By John Nightingale, Ph.D., president and CEO of Vancouver Aquarium.

We left South Georgia in a driving snowstorm, with lots of wind and waves for company. The less-than-stellar weather we encountered caused us to miss some of our shore-side excursions. We simply could not get into the Zodiac Boats to go ashore – with winds of a sustained 30 knots or more, and two-meter swells and waves, it was not safe to try. Such is the luck of the draw with expedition-based exploring.

What is clear is that South Georgia is a spectacularly beautiful place. Snow- and glacier-capped mountains; fjords with steep cliffs; almost lawn-like areas of green grasses, including the ecologically significant Tussock Grass clumps where so many of the penguins and fur seals give birth and rear their young – the list goes on and on. We can only imagine how it must look in sunshine!

We are now headed south toward the South Orkney Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula beyond that. This means we are now crossing the Drake Passage, or the Southern Ocean as it often called.

As we motor along, many of our explorers can be found on the bridge looking out at the many species of birds, and the icebergs. Often, the big, table top-like flat ones are called “tabular” icebergs, and originate from the Antarctic continent, breaking off from the continental glaciers as they reach the sea. Or they could be from the ice shelves sticking out over the many bays and other bodies of water, which cause them to be completely flat on top. They come in an infinite variety of sizes, from bits of ice to the size of a garbage can, and some the size of certain downtown Vancouver office buildings. Ice, it turns out, can come in an amazing array of colors, from clear, to white, to green and blue – the perceived color depends, in part, on the lighting and sun (or not).

We hope – ice permitting – to get to the South Orkney Islands tomorrow. No trips have been able to get there this year so far because of ice coming north from the Weddell Sea and its ice shelves. But the satellite ice maps look good, so we have our fingers crossed.  Then, it’s on to Elephant Island, the island that polar explorer Earnest Shackleton left his men on to make his epic sail back to South Georgia to find a rescue party. History, geology, geography, ice and animals – a truly rich place to explore.

John Nightingale, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium, is currently on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to Antarctica with a group of explorers. He is providing regular updates during the journey.

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