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Category Archives: Argentine Islands
Today while pottering around the twisting maze of channels in the Argentine islands in a small rubber boat it wasn’t the spectacular ice formations or the seals and penguins that caught my interest – it was the teeming swarms of tiny planktonic mollusks. They are called Pteropods which literally means “winged foot” which is a pretty good description. They have a small coiled shell mage of aragonite (similar to calcium carbonate found in your average mollusc) but rather than the typical slug like foot of your average mollusk these guys have two wings which they use just like birds – to slowly flap their way through the water and keep up near the light where all the food is. While not many know much about Pteropods they are an essential and important part of the food web in most oceans. Unfortunately they are also under significant threat from human activities. The hidden catch 22 with climate change and the carbon in the atmosphere is that most of that Carbon Dioxide ends up in the ocean where is forms carbonic acid. An important exit for the gasses that are causing dramatic climate change but unfortunately the result is that the seas are slowly becoming more acidic. The sad news for Pteropods is that in the increasingly acidic waters they are no longer able to build their aragonite shell, especially in cold southern waters. The result? Many believe we will lose some of these fundamental organisms in only decades leaving a critical gap in the ocean food chain. Watching these small winged mollusks slowly flap through the still waters of Antarctica was a special sight and one that may be hard to come by in the future.
It has been a blazing hot day here in Antarctica with melt water streaming off glaciers and the sun beating relentlessly on our poor Antarctic suntans (i.e. white skin).We started the day in the Argentine Islands which are a complex maze of twisting passages and islands that are spectacular fun to drive through on a zodiac… and on the way there are several seasoned yachties with their yachts parked in out of the way coves amidst ice flows and piles of crabeater seals. Doubtlessly they have converged on the spot to sample the home distilled vodka of the nearby Vernadsky Station run by the Ukrainians. How I long to be down here on a day like this in Widdershins with Léonie by my side! But I guess being down here at all is not so bad at all! We finished the day with a long cruise on our little rubber boats in amidst the icebergs of Plenau Bay with elephant seals and Weddel seals on the beach and every ice flow crowded with crab eater seals and the occasional sinister form of a leopard seal contemplating which of the crabeaters will be its next meal. Now its time for my own meal but its hard to drag yourself away from the spectacular scenery passing by.
We had a fantastically smooth trip across the Drake with barely a ripple to disturb our sleep. A quiet start but hopefully an adventurous trip nonetheless as we are aiming for the Argentine Islands which are further South than we have been this season and offers a fantastic maze of twisting narrow channels to slip through and explore in a zodiac. Within the islands is Vernadsky station, which is now run by Ukrainian researchers but was once run by the British under the name of Faraday – actually it is the location where they first discovered the ozone hole over Antarctica and trigger global concern over the effect of CFCs in the atmosphere. The important part however, is that they are always happy to receive guests and are quick to offer a free shot of home distilled vodka…