Posts Tagged ‘glacier’

The Magnificence of Antarctic Glaciers

February 18th, 2010 at 9:51 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

One of the things that has been incredibly difficult to convey in my photography is the sheer size of Antarctica. Our visions of the Antarctic continent had always been of long flat expanses of ice and snow, but Antarctica is anything but flat. In fact Antarctica is the tallest continent in the world, and a fair bit of that height is actually ice (4000-5000 feet in some areas) composed in large part of glaciers.

Earlier today we were at Elephant Island, perhaps most famous for its role in the tales of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. Elephant Island is where Shackleton led his men on three small boats (the life boats of the Endurance) after breaking free of the pack ice in the Weddell Sea. Shackleton and several of his men continued on to find rescue on South Georgia Island, and managed to return to rescue the men he left behind on Elephant Island after several attempts to get though in the midst of the Antarctic winter. It took several months to rescue the men, during which time they set up a makeshift camp at a place dubbed Point Wild (after Frank Wild, the man Shackleton left in command). It’s a brilliant tale, and I would heartily recommend anyone wanting to see what true death-defying adventure is all about read the books on the Endurance by Alfred Lansing and by Caroline Alexander.

It was Point Wild we visited earlier today, and one of the most prominent features of the area at present is a glacier wall. This is not even close to the largest we’ve seen, which makes the photos I present below perhaps even more dramatic.

First, here’s a photo of a small part of the glacier wall. If you look carefully, in the lower right, you’ll see one of the National Geographic Explorer’s Zodiacs along with a Zodiac driver wearing a red parka. The Zodiac is perhaps 100 feet from the wall.

The glacier wall at Point Wild with a Zodiac and driver at lower right

The glacier wall at Point Wild with a Zodiac and driver at lower right

Next, here’s an image of the National Geographic Explorer in front of the glacier wall. The National Geographic Explorer is 367.4 feet (112 meters) long, and was anchored about 500 yards from the glacier. The glacier makes the Explorer look like a toy.

The National Geographic Explorer in front of the glacier wall

The National Geographic Explorer in front of the glacier wall

As a backdrop, the glacier is perfect. Here are some Chinstrap penguins on a spit of land quite some distance from the glacier.

Chinstrap penguins on a spit of land some distance from the glacier

Chinstrap penguins on a spit of land some distance from the glacier

Below is a close-up of the cracks in the glacier wall. The blue coloring is not an illusion. Glacial ice is very dense and contains little air. That density and water purity gives the ice that amazing blue color.

A close-up of the glacier wall

A close-up of the glacier wall

Here is an image showing a vertical slice of the glacier wall. You may be able to match the cavern at the bottom with some of the images above.

A vertical slice of the glacier wall

A vertical slice of the glacier wall

But if you look very carefully at the bit of rock sticking up out of the water at the lower right of the above image you might see a couple of black dots. Those dots are Chinstrap penguins. But if you can’t make them out, let me provide an enlargement of that part of the above image, immediately below:

Close-up of the lower right portion of the glacier wall vertical slice showing two penguins on the bit of rock

Close-up of the lower right portion of the glacier wall vertical slice showing two penguins on the bit of rock

I find the size of the glacier to be stunning, and in past days we’ve passed by hundreds of glaciers at least this big if not much bigger. Hopefully the above photos help give you some idea of how truly large things are here in Antarctica.

As a final image, let me leave you with the one below, which is a panorama composed of 23 individual shots stitched together. If you click on the image you can see the full size, 7763-pixel wide image (which is many megabytes). If you want to see a more reasonable size, click here.

This is a panorama of the glacier wall at Point Wild on Elephant Island in Antarctica - made of 23 adjacent images

This is a panorama of the glacier wall at Point Wild on Elephant Island in Antarctica - made of 23 adjacent images

Larger versions of all of the above images can be found at my Flickr site.