By Yasemin Bodur
On the 12th of December, around the 55. Latitude, the first signs of the Antarctic continent are passing our port holes. The sky has already merged with the fog to a greyish substance and the horizon disappeared behind it. In the beginning the ice floes are hard to distinguish from the whitecaps of the waves. The further south we come, however, the bigger and more massive the ice becomes. We begin to put on more layers of clothes, so it is increasingly difficult to identify each other underneath the heavy polar equipment.
Towards the evening the sea calms down and in that night we hit the ice edge. From there on, not only members of the crew are standing on the ship’s bridge and have to watch for larger icebergs cruising our track, but also the “ice observers”. The so-called “Obs” are a team of scientists and students built up by our ice physicist Steffi. They estimate the mass of the ice floes that are passing alongside the ship to facilitate an approximation of the distribution of different ice types in the Antarctic.
While the ice is becoming more abundant, thicker and stronger the further we head south, we realize that Polarstern is an icebreaker that does its job exceptionally well. With the strength and its weight the ship pushes towards the ice masses. Dark cracks are forming zigzags around the ship and reveal the almost black water underneath the ice. With every brunt it feels like earthquakes are shaking the ship and its passengers. In the lower decks these noises are even louder.
On Thursday, the 17th of December, we finally reach the shelf ice edge. Polarstern is standing now between massive table icebergs that extend 30 to 40 meters up in the air. It is almost unbelievable that one can see just 20% of their total mass above the water surface. The weather has now turned to friendlier conditions. From time to time the wind is almost completely absent, giving an impression of a ship wandering on a huge dark mirror. Surrounding ice chunks are reflected in that mirror. If the weather conditions are good, we can see the square-shaped Neumayer Station that stands like a pixel in a picture on the shelf ice.
Our goal is to get to a landing point of the Neumayer station to leave goods there that are currently on Polarstern. Moreover, we have to carry four researchers to the Drescher Inlet to build up a camp so they can observe seals there. This task turns out to be harder than it seemed to be: We are almost at Neumayer, but there is a large layer of fast ice blocking our way to the shelf edge. Thus Polarstern once again needs to show all its ability as an icebreaker. The ship crashes again and again into the ice mat to build up a corridor to access a suitable landing point. Some of the surrounding penguins watch the scenery by distance. While the crew puts all its efforts into the motion towards Neumayer, all the scientists can now do is wait and be prepared.
Greets from Polarstern,
Yasemin Bodur, Senckenberg am Meer Wilhelmshaven