Who knew? Ice­bergs are noisy

As bergs snap off, sea ice crack­les and pops in the loud­est ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment on Earth

Stanthorpe Border Post - - LIFE | ESCAPE - SARAH NI­CHOL­SON The writer was a guest of Chimu Ad­ven­tures. More at es­cape.com.au

I WAS ex­pect­ing this to be one of the most peace­ful places on the planet. I’m perched on the side of a in­flat­able boat drift­ing around Cierva Cove, an ice­berg-choked bay on the western side of the Antarc­tic Penin­sula, and there isn’t a hu­man sound to be heard above our breath­ing.

But this re­mote place just two de­grees north of the Antarc­tic Cir­cle is noisy with na­ture’s cho­rus as we drift around ice­bergs pro­duced by the glaciers that keep the coast­line a snowy white as far as the eye can see.

Abrupt whip-like cracks echo around the in­let when a new frac­ture splits a glacier’s jagged toe, and can­non-like blasts mark the mo­ment slabs of ice break away and crash into the wa­ter, but it’s the sound of melt­ing ice that I love most.

We are cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing bergs as big as Dis­ney cas­tles, with the boul­ders, rocks and peb­bles of ice float­ing around the boat snap­ping, crack­ling and pop­ping like Rice Bub­bles as rip­ples lap across the wa­ter­line to free air bub­bles trapped in the glacier thou­sands of years ago.

We glide through what ex­pe­di­tion glaciol­o­gist Heidi Sevestre calls sikkusak – or ice soup. The chips and chunks of frozen wa­ter, sus­pended on the sur­face, sparkle like Swarovski crys­tals when the sun briefly breaks through cloud that hides the sum­mits of the black coastal moun­tains.

“These glacier bays with sikkusak are the loud­est ma­rine en­vi­ron­ments on Earth,” Dr Sevestre says.

The French sci­en­tist is tak­ing a break from her work at Scot­land’s Univer­sity of St An­drews to tem­po­rar­ily join the MV Sea Spirit’s ex­pe­di­tion crew.

“Lis­ten to the air bub­bles pop­ping. That’s air be­ing re­leased that was last in the at­mos­phere hun­dreds or thou­sands of years ago, and it’s loud like rain hit­ting the wa­ter as the ice­bergs erode around the wa­ter­line.

“In Alaska, in places where glaciers are no longer there, seals have dis­ap­peared from the fjords. Sci­en­tists have es­tab­lished the an­i­mals hide from whales in the cloud of noise but when the noise is gone they no longer feel safe be­ing there.”

While we see armies of pen­guins – bat­tal­ions of chin­straps, gen­toos and adelies as well as a lonely em­peror and two re­set­tled mac­a­ro­nis – it is ice that’s the high­light of this 11day voy­age to the bays, beaches and is­lands of the South Shet­land Is­lands and Antarc­tic Penin­sula.

We see our first blocks on day four of Chimu Ad­ven­tures Clas­sic Antarc­tica ex­pe­di­tion, ice­bergs the size of apart­ment blocks pass as the Sea Spirit nav­i­gates be­tween Green­wich and Liv­ingston is­lands in the South Shet­lands, and leave the last nuggets be­hind five days later af­ter sail­ing the Penin­sula from Orne Harbour to Brown Bluff.

Early in the jour­ney I won­der if I will be­come blase about ice but I spend hours ad­mir­ing the mag­nif­i­cent frozen mon­u­ments and rise early to watch Neko Harbour glaciers calv­ing be­fore stay­ing on deck un­til dark­ness fi­nally set­tles on Antarc­tic Sound to spy the tab­u­lar bergs born in the Wed­dell Sea sil­hou­et­ted against the fiery red sky.

I will en­sure there are al­ways Rice Bub­bles in the pantry to take me back to that icy sym­phony in Cierva Cove.

PHOTO: KEITH SZAFRAN­SKI

DIN­NER TIME: Adelie pen­guins go fish­ing from the Antarc­tic Penin­sula.

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