronto, Ontario

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“Today was amazing. To begin with, I woke up with a very unusual feeling in my face, and looked into the mirror to notice my lips had swelled up, changing their shape entirely, and become bright red. No, I didn’t get botox and put on lipstick, Yep. I had sunburnt lips. REALLY sunburnt lips. I never knew that could happen! I hid them behind a scarf nearly all day, and pressed cold glasses and icicles against them. They still tingle, but they are back to their normal shape and no longer make my eyes water when I try to talk or eat.
“Onto the more positive amazing stuff!
“A whale danced with the ship for hours, and we all watched as it rolled and backflipped, while it poked its head out of the water to watch and follow us. It was freezing cold, and most of us could not feel our fingers or toes, but we kept watching it. When sometimes it played silly games and dove under the ship, I looked up at the sheer black mountains and crackling glaciers precariously balanced on the edge of the sea, only a few hundred metres away from the boat.
“We went on a zodiac cruise through an iceberg graveyard, and a Leopard seal chased the tiny boat, flipping around and watching us. Pieces of ice cracked off icebergs around us, and there were pools of fluorescent blues and crystalline green icicles fringing giant carved sculptures. It feels impossible to describe with words- I need like, music and colours and emotions and larger-than-life screens to convey it all truthfully.
“Everything was so beautiful.
“We landed on Pleneau Island and there were seals lying lazily on the rocky beach, penguins on their rose and white stained nests, and strange colourful creatures in the crystal clear shallows. The shore was so pristine that I just wanted to plunge right into the sea. I did not even touch it, though, because the floating icebergs were evidence that it was deadly cold, even if the water on the seals backs looked like a smooth warm blanket. I don’t know if I have ever seen seawater like that before.
“The afternoon was full of social, human fun. It started by laughing and stealing cherries from peoples leftover desserts and continued on with a hike up a pillow glacier in the middle of uncharted and unnamed island. We dug snow pits (for science), then decided to build sculptures of snow (for creativity), which devolved into snowball fights (for fun), which moved forwards into forts (for teamwork). There was lots of laughing and chanting and singing and competition, and I flitted around between lots of groups, watching everyone interact and have fun in the afternoon sun.
“Before I knew it, it was 7pm and we had to pack up, smash all our snowy buildings, fill in the pits and go home. I giggled a lot over our scientific equipment being called a HOBO (which they leave in Antarctica to take notes on climate for a year or two) and then became quiet as another seal swam right up next to our boat before we embarked.
“They are beautiful, those moments where something wild regards you with curiosity- without any malicious intent or fear. The group falls silent, and everyone is watching, listening, judging, soaking the images into the back of their eyes.
“I nearly cried a few times today.
“Everything is just so perfect, but its practically over by tomorrow night…”
~Jemma Sweeney, Mount Waverley, Australia
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“As a small group of us faithfully edit student blogs each night after curfew, this is the word that we most often see. During free ship time, I often watch as students stare blankly at computer screens. Or as they peer out a nearby window, hoping inspiration will spur their ready typing fingers into action.
“The days we have spent in Antarctica have been fulfilling, exhausting, enlightening, and joyous. And yet, for all we have seen, all we have done, it is still indescribable.
“There are colors here that a camera will never accurately capture; that Crayola will never recreate. The ice seems to have it’s own light source, through with blues and turquoises, so pure and rich, glow like neon.
Landscapes are a majestic array of ocean blending to ice blending to mountain blending to cloud. Just as the portion of the iceberg that we see floating at the surface is only a fraction of its whole, we are all aware that the incredible views we have witnessed are just the beginning of what this incredible continent has to offer.
Yesterday, we all trudged our way, through sometimes thigh-deep snow, to the peak of Danco Island. The effort only made the reward that much more sweet; 360 degree panoramic views of breathtakingly beautiful mountains, glaciers, and icebergs. Once at the top, we took a moment to do a silent solo sit. For many of our students, this was likely the first time they have ever experienced true silence. No street noise, no refrigerator motors humming, no air conditioner running. The only sounds were the wind and the beating of your own heart. 
“As nature often does, it had a different plan. Our silence was interrupted by what first sounded like a vast rushing wind, then a loud ‘crack,’ then the tumble of snow as an avalanche spontaneously occurred on a neighboring mountain peak.
“This morning, as we sailed through the ice-narrowed Lemaire Channel, a young Minke whale began to playfully follow the ship. He stayed with us for several miles; spiralling and lunging out of the water. Later, we had a similar encounter with a leopard seal and our zodiac. He swam around and beneath the boat, surfacing closer and closer, driven by curiosity. A loud crack alerted us that an iceberg was calving just 50 yards away. A huge slab fell into the waters, creating a sizeable swell. Though everyone in the boat exclaimed at the awesomeness of these simultaneous occurrences, we were instantly reminded that Antarctica is a place of extremes. The ice is beautiful but dangerous. The animals are adorable and deadly.
“After typing all these words, I am still left with one thought. Indescribable. Because I know that everything I was written is woefully unable to describe the true feelings one has being a witness to the majestic and wonder that is Antarctica.”
~Kristin Lindstrom, Noblesville, Indiana
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“Yet another fantastic day in the Antarctic! It’s hard to believe that we’ve already gone through so much of our expedition and the end is nearly in sight. Definitely not something I want to be thinking about right now! But, today was yet another day of two landings — our luck and good karma has held up well so far!We first went to Pleneau Island. Well, technically, my half of the expedition went on a zodiac cruise through what has been dubbed ‘iceberg alley,’ and we got the chance to get up close and personal with a leopard seal! The views were absolutely stunning and the chance to witness such an interesting creature at such a short distance was an absolutely phenomenal experience, albeit a little worrisome at times. After the cruise, we got to spend time on the island itself, coming face to face (well, from a reasonable distance) with both the elephant seal and the Weddell seal. There was also a crabeater seal spotted on an ice floe in the distance! For the entire trip, I’ve wanted to get to see some seals, so to finally be able to was a great experience.
“For our second landing of the day, we went to an island in the Wauwerman Islands that Students On Ice has dubbed Fitz Koerner Island for a former staff member and close friend of the organization. Because of the fact that it’s an island in a cluster of islands rarely ever, if ever, visited by anyone apart from us, we were given the incredible opportunity to be one of only four Students On Ice groups to be able to reach the island. I definitely feel honored and blessed to be a part of such an exclusive group of individuals and to be able to see such an untouched part of an already mostly untouched continent was incredible. I took part in the glaciology workshop again for a little bit, otherwise just enjoying the experience of being on the island. Even though it was one of the most laid back (and penguinless) landings that we’ve done so far, it was still great to be able to sit there and reflect on all that we’ve done and how far we’ve come. It truly is upsetting to think we have so little time left in this incredible place and with this fantastic group of people, but I know I’ll be doing my best to enjoy each and every little moment we have left.”
~Serenity McKenzie, Abilene, Texas
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“I’m sorry again that I didn’t blog yesterday. I was so busy, and I’ve just been pooped. Tired pooped. So, last you all heard I froze my butt off jumping into the Antarctic Oceans, and that was totally crazy. After that, we went to this island called Bailey Head, and we saw half a million penguins all on a hill. I thought of Alaine with that plethora of penguins. Then, we had a lovely evening activity, and we went to bed.
“The next day we went to Danco Island, and we climbed an ice cap. Now, me from little ol’ Arizona had a difficult time trudging through knee high snow about a mile uphill. However, it was worth it because we got a 360 degree view of the mountains surrounding the islands. This was the highlight of my journey so far because it truly showcased the beauty of this place. Later that day, we went to the British research station, Port Lockoroy, and it doesn’t do any research, rather, it provides a tourist destination for people to see how research stations functioned back in the 1960’s. We finished the day by going to see old whale bones from back in the days when whaling was all the rage down here.
“Today, I personally slept in because I didn’t feel well (mom I’m fine), but I got up, and I embarked into the best day I’ve had down here. We went on a zodiac tour, and we went through the iceberg “graveyard”. There were tons of icebergs just sitting there, and we were with Olle. He’s really aweseome, and his Swedish accent is cool. The colors on the icebergs were so vibrant, and my pictures will not do them justice. The shapes they formed into were so magnificent, and I wondered how something this beautiful could be created simply by nature. We even had a leopard seal come up to the zodiac, and it was curious as to what we were doing. It stayed around for a while until we had to go back to the beach to see more penguins and more seals.
“I’m truly having the time of my life. This adventure is teaching me how big our world is but yet again how small it is. Here I am, at the bottom of the world, but somehow I feel all of you back home with me. I was falling asleep last night, and I was thinking about all of you. I am missing you, mom, and I can’t wait to go home. It is my understanding that it’s cold in Phoenix, but it’s only 50 degrees. That would be really hot here. I am the coldest all the time because I’m from the hottest place out of everyone here. Eh, oh well. I really am fine. I packed perfectly, and all of our stuff from sports chalet is really working out great. My rainboots are perfect and all is well. Oh! I don’t know if you know, but there are videos being posted, and I was in one, so I think you all would love to go see it.
“Mom, I still have friends. I’m still having fun. All is well with me. I love you. Stop worrying, and send Michael off to school to start his second semester well.
“Michael, don’t ruin my room. Don’t break Howard. I love you.
“Dad, I love you, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for this opportunity.
“Well, I guess that’s it. I’ll see you all soon!”
~Sarah Johnson, Phoenix, Arizona
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“Antarctica is so beautiful. Every time I go outside, I’m blown away by the landscape. The stereotypes that Antarctica is just a white expanse of land with nothing to look at, but that’s completely wrong. There’s so much to see from penguins, whales, icebergs, mountains and the list keeps going. I love waking up and seeing floating ice and porpoising penguins outside my window. I really am not looking forward to going home. I could stay here for so much longer.
“This morning we entered the Lemaire Channel, which is littered with icebergs. It was slow going, but we actually made a minke whale friend on the way through. It followed our ship for over an hour and was really playful. Later, we also saw the fins and sides of some killer whales off in the distance. They were really difficult to spot, but awesome to see.
“After playing a few games of cards, we finally boarded the zodiacs and took a trip to Pleneau Island. We could only stay on the coast, due to soft snow, but there was a chubby elephant seal and an adorable leopard seal and a bunch of Gentoo penguins. We spent about an hour there, and then boarded the zodiacs once again for a little tour. We were able to get up close to a crabeater seal (which we found out actually eat krill, not crabs) and a giant female leopard seal. It was awesome, for lack of a better word. The leopard seal looked like it was smirking at us, which was pretty funny.
“I don’t really know what the plan for tonight is, but hopefully it will be fun. That’s all for now. Over and out.”
~Kelly Esenther, Madison, Wisconsin 
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“Ce matin, comme tous les matins sur le bateau d’ailleurs, nous nous faisons reveiller par un beau Good morning Students On Ice! de la part de Geoff. Les derniers jours ont vraiment été remplis et super intéressants! Il fait toujours beau, on est vraiment chanceux! Le soleil nous accompagne partout. Le temps passe vraiment vite, surtout qu’il fait clair presque toute la journee, meme durant la majeure partie de la nuit. Depuis notre arrivee sur le continent, on fait environ un debarquement le matin, puis un second l’apres-midi. Il y a deux jours, on a eu droit a une petite baignade sur l’ile de la Deception! C’etait assez froid, mais incroyable… On a pu se baigner en Antarctique! Wow! Puisque c’est un volcan, c’etait un peu plus chaud, mais quand meme, on court pour entrer dans l’eau, et je peux vous assurer qu’on court encore plus vite pour en sortir! Hier aussi, c’etait fou! On est alle a l’ile de Danco. On escaladait une montagne, accompagne des manchots. Ca a pris tout l’avant-midi monter jusqu’en haut. On avait de la neige jusqu’aux genous environ! Le plus amusant par contre, c’etait de descendre! On glissait sur notre ventre, sur notre dos, de tous les cotes, jusqu’en bas! On allait tellement vite! Juste avant de descendre, cependant, apres les photos de groupe, on a eu un 5 minutes de silence, durant lequel on admirait la beauté du paysage, puis on a pu voir une avalanche sur une montagne voisine. C’etait vraiment un moment inoubliable. Aussi, aujourd’hui, avant le premier débarquement, il y avait un groupe d’orques qui nageaient devant notre brise-glace! On a vu des ‘minke whales’ et de nombreux manchots. Ensuite, durant une petite croisiere dans les icebergs bleus et verts, on a été vraiment chanceux! Un ‘leopard seal’ a suivi notre zodiac super longtemps, faisait des petites culbutes autour, puis d’un coup, on a entendu un gros ‘CRAAAAACK’! Un gros morceau d’un iceberg est tombe a l’eau, puis quelques minutes plus tard, un second est tombe! Tout ca en l’espace d’a peine 10 minutes! Apres la croisiere, nous avons debarque un moment sur Pleneau Island, ou un ‘elephant seal’ et un ‘weddel seal’ nous attendaient… avec bien sur de nombreux manchots ‘gentoos’! On s’amuse, on profite des paysages, on joue aux cartes, les gens sont supers. On passe vraiement du bon temps, les couchers de soleil sont tout simplement les plus magnifiques, et il ne fait pas trop froid. C’est vraiment une experience formidable qui restera a jamais gravée dans nos mémoires.
“P.S.: Il n’y a pas d’accents sur mon clavier, c’est pourquoi ils sont manquants! Haha!”
~Ariane Durand-Guévin, LaSalle, Quebec
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“This morning, I stood on the ship’s deck for over an hour, taking in the glorious sights. The mountains here are majestic, jutting into hazy clouds in an overcast sky. Passing through a narrow channel, we were accompanied by a juvenile Minke whale. The whale was following the ship playfully, emerging to the surface to breach. This kind of curiosity is common among many Antarctic animals, who do not fear humans as they are not accustomed to seeing us as a threat.
“We then took a zodiac tour through an iceberg graveyard on our way to Pleneau Island. The bergs ranged in colour from pure white, to deep blue, to turquoise. Each one had a unique shape and texture, according to its age and size. As we stopped to take photos, a leopard seal popped up beside our zodiac! The seal continued to follow us around, swimming beneath the boat and emerging on either side. As we excitedly recorded our encounter, we heard a thunderous crashing sound. The edge of the berg we were observing crumbled into the crystal waters. At this point, we didn’t know whether to film the seal or the iceberg! A second chunk of ice slid loudly into the water. As we cruised away slowly, the seal followed in our wake. We arrived on Pleneau Island with huge smiles on our faces. This incredible moment of connection will surely be remembered for years to come.”
~Sadie DeCoste, New Westminster, British Columbia
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“Wow, great day again. I woke up around 7:00 and went downstairs to eat yummy breakfast. Afterwards the breakfast, I had about 1 hour free time and I decided to sleep a bit more because I was quite tired. Around 9:30, we went with the zodiacs to the Pleanau Island and it was very cold. I saw many gentoo penguins and I even spotted a crab seal and and elephant seal. Lucky day. After a while of taking pictures and enjoying the scenery, I did a small zodiac ride. We rode around very blue icebergs and we were so surprised that we saw a leopard seal. Very lucky day. It was a huge female seal and she was lying on her back. It was interesting to see that she was not afraid of us at all. She just looked up and then went on with her nap.
“After the zodiac ride, we went back to our ship and ate lunch. Then, we had a long break and I took a short nap. Around 4:00 we went to the Wauwerman Island and we climbed up a snowy mountain. At the top, the view was wonderful and my friends and I started to make an igloo. On our way back to the ship, we saw a humpback whale and it was only 2 metres away from us. It was absolutely amazing seeing a whale from that distance and we saw its fluke as well. Extremely lucky day. When we arrived at the ship, I ate dinner and I was for a while on the deck. Thanks mom and dad,”
~Rose Cideciyan, Baar, Switzerland
“January 3rd, 2015, the MV Ushuaia has crossed the de Gerlache Strait and has now entered the Lemaire Channel. The width of this channel is 1600m but it can get as narrow as 500m. The icebergs choke the channel and it can be particularly difficult to steer the ship. I looked from the bridge and could see the spectacular Antarctic wildlife: Minke whales and penguins. Everybody was fascinated by them!
“Our landing was soon to be on Pleneau Islands, home to thousands of Gentoo penguins. When our group was ready we first went for a zodiac cruise. I was in the zodiac with Daniele and we collected samples of krill and zooplankton. As we were doing so, a leopard seal came close to our zodiacs. We all leapt from one end of the zodiac to another to catch a glimpse of the seal in its natural environment. Soon after, we landed on Pleneau Island, thousands of Gentoo penguins were around us. We were lucky to spot the Weddell seal, the crabeater seal and the Leopard seal. While we were getting on to the zodiac, a Weddell sea got as close as 1m to our zodiac and was gazing at all of us. A sumptuous lunch on the ship was a good treat after our landings.
“The day had many more events still to be revealed. One of the special moments was to hear the legend about Fritz Koerner. He always believed that the torch had to be passed on to the students. That our generation would take the critical steps to environment sustainability and conservation. I respect his ideas. Little did I know that our next landing on Wauwermans Island was because Fritz Koerner had once seen this place and thought: We should land on that place someday. And so we did! The Students on Ice expedition 2012 had put an instrument on the ice cap which would help to record the temperature. When we hiked up the icecap on Wauwermans Island we found the instrument which was put there 2 years ago. We then did our research with Derek (on glaciology) and put up ablation station and instruments to collect readings which the next batch of students on ice people would collect.
“Today, was another superb day sailing in Antarctica. Mountains on either sides are beautifully snow capped and the dense clouds cover the top making it look magical!”
~Zareen Cheema, Pune, India
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“We have landed in an area that is uncharted thus far. The morning began with the excitement of the scenery. Many people went to the bridge or on deck to get pictures of the beauty this area has to offer. It is unique from any other place in Antarctica I have seen because of the rock formations and the extravagant icebergs. After about ten minutes of staring out at the scenery, a Minke whale was spotted. It swam along side the boat for over an hour, performing jumps, flops and other relatively acrobatic behaviour, somewhat unusual for this kind of whale. It was a lone juvenile and must have thought that our ship provided some kind of company. While watching the beautiful creature swim along side us, the sound of the ice breaking under the ship was incredible. The design of the ship broke through many ice bergs. After about forty five minutes of staring at the Minke whale, there was sighting of an Orca. Far off in the distance of the bow, using binoculars or zoom cameras, a pod of Orcas could be seen with birds flying around them. Orcas are said to hunt Minke whales, thus there was much tension on the ship surrounding the fate of the young Minke. As far as we have seen so far, the Minke was not in danger because the Orcas left the area.
“During the zodiac ride, my group was able to watch a leopard seal lounge on an iceberg. While on the small island, we were able to see the other three seal species known in Antarctica: the elephant seal, the crab eater seal, and the Weddell seal.”
~Grace Broderick, Chicago, Illinois
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“Un altre dia espectaacular a l’Antartica! Un dia que sembla que hagin sigut dos, doncs el mati i la tarde han sigut molt intensos i diferents. Just ara venint a escriure el blog, pensava, aixo ha passat aquest mati? Doncs si, es aquest mati quan hem creuat l’estret de Lemaire realment impressionat, hi ha hagut un moment que tanta bellesa i al mateix temps hostilitat m’ha com “sobrecogido” i fins i tot hem venien llagrimes als ulls. Es molt dificil d’explicar, i fins i tot compendre l’immensitat i natura d’aquest lloc. L’estret es estret i les pareds son de roca negra vertical i de glaciars que amb pareds enormes arriben fins a l’aigua. I a mes d’aixo, hi ha els icebergs de formees inimaginables i els animals. L’estret l’hem fet amb una balena Minky que ha decidit acompanyar-nos i jugar i ballar amb el vaixell, mes d’una hora al costat noste, ensenyant-nos la panxa, saltant, nadant, una bellesa. I just al final de l’estret un grup de tres orques, istes de lluny pero alla estaven! Jo he patit per la minky pero les balenes orques han marxat i la minky s’ha quedat.
“Al final de l’estret hem agafat les zodiac i hem fet un passeig pels icebergs on hem vist molt de prop una foca lleopard. El color blau turquesa d’al.”
~Anna Abella, Baar, Switzerland
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“Lady luck was on our side today, as we saw all sorts of wildlife. From the first landing in Pleneau Island we saw four different types of seals species from the leopard seal to the weddell seal a crabeater seal, and a juvinille elephant seal. It looks like my marine mammals class payed off this past semester. I loved seeing them it was a diverse ecosystem all in one landing. But I did not mention before we got to the landing we were passing through the Southern Ocean when a Minke whale surprised us and acted as an escort, we spent two hours on the bow of the ship looking in awe at this playful minke. It was very cold, but worth every moment. As we were approaching the opening of the channel we saw the dorsal fins of orca whales in the distance. They were less curious then the minke but in that moment I enjoyed the cycle of whales.
“We made it to our first landing a group of gentoos penguins welcomed us we spent the morning exploring the intertidal and I found a lonesome krill in a tidepool about two inches in length. The island was small but full of life so much diversity within also there were fish found within the rocks of the shallow waters and they had colors that were similar to the rocks as a camoflauge mechinism it was very interesting to see. I enjoyed my time on the island. As we prepared to leave in the last zodiac a weddell seal approached us with curisosity her big eyes looked at us and we into her eyes. Both parties just observers she came right up to the boat for a moment and then swam into the water as she was done.
“However, my favorite part of this day was leaving the second landing. We were headed back to the ship when a 100 yards away a humpback whale showed itself, just sitting at the top of the water what look like she was resting took a couple of breaths and all of a sudden her back curved we saw the dorsal fin and her beautiful fluke as she dove deep into the water column. So far today was the most educational hands on experience with the wildlife of Antarctica. A tally of four species of penguins, four species of whales, and four species of seals, an awe inspiring day. Tomorrow is our last day in the continent of Antarctica then back to the Drake, such a bitter sweet moment.”
~Kalyn LeBlanc, Brunswick, Maine
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“Today was perhaps the most breathtaking day yet. We woke up bright and early and hit the deck to watch as we passed through the relatively narrow Lemaire Channel, with massive snowcapped mountains flanking us, sticking straight out of the ocean, and bordered by thick, blue-white glaciers. Very early on someone spotted a beautiful minke whale coming up out of the water, its thick breath spraying high and wide in the sky. As everyone gathered on the deck to watch this beautiful animal, it started dancing along with the boat, turning sideways in shallow water, moving its powerful tail up and down, keeping up easily with our ship. The minke came up to breach, turning over its beautiful belly to the sky, and you could see the yellow colour of the diatoms growing on its stomach.
“The minke stayed with us for hours, moving alongside the boat, constantly breaching and showing off for us, diving under the boat and coming up the other side. Meanwhile the captain of our ship was meticulously picking his way through the narrow channel, dodging large, ornately carved icebergs on either side. And then, all of a sudden, Geoff Green’s voice comes on the PA telling everyone to look straight ahead at a pod of orca whales not 100m in front of us. Sure enough when I looked up the channel through my binoculars, four tall black dorsal fins penetrated up above the water. I caught a glimpse of an orca porpoise above the water, and even saw the white of its eye patch. It seemed certain that the orcas would find the minke, and that one of natures rare and beautiful, but harsh epics was about to unfold. I kept looking around the boat, searching for the minke but it couldn’t be found. And when I looked for the orcas, they too were out of sight.
“I kept expecting to see the orcas and minke come up behind our ship, the minke racing along, trying to keep up a pace that would allow it to outrun the orcas, while the orcas worked as a team to drown the minke, but there were no whales to be found anywhere. After about five minutes of searching, and instead turning my gaze to the bay that had emerged on our port side, with a massive glacier at its shore, the minke popped up beside our ship. Again, it showed its belly and displayed its grandeur and beauty to all of us aboard. I didn’t see the orcas again after that, and some of the crew speculated that they were scared off by the boat, and that the minke was using the large boat as a means of protection, to ferry it from one end of the Channel to the other.
“With that amazing start to the day, there was no way this day could not turn out to be absolutely beautiful. We continued on to land at Pleneau Island, the site of a gentoo rookery, and also where we saw three different species of seals. A young, but incredibly large elephant seal lay resting its body in a v-shaped rock formation, pausing to sneeze, slap its large, gelatinous belly against the rock, or scratch dirt out from between its muzzle and nose. Nearby, a crabeater seal lay on its side on top of a small iceberg, showing its scarred back, relics of near death encounters with leopard seals and orcas. Following alongside the guano-encrusted penguin highway lead me to a final seal, a beautiful, doe-eyed sausage of a seal, the weddel seal, basking on the rocks.
“We then took an incredible zodiac cruise through the incredible blue-white icebergs in the bay, shaped by the wind and water into incredible forms. Among the bergs we chanced upon a leopard seal lying on the ice. When we approached, it wiggled its long, lean body and raised its head to take a peak at us, but was otherwise uninterested in our presence.
“Once back on the ship we learned about the last landing we would do today, to the Wauweman Islands, a set of relatively unexplored and individually unnamed islands where a SOI legend, Fritz Koerner, started a monitoring project to see the rate of melting of these glaciers over time. Since this time, Fritz has passed, but his legacy has continued on, as every student Expedition to the Antarctic since that year has been trying to return in order to monitor the changes in the glacier.
“We landed, and I walked over a small bluff to a shallow inlet of water where about 5 Weddell seals lay snoozing, their plump tan bodies and short stubby fins giving a docile and cute appearance. One seal, sligthly removed from the group started singing the most beautiful song, filled with trills and tweets, and sounds I have never heard from any other animal before. Maybe less graceful, a loud poof of air emanated from the seal 15 meters away, and an unmistakable stench of fart overcame me seconds later. I think that is the strongest fart I will ever smell in my life. After my controversial encounter with the seals, I caught up with the group and made my way up to the top of the pillow-top glacier where we worked as a team to dig and classify snow pits, measure hobo sticks put in by the last SOI group to determine the melt rate of the glacier, and inserted our own measuring devices including an air temperature probe. The outing ended most fittingly with a surprise visit from a charismatic humpback whale breaching just a short distance away from our zodiac.
“The day finished off with dinner and a legendary story from one of our most seasoned Explorers, Scoby Pie, who told us about how, while working for the British Antarctic Survey, a bunker of explosives was set off to dispose of the old explosives, at the same time a Russian ship came into the harbour. This was during the Cold War. The Russians actually radioed back to Moscow to tell them that they had been fired upon, and it took an enormous amount of diplomatic negotiation to clear up the whole situation.
“Once again I am sitting in the ship lounge, surrounded by incredible people, and fellow companions on this expediton, winding down from the days events, and enjoying the view of the mountains and glaciers surrounding us, as the Antarctic sunlight continues late into the evening.”
~Patrick Soprovich, Whitehorse, Yukon
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“Day 10: With a 7:00 am wake-up and a 7:30 am breakfast, everyone rushed out on deck as we entered the Lemaire Channel. We were extremely lucky to be able to get through this channel; the Lemaire Channel is usually too densely paked in ice and our captain was extremely skeptical because it lead to unchartered waters. While we were in the channel, a male Minke whale followed us for a solid 2 hours and performed all sorts of cool tricks for us. When we neared the end of the channel, we spotted 6 Orca whales in the distance; sadly they were too far for a decent photo and disappeared when we approched them. At 9:30 am, we loaded the zodiacs and set sail towards Pleneau Island. Once here, we saw Gentoo Penguins, an Elephant Seal, a Crab Eater Seal, and a Weddell Seal all at the same island. After about an hour, we loaded the zodiacs and went for a zodiac cruise. On the cruise we saw a Leopard Seal; making it the fourth different type of seal in an hour. We also saw another Weddell Seal and a spectatular deep bright blue iceburg. We then arrived back at the ship and had lunch at 1:00pm. After having some down time, at 3:30 pm we had a Koerne Ice Cap briefing. Geoff gave us the plan and the reasoning behind the landing. The reason was because a few years ago a guy named Fritz wanted to explore around these islands that had never really been discovered and was just another passing point on uncharted waters. As a result, Geoff and Fritz set off to find a landing spot so that future Students On Ice members could come to and contribute to science. They couldn’t find anything, but when they were heading back to the ship, they found the perfect spot. The following year, Fritz died in 2008. Ever since, Geoff has brought Students On Ice to the same island and conducted science studies. They leave a HOBO every year and receive it the following year with its collected data. (Except last year they were unable to get to the island.) They also measure where the metal pole that holds the HOBO is at in comparison of where it was set a year ago to see if the ice cap is melting or growing. We then watched a video about Fritz’s legacy which was very moving. Derek then explaned about the HOBO and what we will do once we arrive. At 4:30 pm we set sail towards the Wauwerman Islands. The zodiac ride took FOREVER because the ship wouldn’t go any further because the islands were in unchartered waters. Once they found the landing spot, we stepped foot on the island which is still yet to be named. We hiked up the ice cap and searched for the spot where the HOBO was left. After digging for about 1 meter (6 feet), we finally freed the HOBO and the metal pole. Afterwards, while different workshops and other science objectives were going on, a group of Americans and Canadians both built seperate igloos in competition with each other. While we were building the igloos, us Americans were singing the national anthem and other American songs; we even threw in some completely unrelateable songs like Jingle Bells. We did this while the Canadians were singing their own national songs. After about an hour of building our igloos, we both sent a person from each side to kick down the other side’s wall, and then we built a bridge connecting the two igloos. This was a really important moment that brought us two different countries together. After the whole trip of debating over which country was better, we finally overcame that thought and became a giant family, no mater the country. To me this was a big step for all of us. Afterwards, we all went to go help with the science projects before we hiked down the ice cap to the zodiacs. Once back on the ship, I took a shower and went to dinner. After dinner, we all met in the conference room to review over what we did on the ice cap. We then shared our highlights of the day. Afterwards, we all listened to a really cool Scobie story about explosives. After everything was finished, we headed to bed to rest up before our last Antarctica landing.”
~Suzanne Zeid, Longview, Texas
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