Sunday, 6 March 2011

South Georgia appears in the mist

At 7AM FRAM was at the entrance to Drygalski Fjord, it was overcast and rainy but we could see the steep side walls of the main fjord. The main channel of the Drygalski Fjord follows an ancient fault line between two different rock types of different ages. The rocks on the north side of the channel are more than 200 million years old are granites and metamorphic rocks that once formed part of the super continent of Gondwanaland. On the south side of the channel the rocks are mostly volcanic and they formed about 140 to 170 million years ago on the deep ocean floor at a mid ocean spreading ridge. Mountain building and faulting pushed these two rock formations next to each other. Later a very active glacier enlarged this fault valley into a fjord. At present this glacier has melted and retreated and the fjord is filled with water. The whitish color of the water, glacial milk, results from very fine grained rock particles that are suspended in the runoff waters from the glaciers and snow fields that remain in the area adjacent to the main fjord.
Our first boats groups ashore at Grytviken were welcomed by a young elephant seal, numerous fur seals and a pair of King penguins. Many of us then paid our respects at the grave of Ernest Shackleton before walking on to photograph the rusting remains of the whaling station. Seeing the size and complexity of the boilers and the piping, one can only imagine the intensity of the work force when the whale processing operated 24 hours per day. On our walk through the whaling station we noticed two new helicopters. They are currently based at Grytviken as the first phase of a program to exterminate the rat population. The rats escaped years ago from whaling vessels and now they are an invasive menace to petrels and other small birds that nest on the island. Exterminating the rats should allow the native nesting bird populations to recover to sustainable levels.

Later in the afternoon the weather turned grim. The winds gusted to gale force and driving rain doomed a few cameras. The church, the boathouse (containing a replica of the James Caird that carried Shackleton to South Georgia) and the museum afforded us three refuges from the wind and rain. Museums vary, sometimes you get lucky to visit a museum where the information and exhibits far exceed your expectations. Clearly the South Georgia Museum is in that rare category of excellent museums.
As our visit drew to a close the wind strengthened and the rain blew by in horizontal sheets. But our passengers proved to be waterproof and good natured and our Polarcirkle boat drivers safely delivered us back to the FRAM, wet but smiling and looking forward to tomorrows adventures.

Playing the southernmost organ
in the world