17 Dec 2006

Monsters of the deep

We passed through 60 degrees south of the equator yesterday — official Antarctic waters according to maritime law.

Only one iceberg on my shift last night, but today, icebergs are everywhere.

Some of them are several kilometres long, in all shapes and sizes. A few look like floating castles; others look like bits of paper that have been screwed up and thrown at the horizon.

The biggest bergs are called tabular icebergs. They are flat on top with cliffs of about 30m high. Tabular bergs are big chunks of ice that have broken off floating glaciers around the coast of Antarctica. When glaciers (great rivers of moving ice) are pushed forwards they sometimes flow out towards the ocean, creating ice shelves which are attached to the land but float upon the ocean. Eventually, the movement of the glacier and the thrashing of the ocean cause pieces of the floating ice sheet to break off and become icebergs.

I like the ones with beautiful curves. These icebergs have rolled upside down and the curved bits, which used to be underwater, have been shaped and worn smooth by the sea.

The ocean is much calmer now but I miss the sound of the ship heaving through the Southern Ocean. In rough seas the ship sounds a bit like whale sonar and the noise evolves when the waves get really big.

Weeerrrrrrhhhhhhhhheee…the whale has turned into a monster of the deep!

I'm sure some of the sea sickness victims would disagree with my liking for the rough and tumble of the open ocean. Many of them are emerging from their cabins now, looking worn out and still a little green around the gills, to see what all the excitement is about.

Speaking of monsters, our crossing of the 60°south latitude earned us a visit from a cheeky and very green King Neptune last night. All newcomers to this far south must bow before the King and Queen. One of his followers looked suspiciously like Vonna Keller, our field guide in Antarctica, masked and covered in green food dye. I didn't dare to question her identity. I already had plenty of vegemite in my ears...

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