Port Lockroy Blog #12: 5 things we’ve learnt about Antarctica
1. It’s not as cold as you think it is (but the weather is still in charge)
We’ve had the entire spectrum of weather during our time at Port Lockroy, from blizzards to heavy rainfall, to beautiful sunshine that saw some of us outside in T-shirts. You never do know what the continent is going to throw at you next. Some of you may think that we’ve been toughing it out in minus 20C, however, on the Antarctic Peninsula it’s far milder. We’ve barely dropped below 0C and have had a couple of days of hitting 14°C degrees, similar to your classic British summertime!
Apparently, it's not as cold as you may think... (Credit: Luis Felipe)
That said, the weather here is still very much in charge. We’ve had nights of 100-mile-an-hour winds, with the Nissen hut, where we live, vibrating as the satellite antenna we use for communication tries desperately to detach itself from the roof. We’ve also had to venture out in the middle of the night, in full waterproofs, to patch up Bransfield House house after two windows blew out. We remain in awe, and very attentive to forecasts!
2. Penguins are a bit mean
When you think of penguins, you probably think of cute little creatures, looking dapper in their feather tuxedos, innocently waddling about the place, collecting tiny pebbles for their nests and their ultra-cute tiny, fluffy, grey chicks. Since living in the midst of a bird colony, we can report that this is quite often not the case. Penguins can be mean.
Penguins can be territorial (Credit: Mairi Hilton)
Penguins are territorial creatures; neighbourhood disputes are rife and a good portion of the tiny pebbles collected for their nests are stolen from other penguins. We’ve witnessed penguins slapping other penguins with their hard flippers, fierce pecking matches and even some especially mean adults pecking at newly fledged chicks.
On one occasion, as I was making my way to the boatshed, a particularly angry penguin decided to make a beeline for me, flapping its flippers and honking, with pure hatred in its little eyes. It thought better of things as it got closer, but I can confirm that being charged by 5kg of furious seabird is a terrifying experience.
3. Everything here is really big
From towering mountains, vast oceans and icebergs that rival the largest of cruise liners, everything in Antarctica is unimaginably massive.
We’re surrounded, here at Port Lockroy, by several mountains. The beautiful peaks of Luigi and the Seven Sisters serve as the backdrop for Bransfield House, with clouds that roll and glide ethereally over the snowy peaks.
The Sveen Sisters mountains (Credit: Clare Ballantyne)
Across the water, just behind our island, is Harbour Glacier. Rising dramatically from the sea, its edges are gnarled and jagged from a season of calving, where chunks and sheets of ice fall from the glacier with a thunderous roar.
Often, in the bay, we’re treated to monstrous icebergs, that float in, weightless, often overnight, as if carried by a magical force. These icebergs reach down, far larger under the water than you see on the surface, and often have vaulting, cathedral-like columns and hidden abysses.
4. It’s full of colour
Photos of the white continent, are often just that, white. But Antarctica has so much more to offer. We’ve discovered a full spectrum of colours since being here, from the inky blues of a storm-thrashed ocean to the oranges, pinks and lilacs of lichen and a full spectrum of greens found in moss and algae.
There are no trees, but there is moss (Credit: Natalie Corbett)
Our favourite day-off activity is to walk around the base of the island, visiting a particular patch of moss on the way around. The moss has grown on a wet rockface, on the East side of the island and is a deep, rich, forest green. We have now made the pilgrimage to visit the moss several times, each time discovering new lichens and algae, enjoying the intensity and variety of colours that you often take for granted back home in a life full of colour.
5. There’s so much more to see than penguins
Penguins may be the main draw for a lot of people that come to visit the continent, but there are so many other amazing creatures to discover here, from tiny krill to three-metre-long leopard seals and Skua that soar on air currents with their vast, sculptural wings.
We’ve all developed a fondness for these creatures since arriving, each of us with our own favourites and all of us in agreement that krill are underrated heroes of the ocean and that Weddell seals are essentially big sea Labradors.
A Glyptonotus antarcticus (Credit: Mairi Hilton)
Some unexpected creatures that we’ve seen since being here, include Glyptonotus antarcticus, a giant woodlouse-like crustacean, with an armoured back and crab-like legs. Sea urchins and starfish have also regularly been spotted in shallow waters.
These are just 5 of the many, many things that we’ve learnt since being here, we could write a thousand blog posts on this topic and still not cover everything, but we hope these give you a small insight into what it’s like spending summer (or any time at all actually) at the end of the earth.
Natalie Corbett, Shop Manager, Port Lockroy