We left South Georgia a few days ago by now, and we are almost back at the Falkland Islands where our voyage will come to and end (we should arrive there tomorrow morning, 26th April). But I’d still like to share some pictures and stories of our last day of fieldwork on the island of South Georgia.
After several days of bad weather, during which the ship had been sheltering in Cumberland Bay, we finally woke up to a beautiful morning of clear skies. The sunrise over the snowy peaks of South Georgia was absolutely stunning, watching the first rays of sunlight hit the tops of the mountains and then creep slowly downwards, bathing everything in an orange-pinky light. There had been quite a lot of snowfall during the storm, and the whole island was now completely covered in snow.
The JCR then sailed into King Edward Cove, where the BAS research station is located at King Edward Point (KEP). Also in this same cove is the abandoned whaling station of Grytviken. South Georgia has quite a history of whaling operations in the early 20th century. The whole northern coast of the island was dotted with whaling stations, run by the Norwegians, the British and other nations. These settlements where like small factory towns where the whales that had been captured were brought in to be processed. All that is left of them now is a mangled heap of rusty old buildings and bits of machinery, which were abandoned when the whalers left. Most of South Georgia’s whaling stations are therefore quite dangerous sites which are out of bounds due to the risk of things falling down and asbestos in the buildings. But Grytviken has been tidied up a bit and made secure so that it is possible to visit it. Once the JCR was moored securely at KEP, we went ashore and walked around the bay to have a look at it. It was quite an eerie and atmospheric place, especially under the blanket of snow.
From Grytviken, we headed up into the mountains for our fieldwork. We walked up to Glacier Col, where there is a small ice field which we wanted to get an ice core from. The ice field was actually quite hard to spot, because it was covered in rocks and debris, but luckily one of the KEP base members had come along to point us in the right direction. There was also a really cool ice cave underneath the ice, which we could crawl into. Once the ice core had been drilled successfully, we headed back down towards the bay. Along the way we also collected some more water samples from Gull Lake, which is fed by the meltwater from the glacier.
We also paid a visit to Ernest Shackleton’s grave, which is located in the graveyard at Grytviken. Shackleton was buried here after he suffered a heart attack on his last ill-fated Antarctic expedition. Apparently, his body was going to be shipped back north to the UK but then his wife sent a message saying not to bother, he would’ve preferred to be buried down there anyway! So that’s how he ended up being buried on South Georgia. For more info about Shackleton’s harrowing journey across South Georgia on foot, after the loss of the Endurance, have a look at Ollie’s blog post In the footsteps of Shackleton.
That evening, back at KEP, the team at the base laid on an amazing BBQ for us, which made for a lovely end to a great day visiting this beautiful island!
On departure from South Georgia the next morning, we sailed round to one of the other bays along the north coast called Leith Harbour, where there is another abandoned whaling station. This one was run by the Salvesen family, a Norwegian family who emigrated to Scotland and set up a whaling company. They were actually some distant ancestors of mine, so it was great to be able see the whaling station, even if we couldn’t go ashore.
Since then, we’ve been sailing West from South Georgia back towards the Falkland Islands, where we will be arriving tomorrow morning. During the crossing, we’ve been finishing off the analysis of our salinity samples, and written a report about all the science that went on during the cruise. We’ve tidied up the labs and packed up all the kit and samples that need to be shipped back to the UK. We also went on a tour of the engine rooms yesterday which was pretty cool. It’s amazing how much more of the ship there is down below deck!