Antarctica: All That Ice! (Part One)
To use one word—ice—to describe the predominant feature of an entire continent can lull a person into a terrifically limiting frame of mind. “The” ice is actually all sorts of ice.
Antarctica lies under an immense ice sheet that is an average of one mile thick. It is rimmed with ice shelves named for early explorers and their kings and sponsors. Its glaciers are so old and so dense that by the time a piece breaks off into the surrounding Southern Ocean, it is thousands (maybe millions) of years old, has traveled hundreds of miles, and is often clear as glass. Sea ice is a thin and fragile layer of frozen sea water, according to livescience.com. It’s not the same as an iceberg, which is a freshwater chunk of glacier or ice sheet that has detached and is floating in unfrozen water.
The ice of Antarctica holds about 90 percent of the world’s fresh water supply. Despite the contrarians who seem so adamant in their denial, scientific research shows climate change to be a very real phenomenon. The area we visited is changing, fast. The Antarctic Peninsula is the “canary in the mine,” with the dubious distinction of warming up faster than anywhere else on the planet.
During our visit, we saw everything from giant tabular icebergs and house-sized icebergs of all shapes and sizes molded by time, water, and weather, to glassine fragments, and the smaller pieces of ice known as “bergy bits” and “growlers.” We cruised past evolving scenes that were stunning and captivating. It’s so abundantly magnificent that I ended up with no less than 76 “favorite” ice photos in my collection from a mere two weeks there. This selection shows some of what came into view during our passage along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula in Jan/Feb 2018.
The presence of ice does imply cold. That said, our “summer vacation” in Antarctica was really not a lot colder or wintry than the northern hemisphere winter of Michigan I left behind. Although we technically set foot on the continent, we were on the tip of its most northern extent. Still, the water temp, measured at 29 degrees due to the salinity, posed a challenge for anyone brave (stupid) enough to entertain the notion of a Polar Plunge at the latitude of 76 degrees South!