notes from the field

No. 19 - Foot of a Glacier

We went to the southeast side of Elephant where two huge glaciers drain off the top of the 50-mile long massive island and plunge into the sea. We put the trawl over at three stations in the area and came up with a few fish and tons of mud, bryozoan skeletons, and dense, heavy sponges -- should have expected something like that at the foot of a glacier. There wasn't any sense in doing more stations and reaffirming what we already knew, but there was no where else to go.

The wind never really gave up, steady at 30-35 knots out of the west. This morning we set the trawl along the edge of a deep channel between Elephant and Clarence Islands. The current runs strong and deep between these islands and the bottom is scoured. Again we found few fish, some brittle stars and many very hardy sponges. We poked around to the north side of Elephant but the wind was approaching 50 knots, gusting to 60, and a large ground swell was growing bigger. I gave up and we went to the back side of Clarence.

Clarence Island is a 25-mile long, narrow triangle with its point sticking north up into Drake's Passage. It's the top of a very steep mountain ridge rising almost vertically from the sea's edge to 6,000 feet. Running north and south it presents a formidable barrier to a westerly gale. It's impossible to anchor next to the island because the sides are so steep, but we found a large area of relatively calm water on the back side. There are some very strange meteorological conditions here as well. As we got further into the lee, air pressure dropped and the temperature warmed to an amazing 57 degrees. Lenticular clouds and other bizarre shapes are continuously forming in the eddies above us that are created as the wind rushes over and around Clarence. Thick, dark portions of the sky alternate with open blue areas. It is truly surreal.

We'll stick our nose out into the maelstrom early tomorrow morning. If we can work we will go north of Elephant; if not we'll snug up close against one of the glaciers on the southeast side. And wait.


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