Two months to go: preparations for the Snow Hill Island Expedition are reaching a new intensity. In September and October 2013, our small group of explorers will embark on a journey into the Antarctic wilderness… and into the unknown. United by the sense of adventure and a shared love of the far South, we will undertake an odyssey to witness the most iconic Antarctic moments: Emperor Penguin families united after the long winter, as the sunlight of returns to the ice pack. The Emperors are only together in their colony for a brief period as the winter wanes, but in spring (October), the ice pack around Antarctica is at its maximum extent, extending in places for hundreds of kilometres out to sea. By the time the ice breaks up in summer, the families are gone; chicks fledged and parents scattered to forage at sea. To reach them, the team plans to land on the western tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and travel over land and ice to reach the northernmost colony at Snow Hill Island. We will be using Ozone snow kites to speed the passage and make hauling 100kg sleds of supplies, equipment and research materials easier.
Snow Hill Island is located in the Weddell Sea, sheltered in the crook of the Antarctic Peninsula. The northern Peninsula and its island is a region of stark contrasts and unmistakable natural beauty. Peaks of 2000m fall steeply in black rock outcrops and sweeping glaciers into the sea, which varies from solid ice in winter to deeply reflecting bays at the end of summer. Peak daytime temperatures in the brief summer hover around 0C, plunging to 20 below in winter…without the ever-present wind chill. Sea ice expands and contracts by hundreds of kilometers each year – conditions that have kept explorers and travellers far from these waters. Rare exceptions exist: one hundred years ago Shackleton and his men drifted to the east of where we will journey, trapped by the sea ice that eventually crushed their ship Endurance. One of the only published accounts of travel exactly where we will venture dates back to the Nordenskjöld Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901 to 1904, where expedition members undertook an epic two-year self-rescue after their ship Antarctic was also crushed by ice.
Global climate change is causing degradation and instability in these habitats, and concern exists that the Emperor will suffer exponential population decline through habitat loss and inevitable extinction in the wild before the end of the century. We have a passion to experience and document these beautiful animals in their natural habitat before it is too late, but through a self-sufficient, unsupported, environmentally and ecologically sound expedition. We will use wind and human power throughout the month-long expedition, gathering at the end of September 2013 in Stanley in the Falklands Islands, from where we will sail in an ice-reinforced yacht across the Drake Passage and down to the Antarctic Peninsula. The route will then depend on the ice conditions – which vary each year based on weather patterns – and will traverse varied terrain, including sea ice, glaciers, mountain ridges and valleys.
At Snow Hill and throughout the journey the primary goal remains the same – to experience and appreciate the Antarctic wilderness in its purest form. However, each member of the team has particular interests in the area, and specific projects. The zoologists will lead a census of the colony and other insights into the biology of the penguins, while the expedition doctors are gathering physiological data and blood samples on the team itself. Others plan documenting the environment through photography and video, and seeking new discoveries in the area. After two weeks on the ice, the team will retrace steps back to the yacht and return to Stanley.
Read more details, meet the team, see photographs from our training and previous expeditions and follow our progress on the expedition web site www.wildmedic.co.za/snowhill and FaceBook page www.facebook.com/snowhill2013