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!
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.
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).
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.
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 feed at sea…
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.