Gib Finney’s sequel to THE POWER OF UN
The Dirt of Antarctica
25 June 2008, Finney @ 11:36 am

[This post written 6/25/08; position: lat -57’52”, long -42’40”; temp 0C; wind chill -15C]

This morning I decided I’d better take a shower. Mom would probably be upset if she knew how few I’ve had in the last month, but hey, what’s the point of having an adventure if you have to stay as clean as you do at home? You might think that is why this post is titled “The Dirt of Antarctica.” But you would be wrong. I had just finished showering and was getting dressed when someone out in the hallway yelled that there were humpback whales on the port side aft.

I don’t know if I have explained about port and starboard, forward and aft. Forward and aft are easy. Forward means toward the pointed end of the ship, the end that normally goes through the water first. And aft means the back end of the ship. Port is the left side of the ship when you are facing forward. And starboard is the right side of the ship, same deal. You mght think it is kind of hard to keep track of which is which. Grandpa Finney, who was a merchant marine for a while when he was young, taught me a simple way. He said, “Look at the words. Left and port have the same number of letters.” I never had any trouble after that.

But anyway, back to the humpback whales. I got dressed in record time, and this time, I remembered to grab my camera. Rainy was downstairs helping the biologists sort MOCNESS stuff. (There were some little squids today!) I yelled, “Humpback whales!” to the whole lab. Dr. Robison rushed up the stairs along with me, and Rainy was right behind. Ash was upstairs helping Steve and Kim build a new airplane out of parts from old ones. But I ran up there and yelled, “Humpback whales!” to them, too.

We did see some humpbacks once we got out on deck. But they were pretty far away and I didn’t get any good pictures of them. What we did see, very close, was the strangest chunk of ice ever. Some parts of it were clear as glass. Some parts were milky blue. And other parts were almost black. Petrels were flying all around it, and Rainy said that probably meant the black parts were bird doo. For which I gave her a rabbit punch. When Dr. Shaw saw the ice, he wanted to go out and get a piece right away. So he and Dr. Smith and First Mate Rachelle and a couple of other people got into a small motor boat and went out to see if they could chip off a sample. Here are some pictures I took:

As you can see, it didn’t look like any other piece of ice we have seen on this voyage. We Three Musketeers rushed to the bow of the ship (that’s the very most pointy part, way forward) and stood on the catwalk so we could look down at the boat and the ice chunk. That’s where I got these pictures. As you can see from the closeup, not only was it weird colors and a weird shape. It was also full of those dimple pockets like the ones the ROV saw underneath the first iceberg we stopped at (SS1). You can see them pretty well in the bottom picture. They made the ice look like the skin of a dinosaur! (Well, okay, what I imagine the skin of a dinosaur would look like.)

Just before dinner, we went down to the lab and Dr. Shaw showed us the sample they got. He said the ice was so hard they had to use a short sledgehammer to get a piece about the size of a soccer ball. He is very excited about it, because it turns out those stripes are made of dirt and pebbles that are deep inside the ice. He says this means the ice was probably part of an Antarctic glacier at one time, and the dirt inside it — and inside its bigger cousins, the icebergs — may be helping to fertilize the ocean so more things can live and grow in it!

Now we are almost ready to turn the ship and head back toward Punta Arenas, a trip that will take a few days. Once we get there, we will fly home. I don’t know whether we will see any more icebergs on the way back, but I hope so. I’m pretty sure we’ll see more petrels. We might see more penguins, too. But the only ones who will be making any sounds are the real ones, thank goodness.