Journey to Antarctica

03 October 2012

On a crisp Tasmanian spring evening we set sail from Hobart aboard the Aurora Australis, the Australian Antarctic Division’s research vessel. Our destination: an expanse of sea ice just off the coast of East Antarctica, directly south of Perth on the 120 longitude. Our transport: a giant orange ship that would shepherd us across the notoriously untamed waters of the Southern Ocean. These waters did not disappoint, rocking us asleep, awake, during meals and also making running on a treadmill a real challenge. But before we set off on this rock and roll adventure, we had a two-day sojourn in calm waters near Wineglass Bay in Tasmania to initiate our stomachs and test numerous expensive and high-tech scientific equipment that would be used for the project ahead, including a trace metal rosette that will be used to take water samples at 12 depths up to 1000 meters below the surface.

After a week of being surrounded by water and the occasional albatross, excitement grew as the water temperature plummeted from the brisk 11 °C in Hobart, to a core shivering -1.7 °C. The ship buzzed with excitement as everyone guessed when we would see that first iceberg. This took longer than expected but despite the lack of icebergs, crossing over the 60 °S on Saturday morning did not go uncelebrated. On the contrary, it is a very important milestone for any sea voyage south, and merited a visit from King Neptune himself! Unfortunately for us, this meant a few disgusting initiations for those first timers aboard the Aurora. We will not divulge all of the King’s secrets, but let’s just say it involved a fish, a mysterious blue drink, and a bucket of slop from “the bottom of the ocean” that was very difficult to get out of hair. That evening at our celebratory dinner, people repeatedly crowded around the port windows when whispers of iceberg sightings circulated around the mess. Most of the whispers were false but as soon as the first, distant one was seen, everyone crowded up on the bridge to practice his or her iceberg photography skills; skills that would be used as iceberg sighting were no longer a rarity. On Saturday evening, we arrived at the ice edge under a faint, yet none-the-less astonishing, green Aurora. Watching the ship approach the serenely floating small ice floes under the ship’s spotlights was a phenomenal sight. Soon, we were overtaken by the magic of the marginal sea ice zone, and collapsed in our bunks exhausted from a day of excitement.

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