Friday, June 01, 2007

Destination Antarctica

The Great White Continent and the Great White Dessert are two names of Antarctica, a land of extremes and the most inhospitable continent in the world, but you will find life here too!
The fascinating great white continent of Antarctica is located 60 degrees below S latitude. It is the most distant continent, with the nearest land being South America at a distance of 965 km and India (Goa, from where the Indian expedition generally begins) at more than 11,000 km. We left India for Frankfurt, by Lufthansa Airlines, which takes about 9 hours travel time…After having spent an entire day in Frankfurt, we took our connecting 12 hour flight to Brazil where we spent some days enjoying the Amazon jungles and then we were off to Santiago, Chile (6 hours flight) where we met our co-passengers (mainly of U.S. and German nationality) for the Antarctic expedition.
The Amazon is truly the “Lung of the world.” The green belt spreads over a 2,030,000 square mile ecosystem that includes the Amazon River and Amazon Forest (the largest and most dense rainforest in the world having about five million animal species)…It’s here where the Rio Negro flows into the muddy Amazon. For many miles, the black and white waters flow side by side in separate, clearly defined streams before they finally intermingle…Though there are a 170 odd Indian cultural groups living in the Amazon, they add up to only 2,00,000 population as of today.From Santiago, the expedition agents had organised a chartered flight (LAN Chile at 8.30 am) to Ushuaia, Argentina (arrival – 12.20 pm), (flight duration 4hrs)…Ushuaia is the primary embarking port for ships heading to Western Antarctica.The tour ended at Ushuaia pier where we found our ship – ‘The World Discoverer’ and her 100 crewmembers busy, preparing for our expedition.
Journey through the Antarctic Current
The second day was onboard, wherein experts made presentations on seabirds and the marine mammals of Antarctic waters, whilst sharing their current researches. One of the talks on ‘Plate tectonics-or how earth works’ was the most interesting of them all and is the current hot favourite of every geologist. Due to the cold Antarctic summer, the southern hemisphere circulation is meteorologically stronger than that of the Northern hemisphere and the Southern Circumpolar Westerly winds remain strong throughout the year.This creates the “Brave Westerlies” as known in sailing terminology and lying between the “roaring” 40-degree, “furious” 50-degree and the “screaming” 60-degree S latitude. While passing through these latitudes (called the Drake Passage) to reach Antarctica, one often gets seasick inspite of the several medicines, acupressure wristband and medicated patch behind the ear (the effect of apatch lasts for 3-4 days), as the sea is very rough.The Drake Passage is approximately 600 miles in length and it marks the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans…Fifteen totwenty feet (5-6 feet) waves are considered “gentle” in the Drake Passage. It is not really a recommended itinerary for the “weakhearted” (or those with “weak stomach” like me). Because of the rough sea, utmost care was taken to avoid any damage and casualties in the ship. The tables and chairs are all tightly fixed to the floor. The crockery was placed on a wet tablecloth to avoid sliding. There were handrails in the passages and toilets, without which we would have surely bruised ourselves.At times the ship would sway to such an extent, that while seated in the restaurant, one could see the ocean from one side of the window and the sky on the opposite side. The four days spent to navigate through the Drake Passage, while traveling to and returning from Antarctica, were no less than a nightmare. Sometimes during the night, the shutters of the wardrobe in our rooms (although perfectly shut) would open with a bang and all our belongings would be scattered. It was like a scene straight out of a horror film. If you happened to walk without support during a big swell in the ocean, you would definitely resemble a drunkard. On our third day we woke up to the spectacular scenery of huge tabular icebergs (almost 10-15 storey high) all around the ship. An iceberg is a floating mass of freshwater ice that breaks from the seaward end of a glacier or a polar ice sheet. Broken by winds and tide, the icebergs drift for years, gradually changing in shape, until they finally melt in warmer water, further north. They form mostly duringthe spring and summer. An iceberg can weigh from 20 lac tonnes to 4 crore tonnes. The blue colour is due to the compressed ice,which is often thousands of years old. And the blue range of sunlight is thus reflected, instead of absorbed...

Excerpted from Artic And Antarctic, Journeys To The Extremities Of The Earth by Urmi Popat and is published by Manas


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