Reflections: ice and frozen rock in the Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula; looking south

Reflections on Ice: Musings from Antarctica and Patagonia

Craig Robertson

Exploring old Gondwana Part 1: Antarctica

It is quiet. It is one of the last places on earth you can really hear the quietness, in spite of the ship.

Ice in the Penola Strait, Antarctic Peninsula; looking south
Both sea and glacial ice (blue) thicken up going south in the Penola Strait, Antarctic Peninsula portside.
Russian ship cutting ice in the Penola Strait, Antarctic Peninsula
Our sturdy Russian ship, Academik Sergei Vavilov, cuts steadily through...
(Click the image to watch it.)
Russian mother ship, Antarctic Peninsula
...and later follows our zodiacs at a comforting distance. (Top) We have a smooth glide through the Lemaire Channel earlier in the morning.
Gentoo Penguin colony with Skua overhead
It is mostly birds that give the landscape its warm-blooded life. In the noisy (click to listen) Gentoo Penguin colonies the skuas are never far away...
Gentoo Penguin colony in snow
...nor is the snow and ice. You have to get in amongst the icebergs to see the beautiful Snow Petrel (right).
Snow Petrel amongst the ice
Glacial ice, Antarctic Peninsula Melting ice self-sculpts on Danco Island
The beauty of the landscape is very attractive...
Bridge iceberg, Foyn Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula
...and always photogenic, even when seemingly devoid of life. Melting ice self-sculpts on Danco Island; an iceberg creates a floating bridge in Foyn Harbour.
Melting ice on a shoreline
Red algae grows in the ice. Perhaps the gentle sound of ice melting on a sunlit shore (click to listen)...
Green and red lichens, Antarctic Peninsula Elephant seal, South Shetland Islands
...or an unusually large patch of lichen, or a lone elephant seal will draw one's attention.
Glacial boulder, Danco Island, Antarctic Peninsula Bones, stones and shells on a quiet shore, South Shetland Islands
(Left) A boulder of metamorphic rock left by a long vanished glacier. We fossick around looking for something in the bones, stones and shells on the shore.
Abandoned whaleboat, South Shetland Islands
Abandoned boats, Foyn Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula
Old abandoned boats, shacks and other human detritus seem to become important because they testify to the human presence.
Humpback whale breaching, Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctic Peninsula
This Humpback Whale breaching in Wilhelmina Bay with the Antarctic Peninsula in sight is happily oblivious to the human presence.
Whale blowing, sunset, Antarctica
With a last goodbye blow from a whale we can only sail off into the sunset having hopefully left no trace of our presence.
If it is too quiet, please try these In My Study notes:
Reflections on Ice: exploring old Gondwana Part I Antarctica, the silence, its not being settled; could we live on Mars. (6' 04"; 2.8 Mb)

Exploring old Gondwana Part 2: Patagonia

Glacier Moreno, southern Argentina
The massive Glaciar Perito Moreno almost floods out of the southern Andes as if to sweep all before it.
Glacier Moreno blocking Lake Argentina
The glacier cuts across an arm of Lago Argentina to the far shore, causing the lake to rise on the upstream side. Every few years it breaks through here with spectacular results.
Glacier Moreno dropping ice into Lake Argentina
But most of the time it is frequently shedding ice into the lake in balance with its flow. This is one glacier that is not shrinkng.
Glacier Moreno and Nothofagus forest
The Nothofagus dominated Gondwanan forest surrounds the whole scene.
Nothofagus forest, Argentina Lenga, Nothofagus pumilio
The main species here is the deciduous Lenga Beech, Nothofagus pumilio. It swathes the slopes up to the snowline.
Nothofagus forest, El Calafate, Argentina
In the Nothofagus forest, Argentina
Inside the forest we feel the imagination begin to stir. (Click to hear the wind.)
Patagonian Sierra-Finch
A Patagonian Sierra-Finch. There is a high degree of bird endemism in this region, as in Tasmania, indeed the whole of Australia and New Zealand. It reflects the Gondwanan origin. (Click to listen.*)
In the Nothofagus forest, El Calafate, Argentina
In the Nothofagus forest, Tierra del Fuego
Further south along the Beagle Channel, evergreen guindo, or Magellan's Beech, Nothofagus betuloides is equally evocative. There were indigenes living here in Darwin's time.
Guindo, Tierra del Fuego Nothofagus forest, Glaciar Martial, Tierra del Fuego
The guindo grows into characteristic "flag-trees" shaped by the relentless wind (left), and up to the slopes below Glaciar Martial above the Beagle Channel.
Walter Baldwin Spencer grave, Punta Arenas, Tierra del Fuego, Chile * Update 15 August 2020: Much apologies. The recording here for several years - it turns out - was not a Patagonian Sierra-finch. It is probably a Black-chinned Siskin. We now have the benefit of exploring the xeno-canto website and its many examples of both species. Fortunately I did get a recording of the sierra-finch and you can now hear it warbling away over the wind and waves of the Beagle Channel.

For more about the Gondwanan forests try these In My Study notes:
Reflections on Ice: exploring old Gondwana Part II
Gondwanan (Nothofagus) forests and the discovery of the imaginative landscape. (4' 50"; 2.2 Mb)

See also this Study page: Gondwana: How it got its name; note the book The Greening of Gondwana: the 400 million year story of Australia's plants by Mary E. White (Reed Australia, 1986), for the history of Gondwanan forests. And for a fictional approach: Song of Gondwana by Craig Robertson (Penguin, 1989).

Walter Baldwin Spencer's Grave

Postscript: Having mentioned above the indigenous people who once lived in these Patagonian remnants of Gondwana, there was one poignant stop along the way in travelling the region. At left is shown the grave of Walter Baldwin Spencer, in the Punta Arenas cemetery, in Chilean Tierra del Fuego.

Spencer was a famous and highly successful man in his day. He still looms large in the history of Australian science. He made his mark first as a zoologist, migrating from England to become the founding Professor of Zoology at The University of Melbourne. But he is best known as an anthropologist; he wrote seminal books on the subject in Australia.

For almost thirty years (1899 - 1928) he was Director of the National Museum of Victoria (now Museum Victoria). During these years he became increasingly interested in anthropology. After his retirement he lived for two years back in England, then went to Tierra del Fuego with his companion Jean Hamilton for reasons that were never clear. There was much interest at the time in comparing the peoples of the extreme south of Patagonia and Australia.

Spencer was suffering from angina pectoris. After less than successful attempts to interview some of the last tribal Indians, it seems the strains of his activity in harsh conditions brought on a fatal attack. Although attended by a caring Hamilton, Spencer died a rather lonely death on the far south Fuegian island of Hoste in 1929.

Reference: So much that is new: Baldwin Spencer, 1860-1929, a biography D.J. Mulvaney and J.H. Calaby (Melbourne University Press, 1985).






Revised 20 May, 2016; 15 August 2020.

Back to home page

Text © Copyright Craig Robertson, 2012-2020, except where otherwise attributed.

Information on this page may be accessed and read for personal use. The material may not be copied or communicated to other parties without permission.