Hills, glaciers and rain

During the dark hours of 7 March we rounded the corner from the Pacific into the Beagle Channel, and had our first 15 minutes of ocean swell. My notes from the day record all the voyage crew were nervous of seasickness at this early stage: it wasn’t only me. Very … Continue reading

Making places in Antarctica: history, science, and territories

I’ve commented before that so many human-made places in the far South are ugly buildings sitting in magnificent landscapes. We called at Esperanza station in Hope Bay, on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula: it’s a busy research base and a stamp of Argentina’s territorial claims, a scatter of red corrugated … Continue reading

#AntarcticAlphabet: G is for geography

The map is not the geography. Its presentation, our knowledge, is always partial, biased and incomplete, in the process of becoming. We measure the unknown on maps, progress towards a new geography. Our inching forwards (or backwards) takes us to a new place, or an old place seen again for … Continue reading

#AntarcticAlphabet: F is for fur

Fur sealers were first. Cook sent back reports of the millions of seals to be found in South Georgia and immediately they came. When Larson began industrial whaling he named his base Grytviken, Pot Cove, for the old cauldrons littering the beach, remnants of the seals melted for blubber. Mostly, … Continue reading

Southern light and free dogs: Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas reminds me of small towns in New Zealand. It has the neat rectangularity of Invercargill and the bright colours of Napier. The town shares the light with Bluff, on the south point of South Island. Even clouded and raining, the air is that particular southern oceanic grey, brighter … Continue reading

Ice and the Sky: bubbles of  fossilised time

Garlanded with honours and academic recognition, French paleo-geologist Claude Lorius still says towards the end of this film that he wonders whether his life will make a difference. He wanders elegiacally through rocks only half covered in ice and stands in the rising tide on some distant atoll, emphasising the ice … Continue reading