21 March, 1999

March 21, 1999

Greetings from the Nathaniel B. Palmer! WOW!!! What a day!!! Today, we drove through some of the straits and bays of the Antarctic Peninsula. I woke up to hear the outside door slamming . . . and I knew that there must be some great views outside. I quickly dressed and went out to see the mountains on either side of the ship with the sun just barely peeking through some of the clouds. It was really awesome! As it turned out, we had spectacular views like that all day long.

A few hours later, while a lot of us were standing out of the bow of the ship taking tons of photographs, the ship came to a stop. We all looked at each other because we were not quite sure what was going on. Then, some of the deck hands came to the front deck and told us that we had to move out of the way -- the ship was dropping anchor! Not too many minutes later, I saw one of the zodiacs being lowered into the water by a crane. That could only mean one thing . . . we were going ashore!

It wasn't until I went to the back deck (where we go over the side of the ship to get into the zodiacs) that I realized that we were at the site of an abandoned whaling station. We loaded into the zodiacs and went across the bay to Nansen Island, where you could still see the remnants of a whaling station from long ago. There were also lots of Blue-eyed Shags in the water, which are also known as Imperial or King Cormorants. All around us were glaciers and ice covered mountains. If you sat quietly, you could actually hear the ice cracking . . . it sounded like thunder.

While we stayed on the island (and took lots of pictures), the zodiacs went back to the ship to get the rest of the people who were coming ashore. On the return trip, we went sightseeing by zodiac . . . and it was really great! We went past Fur seals and Weddell seals lying on rocks and ice. We saw two different species of penguin -- Gentoos and Chinstraps. We also drove past a shipwreck, which I assume is a remnant of the whaling days. Although the ship is brown from all of the rust, it is mostly sticking out of the water and very interesting. I had a really wonderful time! In fact, I didn't get off the zodiac when we first got back to the ship -- I stayed on the zodiac while it went through the entire tour one more time with the last few people. What a perfect day!

This is also our last day in the Antarctic Peninsula. We've been getting satellite photos and weather forecasts to try and predict what our weather will be like as we cross the Drake Passage and head north to South America. The Drake Passage is "famous" for very rough seas if the weather is bad. We've decided that if we leave by midnight tonight, we will be able to avoid bad weather and therefore have a better crossing. So, by the time I wake up in the morning, we will be heading north . . . and out of site of land. It's about 750 nautical miles from the Antarctic Peninsula to Punta Arenas, so it will take about three days for the journey. This will give us one full day in Punta Arenas before we fly home. Who was Francis Drake? We'll look at that in tomorrow's journal.

For today, let's look at our question, "What are some of the differences between the Arctic and the Antarctic?" In comparing some of the natural features, Antarctica is a continent surrounded by the ocean; whereas the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents. The elevation in Antarctica is much higher -- with South Pole being 9,300 feet above sea level, and North Pole is 3 feet above sea level. The South Pole is also much colder than the North Pole; with the average annual temperatures being -58 degrees Fahrenheit and 0 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. One other natural difference concerns the width of the continental shelf, which is deep and narrow in the Antarctic but shallow and extensive in the Arctic.

There are many other differences concerning both plants and animals. Antarctica has no trees, no terrestrial mammals, and only two species of flowering plants. The Arctic has a well developed tundra which is marked by a tree shrubline. There are 450 species of flowering plants in the Arctic that can be found between 66 and 77 degrees North latitude. At 82 degrees S. latitude, the only plants that you can find are crustaceous lichens. At 82 degrees N. latitude, there are 90 species of flowering plants. The Arctic is also the home to many terrestrial mammals, including: musk ox, reindeer, fox, wolf, and bears (both polar and grizzly). There are also more bird species and more marine mammal species in the Arctic than there are in the Antarctic.

Another set of differences between the Arctic and the Antarctic concerns human populations. There are no records of primitive humans in Antarctica. There are no permanent residents, and the population south of 60 degrees South latitude is sparse. The Antarctic Circle was first crossed by James Cook on January 17, 1773. In the Arctic, there are many native peoples and ethnic groups. In fact, there are over 2 million people living above 60 degrees North latitude . . . and many of them live in modern settlements. In addition, there is no written record of the first time that people crossed the Arctic Circle -- it was prehistoric.

Don't hesitate to send email questions to me through Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning. After that, I'm not sure that I would receive them in time to send back an answer. In addition, the ship will not be forwarding any mail that arrives after we leave on Friday. I will, however, still be available to answer email questions after I return to the United States. I'll give you the new email address at the end of the week. Until tomorrow . . .

Kim Giesting

Latitude: 64 degrees 10 minutes South

Longitude: 61 degrees 53 minutes West

Temperature: 1.9 degrees Celsius

Barometer: 983.2 mb

Wind Speed: 5.8 knots

Wind Direction: 307 degrees (from the Northwest)

Sunrise: 07:08

Sunset: 19:23

This is an abandonend whaling station on Nansen Island.

We took the zodiacs out to examine this old shipwreck.

When we were returning to the Nathaniel B.Palmer, we passed these Gentoo penguins.

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