Ice

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Antarctica has its wildlife, its sweeping vistas, its stormy seas… and it has its little beauties. Through glacial ice, sunlight refracts out the most intense blue you can imagine. Cotton and Sisse, the National Geographic photographers on board the Orion, talked about the color of Antarctica in photography. They play with the fact that so very much of the landscape here is blue: water, sky, fog in the dim light of dawn, and, of course, the ice. Snowfall year after year forms glaciers, moving rivers of accumulated ice… glaciers crush all the air out of that ice, every air bubble that makes normal ice look white, and leave compacted masses of deep blue frozen water.

With all that snow and ice and cold, cold color, it’s easy to lose sight of the real depth of the landscape. There’s a lot you can do with the washed-out bleak look, but my favorite photos from the trip are ones in which the blue is featured, not as a chilly background, but as a glow like the piece of ice above, or even better, broken by little spots of bright color.

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Our orange parkas really helped in that endeavor. We stick out against that background, tiny orange people against the overwhelming blue-gray of this glacier on Elephant Island. As an expedition with a thematic tie to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic journey a century ago, it was an especially poignant sight- Elephant Island served as a camp for Shackleton’s men for bleak, blue months while their leader and a few others crossed a perilously rough stretch of water in essentially a rowboat. Our hardy zodiaks and their brightly-colored contents would have been a welcome sight for those men. I hope that when they were rescued four and a half months after they watched their last hope sail away, the Chilean ship Yelcho that picked them up was flying some good colors. But maybe by then they’d really come to appreciate the true beauty of the blue.

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First Penguins

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The first penguins we saw on our trip were from the ship (the Orion). These Chinstraps seemed to be headed back toward shore after some successful foraging at sea, using their wings and feet to propel themselves through the frigid water (Tim, the expedition leader, announced the temperature to be somewhere around 1 degree Celsius…). Like dolphins, penguins often “porpoise” through the water as they travel. By clearing the waves entirely, they fly through the air and maintain forward momentum while still breathing regularly, reducing the drag they experience at the intersection of ocean and sky. To predators this motion may be very confusing; to photographers it can be both endlessly entertaining and endlessly frustrating, as most penguin-porpoising photos involve a larger proportion of feet and tail feathers than heads and bodies. But as always, patience and a large memory card are their own rewards…

Agent Red Heads South

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Agent Red Squirrel has been remiss- I’m sorry for the disappearance! But I have good reason: things have been busy in my world recently. I relocated hemispheres once again, this time even further south than Exmouth, and I made it to a fifth and sixth continent. That’s right, after a very brief stopover in Buenos Aires, Argentina (South America), I headed for the Antarctic Peninsula on board the National Geographic Orion. It was my greatest adventure yet, scientifically fascinating, photographically exhilarating, and so much fun that it can’t be contained in a regular series of posts. For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a single photo and an explanation thereof four times per week, about every other day, to tell the story of the Time I Went South.