Environment Forum

Landing in Antarctica — first icebergs

January 12, 2009

A buzz of excitement went around the plane (left) when a scientist spotted the first mountains of Antarctica through the window on a flight from the southern tip of Chile.

Even veteran Antarctic visitors say there’s something special every time they see the continent — after all, Antarctica was only first spotted in 1820 — Fabian von Bellingshausen, a Estonian who was a captain in the Russian navy, usually gets the credit.

Stuart Mc Dill of Reuters Television and I flew in with about a dozen scientists and other staff to the Rothera Base, run by the British Antarctic Survey, on the Antarctic Peninsula in a tiny Dash-7 plane from the southern tip of Chile.

You expect to need lots of warm clothing but temperatures on arrival have been above freezing — they can reach a balmy 7 Celsius in summertime. There has even been a spot of rain. But scientists say rain has probably been falling here every now and then in summers long before anyone started thinking about global warming.

We’ll be staying at the base (the area is pictured above through the plane window) until Jan. 26 and will file regular blogs as well as stories and television reports after we complete compulsory training into everything from how to cross the runway (‘look left, look right, look up in the sky’) to how to climb out of a crevasse.

And many visitors cherish the first sight of icebergs — like the blurry ones in the picture above.

On Antarctic cruise ships, people apparently crowd the decks to take pictures of an empty sea with a tiny dot of white on the horizon, even though they know they will soon be surrounded by them. I can understand the feeling.

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