ISPOL-Logbook2: 12 November, 2004
There are certain rituals that traditionally do not change on Polarstern. The first iceberg on a cruise is announced from the bridge, and crew and scientists give the icy giant a warm welcome.
Our first peaked over the horizon on starboard side November 10th, 48.50 S / 5.26 E, an apparently insignificant chunk yet announcing larger things to come. At 48 degrees !! That is the center of Germany in the northern hemisphere. It comes to mind that if the Golf Stream collapses we could well observe fellows like these in the Channel - or maybe not?
Oceanography and global climate are more complex and less tangible than current headlines, as this cruise will confirm. For instance, the icebergs our constant travel companions a little further south are not drifting without control but guided by ocean currents which will be the subject of further investigations during ISPOL. Do these large chunks of shelf ice leave the Weddell gyre, i.e., are they drifting with the circumpolar current or do some of them circumnavigate the Weddell Sea before finally decaying in warmer waters?
However, at the moment there is a more urgent question concerning each and everyone on Polarstern. Where is the announced storm front further south in front of us - in our cruise direction? The satellite photos show a beautiful cloud gyre from which the ignorant expect an adventure but the old boys regard as an experience they could well do without. Worried concern: Do we have to improve the lashing of all gear. Captain Pahl decides to circumnavigate the eye of the storm, heading straight to Bouvet Island - an unexpected highlight ! This most isolated piece of land all over the seven seas (54.25 S / 3.21 E) bears a myth of being "the lost island". The mountainous lava peak which reaches 870 m above sea level was discovered on January 1st, 1739 by Monsieur Bouvet de Lozier. He named it Circumcision Island (as the 1 January is known as the day Jesus was circumcized). Nowadays, only Cicumcision Cape, the northwesteren corner, reminds of this somewhat strange name. The island has remained a foggy inobscurity in the true sense of the word of many seafarers generations. Even on todays charts Bouvet's coastline is incorrectly mapped. On the 23 January, 1928 the Norwegian Crown declared the island its property, so far nobody objected. Norway maintains an outpost on a spectacular cliff for scientific research. Whoever wants to enter the island, even to do research, needs a permit from Oslo.
Since it is usually covered with clouds and fog, Bouvet presents itself from its bright side - a rhapsody in ice, sun and blue water. Approaching the island form a distance a giant oval cloud veiled the glacial ridge. By passing, the island is a gently rounded ice mound with some rocky cliffs. Icebergs of all shapes and seizes stranded on Bouvet's narrow shelf arrange a garden of sculptures. In the background we see the covered "Reichstag" of Christo, nearby a dragon head on which the sea has cut deep crevassses. Chinstrap penguins left their orange-brownish marks on their favorite iceberg. Natural blue bouys which seem to be illuminated from the interior mark the channels between the open sea and the cliffs. And as if this scenery was not a highlight in itself the blow of whales drift over the waves. At eye level, petrels, albatrosses, and others (which some birdwatchers on the bridge try frantically to identify) challenge the amateur photographers. A quick prayer: Thank you dear storm - even if you find me over a toilet bowl next morning! If you would not have influenced the captain's decision to change course I would not have seen this "magic pole".
Looking backwards, Bouvet seems to drift on a veil of haze surrounding its cold coastline, sheltered by an almost indecent blue sky! All this while we wait for this ominous pressure system to come. Is it real? Satellite photos do not lie!
Shortly after this Sunday-experience (Thursday is traditionally sailor's Sunday) the ice specialists are putting their heads together on C-Deck, returning to their microworld. This "ice turn" will have many hard days ahead. And to reinforce this the ship's meteorologist Klaus Buldt points to the barometer: "It is in free fall, the trough is knocking at our cabin's door!"