Quick Swim in Antarctica

Our swim off the shore of the Antarctic continent was coined as the “polar plunge.” Plunge is a verb meaning “to jump quickly and energetically.” I did just that – the quicker I got in, the sooner I could get right back out!

snow mt view me Polar Plunge 31
Don’t bother dipping your toes in – dive right in to life…

I plunged holding a bucket to collect the day’s water sample from Neko Harbor. Since I had jumped into the Arctic’s water last June (read here), I was confident I could do this. I knew just what to expect: frigid water cold enough to feel like a million needles.

me plunge 6 N.Souness-6995
If you couldn’t tell from my face — it was REALLY cold!

Probably overconfident from the excitement, the bitter freeze was a shock to my system. In a panic, my head popped out of the water as I exclaimed “HELP ME!!!” to the crew member holding the one end of the rope; the other end tethered to a harness around my waist, in case of an emergency. My mind and body felt like an eternity before I pulled the sample bucket and myself out of the water (ok, maybe with a little bit of assistance).

victory water bucket Polar Plunge 32
Retrieving the day’s water sample

I had a thermometer handy immediately. I reported back to everyone else waiting in line to plunge that the water was TWO DEGREES Celsius. Most wished I hadn’t reported this!

Maybe if I am willing to go to drastic measures in an inhospitable setting to observe the world around me, it will show my students there’s no excuse to sit around playing video games – get outside and explore, everyone!

So, feeling this water makes it hard to believe that there’d be anything living in this water. On the contrary! Colder water holds more oxygen and the currents carry many nutrients! The Southern Ocean is full of life! There is a strong ocean current that circles around Antarctica, keeping this ocean colder and isolated with a very unique marine ecosystem.

lobster krill
lobster krill

 

Plankton and krill are at the bottom of the food chain.The total weight of krill in the Southern Ocean is equal to total weight of all people on earth!

 

 

 

Penguins, seals, and whales appeared abundant on our expedition! Here are a few of my favorite marine shots…

 

penguins outstretch flippers IAE 2016 82

 

 

Penguins feed at sea…

 

 

 

peterman birds ice cave IAE 2016 257 (2)
These antarctic terns will soon migrate to another continent north

 

Antarctic seabirds depend on marine food sources…

 

 

 

 

The crabeater seal (left) and fur seal (right) eat krill, unlike the leopard seals who eat penguins (unpictured).

I wished for the adrenaline revved from the polar plunge to stay with me, giving me the courage to face the Drake Passage the next day. This 600-mile stretch of sea between Antarctica and South America is considered the most treacherous of seas in the world, kicking up to 30-foot waves. This would begin the journey home, keeping a piece of Antarctica in my heart forever. Antarctica’s thick ice-capped landmass and its lively sea is truly an inspiring place, meant to be kept as protected wilderness.

Drake waves IAE 2016 40
600 miles of the Drake Passage for 37 hours of rough 20 foot waves is party of the journey home…

Penguins Have the Right of Way!

schetter with penguins
Me with a gentoo penguin colony – they were not bothered by my presence!

Penguins have the right of way at land or sea. The first thing I noticed when we landed at Peterman Island (off the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula) was long sled tracks down the hillside.

penguin sled tracks
Those tracks all from sledding penguins!

As I walked to take a closer look, I had to wait for a fearless gentoo penguin to cross the path in front of me.

penguins right of way

Winter childhood memories flooded my heart when I then saw several penguins tobogganing, sliding down the hills, on their stomachs. Penguins often choose this behavior to move across land, appearing to use their flippers and feet to swim through snow and ice – much more efficient than walking with short legs.

penguins tobaggon behavior
Tobogganing is a common penguin behavior to travel on land. 

 

Hiking up to higher ground offered a beautiful view of the entrance of the Lamaire Channel, where biologist Fabrice Genevois gave me a quick history lesson of the area.

vista view
Beautiful view from Peterman Island

The island was named upon its discovery in 1873 for geographer August Peterman. We could see where French explorer Charcot wrote ‘PP’ on a rock in 1909. This stands for his vessel, Porquoi Pas, which they overwintered with to collect data about the environment including high tides.

Would the data and stories I collect for GLOBE and the H2yOu Project (h2youproject.com) be discussed over 100 years later? Of course I don’t know this, but I know it’s important to learn about the world around us and share what we find for now, and for generations to come.

 

We collected water with a bucket from the shore of Peterman Island to test for nitrates, ph, temperature, and conductivity.

When I approached the shore, penguins were gleefully diving in before me, so we had to wait for them to clear the area before tossing the bucket in, remembering that penguins have the right of way! 11-year-old Isabel Gray helped collect data using an anemometer to measure wind speed on this windiest continent on earth. It was calm skies until just then, when the winds suddenly kicked up from nearly zero to 6.8 m/s.

anonometer test with isabel gray
Measuring wind speed on the windiest continent on earth!

The quick change in wind lowered the wind chill, making it more challenging to manipulate the water testing probes.

water testing attracts crowd
I recruited help testing water as my hands got colder from the wind picking up suddenly

At that moment, I gazed at the refuge hut built in 1955 by Argentina. If I didn’t have the Ocean Endeavor to return to for warmth soon, I’d be seeking shelter and emergency supplies from the harsh Antarctic climate!

refuge hut
The country of Argentina stocks this hut in case shelter and supplies are needed in an emergency.  

Whaler’s Bay Antarctica!

yawning sealpenguin loveOur zodiac landed on a flat volcanic beach to an unexpected sight.   Gentoo penguins and Antarctic fur seals were everywhere! The abandoned buildings proved we were not the first people these animals shared a beach with.

whalers building ruins

Dozens of seals and penguins seemed unaware of the law, the Antarctic Treaty, to keep a minimum of 5 meters from humans.

I was first introduced to the International Antarctic Treaty when I asked my expedition leaders if I could analyze water samples from Antarctica.   To abide by the treaty, I would need a permit to use probes to collect data on water temperature, conductivity, ph, and nitrates. This surprised me since I was not producing waste water nor using chemicals. Luckily, the National Science Foundation, US EPA, and US Dept of State were helpful and quick to a teacher’s request to learn and teach about the environment, and granted me permission to test the water. With Antarctica designated as “ a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science,” 53 countries have agreed that no one owns Antarctica. In a spirit of international peace and science, leaving no trace, I collected water samples for 10 days: twice from shore, and 8 times from the ship. Huge thanks to biologist Fabrice Genevois (Quark Expeditions, University of Lyon, France) for your academic mentorship in sampling water with me!

whalers bay probe test

From the shore of Whaler’s Bay, I waded in to retrieve a sample using the bucket protocol. The water was 2 degrees Celcius, so luckily my knee-high boots were warm and waterproof. Data will be entered on the GLOBE website, with the narrative on the H2yOu Project (h2youproject.com).

bucket water collection

And why would there be buildings here? Who would want a vacation home near this 2-degree water? These buildings are the remains of Hektor Whaling Station, built in 1912! As Rob Swan warned us, it was a bit creepy – whale skeletons and abandoned buildings loom as a sign of human impact. Insightful 12-year old Raphael Mear said it best, “I can tell how easily affected this place is. All I did was put a piece of wood in the stream and it diverted the current causing a massive piece of the bank to collapse! “ Our impact stands out here on this white continent lined of whales, penguins and seals.

Over 100 years ago, homes were fueled by the whaling industry, nearly driving whale numbers to the brink of extinction. There’s no point in thinking negatively about this! This place is a hopeful sign! Long ago, whale oil was clean, good oil to give light. Then electricity was invented and whale industry collapsed. Technology changes things – it did for the whales. Deception Island is depressing, but let’s make it positive because things can change!   I felt proud to be wearing a First Solar jacket – my major sponsor. I feel hope that through technology of alternate energy like solar energy, we are on the next big energy transition for a cleaner, more sustainable planet!

sad by trash
Here I am – so sad- in front of rubbish left behind from people, on an otherwise such  pristine shore.  I have hope though, that people can – and do- make a difference to make good choices for the environment!

First Footsteps on Antarctica are of Deception

Volcanoes topped with snow, a steamy lagoon, abandoned buildings, abundant wildlife: my first sight of Antarctica. This is a deception of my prediction of Antarctica, which is quite fitting for the name of our first landing: Deception Island.

DSC_0100
Snow covered with volcanic ash

The first documented people, sealers in the 1800’s, were deceived as they sailed through the entrance point, Neptune’s Bellow. They thought they’d reach open sea, but were instead encased in this horseshoe-shaped island.

map deception island
See the entrance point where our ship entered Deception Island!

The very first Antarctic fur seal sighting will stick in my mind forever. I sat 5 meters away – the required minimum distance according to the International Antarctic Treaty. Expedition leaders tried to shoo me off the beach to start the first hike, but I didn’t want to leave this fur seal, unaware that I’d see dozens more later in the afternoon.

 

This island holds diverse land and water features including ash-covered glaciers, lakes, large-flooded caldera upon an active volcano. It last erupted in the 1960’s and who’s to say it won’t burst before our first Antarctic hike is through? Rather than panic over this thought and rush to leave, my 11-year-old friend encouraged me to pause, close my eyes, and take it all in with her.

DSC_0085
11-year old Isabel Gray inspired us all with her curious observations and reminders to take it all in!  

 

Instead of a volcanic eruption, I got my first taste of another nature force – Antarctic winds! These strong gusts would come off the cold glacier, burn my face, take my breath away, and I’d dropping to my knees to defend being knocked off the hilltop.  My new friend Joe was a bit braver when he leaned against the wind downhill, trusting the wind direction to sustain uphill!

DSC_0104

 

So much to marvel over from only our first landing! Later that afternoon we arrived at Whaler’s Bay where I collected my first water sample, but I’ll save that for my next blog entry!

DSC_0102

From Antarctica – Thank you!

DSC_0433
Thank you banner with new friends from UK, India, Vietnam, China

“Antarctica will decide what we do.”  When the winds of the Drake Passage crashed the satellite dish onto the deck, I wondered if that boom is what it would feel like to collide with an iceberg?!

“Antarctica will decide what we do.” This would become a common phrase from our expedition leaders.  Navigation and activities would totally depend on Antarctica’s weather. This was Antarctica’s way of telling us to disconnect from communication – to just be with Antarctica. Take it all in. Learn from it. Listen to what this place has to tell us. I have indeed listened to Antarctica and I am now home safely, back to wifi to share what I’ve learned.

Everyone that has supported me in getting to Antarctica was with me along the way. Each name is printed on the thank you banner I carried all the way to the bottom of the earth.

Where do I start sharing my story? I start by sincerely thanking all 209 individuals, families, and companies that supported my journey to Antarctica – the last pristine continent on planet earth.  More to come as I adjust to a warmer, wifi-heavy world…

DSC_0342
Robert Swan and I thank you for supporting my journey to Antarctica!

Farewell Video – Embarking Ship to Antarctica

The wind whips right through the Andes Mountains and me with this farewell video message, from Ushuaia, Argentina, South America.
If you think this wind is crazy – imagine how intense it will be crossing the Drake Passage on a ship!

As I said in the video, we’ve been briefed on how extremely difficult it is to connect to wifi on the ship.  Robert Swan’s request is to spare ourselves of this guaranteed frustration and to disconnect from social media.  Instead, I will spend my time reflecting and documenting through an offline blog.  You can expect blog entries and water stories on the H2you Project at a 2-week delay pace.

Alternately, we have a person on the ship whose sole job is to spend the entire day waiting for wifi to connect for a team blog.  There may be a possibility of me as a guest blogger.  Sign up to follow that blog:  2041 blog and maybe see a message from me there!

As I said in the video – thank you to all 209 individuals, families, and businesses that have supported me to participate on this expedition.

See you in 2 weeks!

Safe Arrival to Ushuaia, Argentina

ush sign

My face is actually sore from smiling so much today!  Greetings from Ushuaia, Argentina South America – the southernmost city on our amazing planet! This a beautiful mountainous city on the water.

ush mtns

This city is the site we will embark on the Ocean Endeavor ship to sail to Antarctica.  After 28 loong hours of travel time, with punctual and smooth flights, Robert Swan and his International Antarctic Expedition team gave us a very warm welcome.

ush swan and schetter
Robert Swan and I.  I’ve been waiting to snap this pic.  Last time I saw him I was too excited to even think to ask!

Today was an exciting time to meet my fellow travelers.  We are kindred spirits joining from all over the world who are passionate about making the planet a better place. All 130+ of us have become fast friends.

ush new friends
New friends from India, Vietnam, China.  Love them already!

An important preparation step included a gear check.  Phew – I got a thumbs up.  My gear is cleared to keep me safe and warm on the coldest, driest, windiest place on earth!

ush gear check
Gear check all good!

 

I will be blogging about my journey as I share observations of the Antarctic environment! However, Wifi is likely to be intermittent from Antarctica, so blogs may be posted on an unpredictable schedule – or even on a 2 week delay. Please follow the journey from the land of penguins!  There is a good chance I’ll even be a guest blogger on the 2041’s daily blog:  2041 blog  Sign up to follow that.

Tomorrow’s main task – begin navigating through the Drake Passage.  Forecast:  gale force winds.  VERY windy.  Up to 30 foot waves.  This is happening.  When I wake up tomorrow, it will be the day I’ll journey to Antarctica!