Antarctic Blog 2013


photograph © 2013 Lorena Lagos Pailla and Leticia Barrientos

Day 4: Deception Island (Isla Decepción) and hot spring sampling (22.2.2013)

This day's samples: C5—D2: Deception Island

In 1820, Edward Bransfield discovered Deception Island, a volcanic caldera (-62 58 49, -60. 34 23) with a 0.6 km-wide opening facing south (~10,000 years old). The center of this collapsed volcano is full of water about 10 km across. Snow-covered walls surround the large bay inside. I won't spend time beyond noting that the Wikipedia entries on Antarctic Islands are pretty good. After leaving Punta Hanna Aquiles weighed anchor and sailed that evening to Deception Island.

The narrow entry to Deception Island is called Neptune's Bellows and has steep walls on either side, though one is much steeper than the other. One of the shear cliff's at this entry is over 25 m straight up from the water. The bottom of the caldera is rising at 30 cm yr.-1

Neptune's Bellows Neptune's Bellows Neptune's Bellows Neptune's Bellows
Deception Island

The high walls of the caldera protect the large bay inside and provided a sheltered base for whalers in the 19th and early 20th century. A whaling base was abandoned in 1931 and then occupied again by the British from the 1940s until new eruptions in the late 1960s. The image below shows the abandoned British installations with storage tanks and collapsing wooded structures which had been used as a meteorological base until 1969. The photograph was taken from the deck of Aquiles anchored in Whalers Bay.

Abandoned British Base
Abandoned whaling and then British base on Whalers Bay in the caldera of Deception Island

We were excited to get samples at Deception Island because of the hot spring-feed lagoon there, Lake Kroner. We were hoping to harvest samples that contained thermophilic bacteria, extremophiles growing at elevated temperatures in water heated by the hot volcanic activity under the island. Lake Kroner is the only hot spring-fed lagoon in Antarctica.

In the morning of our third sampling day our zodiac dropped us off on a shallow beach immediately adjacent to Lake Kroner and we sampled around this relatively shallow lagoon--about 125 m across on the morning we were there. The volume of the lake clearly changes as steep banks about 1.5 m high 50+ meters from the water's edge showed. We sampled down inside the walls at the water's edge and inside (lake side) on the dirt bank itself. Eruptions in the late 1960s deposited centimeters of ash here, and we saw the fine black ash as we walked along the beach.

The sulfur gases produced by the spring were relatively mild but the yellow deposits on our knees--where we knelt to sample the spring--proved to compete with the unpleasantness of penguin excrement that we could still smell on our stored equipment back on our cabin on Aquiles at day's end.

Kroner Lake Kroner Lake Kroner Lake
Kroner Lake Kroner Lake Desolation Bay
Sampling the only geothermal lagoon in Antarctica
The temperature at the mouth of the spring was 52.6°C on February 22, 2013.

At least one mouth of the spring on the edge of the Lake, which we determined via transectional temperature sampling, yielded 52.6°C water and showed lots of metal precipitation. We sampled there. As it turned out, this was the hottest sample we pulled in 15 days of sampling in Antarctica.

The mouth covering on JP (the dark scarf), in the bottom center photograph above, wasn't to protect his nose from stench. It was to keep him warm. Although the air temperature was 2.7° there was a steady 30+ km/h wind from the south that was chilling and from which we had to constantly protect ourselves. At 0°C a 30 km/h wind makes for a -10°C wind-chill.

Our typical clothing started with long johns followed by sweats, covered by waterproof, rip-stop nylon ski pants. I wore Tamara-knitted socks and felt-lined boots. Above we wore a tee shirt covered by a felt inner liner covered by a waterproof parka and a knit, stocking hat. With this combination I was actually never cold in Antarctica(unless I was wet: see Day 7) but my body's equilibrium temperature had to be trimmed constantly by opening and closing zippers, taking gloves on and off (for sampling too), and pulling the parka's hood on and off. Dark glasses were mandatory.

With that said, everyone had the same equipment (thanks INACH), but I saw many in different groups struggling to stay warm on zodiac trips or high winds.

Moss sampling
Moss sampling
Sampling the rhizome of a moss (probably syntrichia ruralis but maybe Polytrichum strictum or Bryum pseudotriquetrum or Polytrichastrum longisetum)

The scientists sampling out of the Aquiles on this trip--that I met--came from Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Great Britain, and the United States (me). The projects involved, plankton, algae, and bacteria that I know of and probably lots I don't. All groups carried backpacks into the zodiacs, but some also took scuba tanks, water samplers, pH probes, GPS, thermometers, and augers for drilling. If I didn't meet and talk to someone in the salon where we ate on the ship, then I wouldn't have know what they were doing.

Everyone was speaking Spanish, Chinese, or Portuguese to each other but English to me if we had a direct conversation. There was so much going on around me that I was always talking to someone about our work, about their work, about the weather, about recent sampling sites, about Antarctic history, politics, treaties, etc. JP was an excellent and utterly fluid translator who smoothed all conversations I had with the crew or other scientists involving the mechanics of our activities on the ship: meeting times, equipment needs, safety procedures, ship announcements over the speaker system (ha ha ha ha).

One more note about traveling in the zodiacs. We were moved back and forth from the Aquiles to shore every day solely by the zodiacs, manned (we did see a few female sailors on board the Aquiles) by Chilean seamen or marines. These professional were utterly supportive of our projects; helping up approach sampling sites; handing our equipment in and out of their zodiacs; dodging icebergs, penguins and seals; and arranging landing sites to keep everyone warm and dry. In, say, 100 "people-transfers" that I personally witnessed (from the deck down into the zodiacs, from the zodiacs onto the beach, from the beach back into the zodiacs, and then back up onto the deck of Aquiles), these professionals never dropped or even substantially wet either a person nor any equipment (packs, plastic bags, heavy drill bits, etc.). We trusted them completely and they never let us down. Their only requirement of us--except a general rule that everyone helped everyone else in and out of the zodiac--was that we were required to wear life jackets while traveling in the zodiac.

I would like to thank Captain McIntyre and his crew of Aquiles for their help in this project. Their professionalism was greatly appreciated.

Author in Life Jacket
The author, 30 seconds
before descending to the Aquiles zodiac

The cold, steady 30 km/h winds in our productive morning of the Deception Island sampling day increased after lunch and caused the canceling of any afternoon sampling by everyone on Aquiles. The scientists and crew of the Aquiles controlling our sampling schedule were very careful in accessing the conditions and were always looking out for us.

The samples we collected around Lake Kroner were all that we got at Deception Island. As always we stored samples at 4° in a "cooler" on board Aquiles.

The next target was 140 km west south west at the Chilean base of Bernardo O'Higgins on the peninsula of the Antarctic continent.


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