Week 8

Christmas Eve celebrated in style

A young leopard seal, already showing an impressive set of teeth © David N Thomas

A young leopard seal, already showing an impressive set of teeth © David N Thomas

Christmas Eve was celebrated in style, with a party of course, a particularly memorable highlight being everybody joining in a rather robust rendition of ‘Silent Night’ in Dutch, German, English, Finnish, Portuguese, Greek, French and Latin!

The ship's bridge was an ideal place to celebrate the New Year © David N Thomas

The ship's bridge was an ideal place to celebrate the New Year © David N Thomas

However, we were all in for a surprise on Christmas Day. Huge cracks had developed in the early hours of the morning, and soon after breakfast it was clear we had to abandon the floe. What was meant to be an easy morning, soon turned into a major salvage job, as people collected in equipment, and some having to rescue broken masts and weather stations that had broken away in the night.

Shortly after lunch we moved off, to one of the sub floes that had been part of our larger floe and was still relatively intact and not far away. Several groups had their main sampling sites on this piece of ice and so we literally moved just round the corner. By the time we sat down to dinner that evening we had berthed once again.

Even the laboratories were adorned with Christmas decorations © David N Thomas

Even the laboratories were adorned with Christmas decorations © David N Thomas

The week has been spent with a rather frantic scramble to get the last ice cores, snow and water samples in. There has been a discernable increase in the urgency in the way people have set about their work, and the frequency of sampling has increased.

Together with all of this, it is clear that people are exhausted and working to their limits. Right up to the very end of our stay experiments are still taking place in the snow and ice, and some will only be retrieved just a few minutes before the ship pulls away from the floe.

Mid week, there was great excitement as we pulled out one of our two sets of sediment traps. The collection bottles contained material, that was obviously derived from the overlying ice and not from the Weddell seal that had used the hole above a few weeks earlier.

We have more problems with the second set of traps - they are now below a jumble of ice blocks and rubble in a pressure ridge. To retrieve these we will probably have to gently ram the ridge with the ship, hoping not to damage the trap array.

Last night we celebrated the change of the year with a BBQ on the deck, and then at midnight we enjoyed a champagne reception on the bridge complete with the sounding of the ship's horn and fireworks, which in this case was the out-of-date distress flares. Three crabeater seals on a nearby floe celebrated with us by sleeping through the whole thing.

A New Year firework show using up out-of-date distress flares © David N Thomas

A New Year firework show using up out-of-date distress flares © David N Thomas

We receive three exchanges of emails per day and also get daily email-news bulletins. To hear of the tsunami and the mass destruction and gross loss of lives has been sobering to us all. However, we cannot see the terrible images or hear the reports on radio, television or the web. It is amazing how cut off from world events we feel, despite the intensity of modern day communication exchange.

There is always a feeling of helplessness when major disasters occur, this sensation is heightened as we try to come to terms with what has happened. Meal times are the main source of information where we share the snippets of information that friends, family and colleagues convey in their emails.

We will start our journey home at noon tomorrow. In eight days time we plan to be at South Georgia, and the captain has calculated everything so that we arrive on time in Cape Town on the 19th January. We still have some water sampling to do along the route back, and some helicopter-based stations as we travel through the ice. Obviously there is regret that it is coming to an end, but this is mingled with the tremendous relief that we will soon be home again.

David Thomas
1st January
67°S 55°W