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EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Extreme Ice Survey: Farewell to the Antarctic Peninsula

It’s hard to believe, but in less than a year, we’ve expanded our network of time-lapse cameras to include 16 new cameras on South Georgia Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. The cameras, fixed in the gripping cold and howling winds characteristic of these regions, are watchful eyes, helping us understand the rapid changes occurring in these landscapes. Now, with cameras strategically positioned in the Southern Hemisphere, EIS has a truly global network—an important milestone for our project!

Looking back to last February when we first arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina, with crates full of new time-lapse equipment, our hopes were high but so too were our concerns, as many unknowns stood between us and the successful installation of our cameras. Fast forward two trips and days spent wondering whether or not the cameras would survive an Antarctic winter, we are headed home with a total of 16 cameras in place and more than 15,000 new images!

Stephen Nowland, EIS Photographer, returns from time-lapse cameras “AP-02” and “AP-03” at Neko Harbor on the Antarctic Peninsula. These cameras successfully captured over 6,000 images since they were installed. ©2014 Extreme Ice Survey/Dan McGrath

Successful fieldwork in the polar regions can’t be attributed solely to hard work or good preparation, although both are important parts of the equation. Here, screaming winds, horizontal snow, and whiteout conditions can make installations downright impossible and worse, present a true threat to one’s well being. With a huge sigh of gratitude, I can report that we made it through our most recent journey with thermoses full, rain tarps stowed away, and fingers comfortably warm.

That said, our trip was most definitely not a tropical vacation. Heavy packs, pre-dawn starts, frozen battery boxes, smashed solar panels, back-breaking Zodiac rides, and equipment failures kept the experience lively but just on the right side of enjoyable. Work like this earns the label of Type 2 fun, where Type 1 is playing hooky on a powder day and Type 3 is an awful 14-hour workday racing to meet a looming deadline. You can celebrate Type 2 hardships because, in the end, the good outweighs the bad and looking back, the sense of accomplishment far outweighs the temporary discomforts.

Dan McGrath and Matthew Kennedy attempt to excavate a battery box that became entombed in ice over the winter. Thankfully the cameras still functioned properly. ©2014 Extreme Ice Survey/Stephen Nowland

While weather often presents a major hurdle in the polar regions, logistics also present their challenges. It is with great gratitude and praise that we acknowledge the team at Lindblad Expeditions and the crew, staff, and guests aboard the National Geographic Explorer. Without their support, we simply couldn’t have made these camera installations a reality. Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic’s commitment to science and conservation is genuine, and we hope our 16 cameras can serve as a testimony to their values.

The National Geographic Explorer carefully navigates through the thick brash ice and towering icebergs occupying Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula. ©2014 Extreme Ice Survey/Matthew Kennedy

Our initial work is done. Our cameras are hard at work capturing the passing of time and the changing Antarctic landscape. When we return in 2015, we’ll download the cameras’ images, which enable the compression of time into a documented record understandable from a human perspective. Much like the field notes, documents and photographs left behind by explorers and scientists of the last century, we hope our imagery will play a similarly important role and be referenced for years to come. Only time will tell, but until that moment, we will continue to collect and share our experiences and images to the best of our abilities. We encourage you to join us in this journey!

Follow the Extreme Ice Survey’s latest adventures and updates on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. EIS is a project of the Earth Vision Institute.

By Matt Kennedy, Extreme Ice Survey

Announcing New 2016 European Itineraries on National Geographic Orion

Following the Antarctic season in early 2016, National Geographic Orion will set course for Europe where she will spend spring, summer, and fall on a highly curated series of 22 one-week voyages.

The voyages will provide a unique take on a familiar geography, with innovative itineraries that will explore Portugal, Spain, France, England, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, the Baltic Republics, and Scandinavia.

“A ship like National Geographic Orion depends heavily on past guests, and a vast majority of her past guests have been to the Kimberley and the South Pacific.  We are committed to providing them the most compelling opportunities available on the Orion, and have listened to their feedback for new destinations,” stated Sven Lindblad, Founder & President of Lindblad Expeditions.

The voyages will be led by an extraordinary team with a diverse scope of expertise about the countries being explored covering ancient & modern history, political science, art, viniculture and music, as well as leading active options such as hiking, biking and kayaking. Special speakers will be drawn from the top tiers of journalism, science, and world affairs to add relevant insights as part of the ‘Global Perspectives Speakers’ program, and each voyage will feature a National Geographic photographer. The itineraries have been designed to afford guests the option to take consecutive voyages to discover a range of destinations.

On board dining will continue to be an integral part of the experience and will feature degustation menus by one of Australia’s renowned international chefs, Serge Dansereau, principal of Sydney’s The Bathers’ Pavilion. The cuisine will be influenced with the flavors of the region.

The 102-guest National Geographic Orion’s size and level of comfort will be highly appealing for European travel. The interior is spacious and offers a range of modern public rooms with panoramic views. Her public rooms include a window-lined main lounge, as well as an observation lounge and library at the top of the ship. In addition, a dedicated theatre provides a unique setting for specialist presentations, films or slideshows.

Extreme Ice Survey: Palmer Station Cameras

By Dan McGrath, Extreme Ice Survey

The marked retreat of the Marr Ice Piedmont over the past few decades has literally changed the coastline of Anvers Island, a heavily glacierized island off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula and home to the U.S. Antarctic Program’s Palmer Station. When Palmer Station began operation in the late 1960s, the ice was only a short distance behind the station and offered a range of recreational opportunities to the small station staff. Palmer Station has become a hub of Antarctic research over the intervening decades, yielding important insights on polar ecosystems and oceanography. All the while, the ice behind the station has been retreating, transforming the coastline and revealing new landscapes.

The Marr Ice Piedmont and Palmer Station seen from DigitalGlobe’s World View 1 satellite, April, 2011. The white line indicates the extent of the Marr in 1975. ©2014 DigitalGlobe, Inc. 1975 extent data courtesy of Bob Farrell.

Last February, aboard the National Geographic Explorer, our team visited Palmer Station to scout locations for future camera installations. We landed on Amsler Island, a rocky outcrop ½ mile (0.8 km) across the ice choked Arthur Harbor from Palmer Station, and located a spot offering a commanding view of the Marr Ice Piedmont. Until 2004, this point was attached to the much larger Anvers Island and only as the ice front retreated was it revealed to be an island.

The clouds hung low over the bay during our visit last February and frequent snow squalls reduced visibility even further. Through breaks in the clouds, we observed a narrow isthmus of ice that tenuously connected a small bulb of ice to the main glacier. Less than a month after our departure, this narrow connection disappeared producing yet another island off the coast of Anvers Island. We’re here now to install two time-lapse cameras to watch any future changes. It’s a beautiful afternoon—light wind, partly cloudy skies and a comfortable temperature. The primary concern today is distraction. We are surrounded by a gorgeous amphitheater constructed of 90 foot-tall ice cliffs, while below, the slowly rising tide pulls along an abundance of bergy bits through the crystal clear waters of Arthur Harbor. If that’s not enough, the near constant belching sounds of the elephant seals reminds us we are far from home.

The jagged edge of the Marr Ice Piedmont towers above the frigid waters of Arthur Harbor. During the installation the familiar sound of calving seracs constantly echoed through the air. ©Extreme Ice Survey/Stephen Nowland

The installation, however, gets off to a rocky start. Matt starts drilling the first hole to anchor the camera post in place and the drill bit snaps. Perplexed, we muse that the bit must have been weakened by a previous incident that broke our primary drill, leaving us with this one and only back-up. And now, we’re down to only two bits. Matt replaces the bit and starts again. Snap! The tip of the bit breaks off again. A solemn feeling comes over us—we only have one drill bit left and if it breaks, we’re done.

Packing for polar expeditions is a difficult task, as you’re constantly forced to decide on how many back-up items to bring—a delicate balance between weight and volume limitations juxtaposed with the reality that if a key item fails, the entire project is on the line. A trip to the hardware store just isn’t possible.

Here we are, a calm day in the Antarctic, all of our gear in place and the installation hangs on this final drill bit. We take a deep breath and Matt starts drilling the holes—he skimps on each one to ensure they’re all drilled, at least partially. A collective sigh of relief is aired as the final anchor is completed. The rest of the installation goes smoothly and we’re back to the ship earlier than expected to celebrate our final camera installation on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Matthew Kennedy, Stephen Nowland, Dan McGrath, and Eric Guth pose for an Extreme Ice Survey team portrait after the final two time-lapse camera installations of 2014. ©Extreme Ice Survey/Matthew Kennedy

A poem: Antarctic Twilight

Inspired by his Antarctic experience, one of our talented guests wrote a poem while sailing aboard National Geographic Explorer. He shared it with his fellow travelers during one evening Recap in Explorer’s lounge, and he generously agreed to allow us to publish it here.

Antarctic Twilight

By
Charles Scott Williams
December 5, 2014genius

Sailing through the ice at a snail’s pace
The bow of the ship does the ice displace
Tranquil ripples in our wake
Majestic mountains in sunset bathe

Penguins jump in disheveled formation
Looking for food or on an ice sheet to rest
Their kingdom the cold Antarctic waters
Living solely to live and procreate

Snow by the tonnage crashing into the water
Artillery report, echoing in the pass
Brilliant sunset nearing twilight
In shadow the coolness takes your breath

Artistic desolation of shapes seldom seen
A seal’s head
A lion’s head
Bergs look like many things

Blue ice, white ice, clear ice, shadow
It’s all refraction and wavelength perception
A full moon rises to watch from the heavens
Antarctic day comes to an end

genius

genius

The 10 Best Drone Gifts for Christmas 2014

By Kike Calvo, Photographer and National Geographic Expert

Shopping for a “drone-obsessed” friend or family member? Christmas is almost upon us, and I have decided to think of a general guide to choose a gift that will make happy anyone interested in cool gadgets, quadcopters and Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Catch them off guard with gifts that will put a smile on their faces. I recommend you to read my Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Series before buying any aerial platforms.

1. ($$$) DJI Inspire 1: A complete ready-to-fly system, the Inspire 1 is complete ready-to-fly system. Carbon fiber arms give you the strength to maneuver in the air and they transform, moving out of the camera’s way at the flick of a switch. With a full 360⁰ unobstructed view, you now have the freedom to capture shots independent of the direction you are flying. Learn more about the DJI Inspire 1.

 

 

DJI Inspire 1

2. ($$$) For the Unfettered Adventurer: DSLRPros Expedition Series P2 Aerial Kit has been specially designed for artists and thrill seekers who refuse to have their creativity limited. The bullet modified motors and ESCs make repairs and replacements easy to perform while on the go. Experience super long range video reception tested up to 1.2 miles with the new DSLRPros video Rx Antenna. The included Travel Backpack comfortably fits all that you need to take your aerial kit to the remote locations you never thought possible. You can also consider buying a DJI Phantom or a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter if your budget is limited.

BUY: DSLRPros Expedition Series P2 Aerial Kit

3. ($$) Automatic Mission Planning: Powered by 3DR’s world famous autopilot, the new 3d Robotics Iris+ Multicopter is a robot that will automatically fly itself where you tell it to go, while keeping a camera dead steady with two-axis gimbal stabilization. Using the free DroidPlanner app, IRIS+ users can plan flights by simply drawing a flight plan on any Android tablet or phone. Check the Iris+ Multicopter now.

BUY: 3d Robotics Iris+ Multicopter 915 Mhz 3DR IRIS+

4. ($$) Fat Shark Predator V2 FPV RTF Headset System Video Goggle GLASS CAMERA: Experience your radio-controlled vehicle from the pilot’s view point. Commonly it is used to pilot an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), an onboard camera, fed wirelessly to video goggles or a video monitor.

BUY: Fat Shark FATSHARK Predator V2 FPV RTF Headset System Video Goggle GLASS CAMERA

5. ($$) Jumping Sumo with FPV: The Parrot MiniDrone Jumping Sum jumps over 2.5 feet high and always falls back on its wheels. Its equipped with a wide angle camera that streams live immersive views on the piloting screen. I am sure the Parrot MiniDrone Jumping Sumo will bring lots of fun to your home.

formation

BUY: Parrot MiniDrone Jumping Sumo

6. ($$) Backpack Bag for your Phantom: With Extremely light weight, this Backpack Bag fits the DJI Phantom 1, DJI Phantom 2 Vision, DJI Phantom 2 Vision+, DJI Phantom 2 + Gimbal or DJI Phantom FC40, Fits Extra Accessories GoPro Cameras and Laptop. You can also check other backpacks available in the market.

formation

BUY: Backpack Bag for DJI Phantom (fits all models) / Check all models

7. ($$) Pebble Smartwatch for iPhone and Android: Hands-free aerial camera control is now a reality. Using a device with a built-in GPS and OTG (on the go) technology and a DroidPlanner app, the new 3d Robotics Iris+ will follow our Pebble Smartwatch for iPhone and Android (Black). DroidPlanner will work with all these devices.

formation

BUY: Pebble Smartwatch for iPhone and Android (Black)

8. ($) A Tripod for FPV Pilots: The Manfrotto Compact Tripod is perfect to support small monitors for those who enjoy First Person View flying.

BUY: Manfrotto Compact Tripod

9. ($) The Hubsan X4, an Old Time Favorite: Along with the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Quadricopter, this 4 Channel 2.4GHz RC Quadcopter helped me polished my flying skills on my early beginnings. Need some skills? Get a Hubsan X4 today.

BUY: Hubsan X4 / Parrot AR.Drone 2.0

10. ($) Buy a Book: As Maurice Sendak once said, “There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.” Here are some suggestions or just check my Cool Stuff List for Drone and Unmanned Vehicle enthusiasts.

Drone / UAV Dictionary: Includes 300 Commercial UAV Applications

Cool stuff for Drone and Unmanned Vehicle enthusiasts

Drone Entrepreneurship: 30 Businesses You Can Start

Small Unmanned Aircraft: Theory and Practice

Drone University

The beginner’s guide to Fpv (B&W)

GoPro Cameras For Dummies

Drones For Dummies (For Dummies (Computer/Tech))

10+1. ($) Kike Calvo’s Drone Gifts:

Inspired by my passion for flying sUAV, I have developed a product collection, that include baseball hats, mugs, mouse pads, key chains, T-Shirts and many other items that will make your loved ones smile.

Extreme Ice Survey: First Southern Hemisphere Time-lapse Revisit

Extreme Ice Survey, the team featured in the Emmy award-winning film Chasing Ice, is aboard our ship, the National Geographic Explorer, in Antarctica. They’re installing time-lapse cameras that will shoot photos every hour of every day, creating visual records of these changing landscapes.

At the southern tip of South Georgia Island lies the six-mile-long Drygalski Fjord, a narrow split containing Risting Glacier and two of the Extreme Ice Survey time-lapse camera systems. Cold katabatic winds regularly race down from the high peaks above, epitomizing the weather for which South Georgia is famous. It is a definitive force and creates a veil of inaccessibility that extends to all visitors, time-lapse cameras included. Today we revisit the cameras we installed just nine short months ago. The state of these two cameras could very well set the tone for what success to expect during the remainder of our three-week expedition. Anxiety and curiosity are scratching at our bones.

Water and electronics don’t mix and during the installation at Drygalski it took three of us to hold a tarp down over the camera housings to deflect the sideways rain while the delicate electronics were secured in place. Waterlogged and cold, we left the cameras in a rush, our frozen fingers tightly crossed. Our seven-plus-year track record of collecting time-lapse images has prepared us well, and we like to think that the hardware and electronics are durable enough for the most extreme environments on the planet.

The weather today is in stark contrast to last February. It’s still windy, but the sun is peeking through high clouds and, at least for now, it isn’t raining or snowing. Pulling away from the ship, our anxiety is lessened when we spot the two cameras upright, though, just as the rarity of a nice day at this latitude can be misleading, so too can be the sight of cameras still fixed in place. Either there will be images to recover, or we are looking at nothing more than an expensive and over-engineered bird perch.

We’re elated to discover the solar panels secured in place, looking as if we had installed them only the day before, and the batteries at a healthy 14 volts. Things are looking good. We crack open the first camera housing, and quickly pull the camera out to check the image count. The excited voice of Lisa Kelley, the expedition leader for our journey, crackles over the VHF radio. Apparently she and the rest of the guests aboard National Geographic Explorer are also anxiously awaiting the outcome. We radio back to Lisa, trying to contain the surprised charge in our voices, “3,000 images, we have 3,000 images!”

Both cameras worked perfectly, and moreover, collected some of the most stunningly beautiful images we have ever captured to add to our archive—now more than one million photos strong.

It turns out that for fleeting moments between the seemingly constant rush of storms across the Southern Ocean, South Georgia Island can in fact brighten up and expose its splendor to the world, although it certainly helps having the patience of a time-lapse camera. And with a taste of success behind us, it’s onward south, across the open sea, to the Antarctic Peninsula to check on and install more time-lapse cameras.

By Matthew Kennedy, Extreme Ice Survey

 

Extreme Ice Survey: Success on South Georgia Island

There is a particular moment in the mountains, when the clouds part and mysterious summits are revealed, that I find especially appealing. Often, muted gray skies and low clouds obscure the world above, leaving steep ridges disappearing into an atmospheric abyss. This veil of mystery allows my imagination to run wild trying to envision this hidden world. But on rare occasion when the clouds vanish, I find nothing more spectacular than that first complete glimpse of the surrounding snow-covered spires and airy peaks.

On this day, more than 9,000 feet above us and completely hidden by clouds, the highest peak on South Georgia Island, Mount Paget (9626 ft/2934 m), is collecting snow that many years later will reach the terminus of the Nordenskjöld Glacier. We’ve worked feverishly for the past four hours to secure two time-lapse cameras near the dramatic calving front of this glacier. The 2-mile (3.2 km) wide face of teetering seracs appears still, however the frequent sounds of calving chunks of ice tell otherwise. The size of this glacier is a testament to the amount of precipitation that blankets this island, a small rugged thumb protruding from one of the stormiest reaches of ocean anywhere on the planet.

Nordenskjöld Glacier was named for Otto Nordenskjöld, the leader of the Swedish Antarctic Expedition, whose members charted this area in the early 20th century. This glacier, like the vast majority of glaciers on this island, has retreated in recent decades, reflecting changes in precipitation and temperature on the island. Our cameras will tirelessly capture images of Nordenskjöld, creating a visual record that will contribute to our understanding of how the glaciers on South Georgia Island are responding to a changing climate.

Racing back to our landing site, the cameras secured in place, grins stretch across our faces as we stare into the low light of the setting sun.  We set out in our ~19-foot (5.9 m) boat, bobbing in the large ocean swell of East Cumberland Bay. Eric Guth, EIS team member and seasoned Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic naturalist and photo instructor, masterfully steers us through the deep troughs and cresting waves. The bow of the boat emphatically slaps down on the backside of each wave, sending wind-whipped water across the entire boat, drenching us with frigid 29° F (-1° C) seawater. Our hands grip tightly to the side of the boat, knowing that a swim in these waters would last only a few minutes before succumbing to the numbing cold of the sea.

Through the parting clouds, we can make out the distant shape of the National Geographic Explorer, while in the foreground, the faint outlines of two ship-wrecked rusting vessels can be seen; a not-so-subtle reminder of the potential hazards of South Georgia Island.

Despite these concerns, we’re fixated on the scene before us. The dull grey clouds that limited our view all day are clearing away, presenting the snow-covered mountains, each painted in different shades of pink, orange and purple.  Above it all, Mount Paget remains engulfed in an imposing lenticular cloud, retaining its mystery for another day. The first images our time-lapse cameras capture will be spectacular and I can’t wait to return to see the rest. I know at some point over the next year Mount Paget will be revealed, although given the weather we’ve experienced on South Georgia Island, I imagine it won’t be all that often.

By Dan McGrath

Extreme Ice Survey Returns South

Extreme Ice Survey, the team featured in the Emmy award-winning film Chasing Ice, is aboard our ship, National Geographic Explorer, sailing towards South Georgia Island and Antarctica. Over the next two weeks, they’ll be installing time-lapse cameras that will shoot photos every hour of every day, creating visual records of these changing landscapes. 

During February 2014, our team traveled aboard Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Explorer (www.expeditions.com) to install time-lapse cameras on the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia Island. The camera systems include a Nikon D3200 digital camera, a custom waterproof case and timer, and are completely powered by a solar panel and battery. We typically install cameras on bedrock outcrops above the glacier to ensure sufficient perspective to monitor the glacier’s flow and extent. Last year, we installed nine cameras at five different sites, including Cierva Cove and Neko Harbor on the peninsula. We were graced with sunny skies and warm temperatures, and often, friendly visits from the neighborhood welcoming committee, staffed by penguins, and seals.

You can see why authors have long struggled to describe these visually stunning landscapes with words alone. The sharpness of the peaks, the contrasts between ice and ocean, the way the mountains are draped in globs of snow and ice; verbose descriptions of their grandeur fail and that’s even before considering the charismatic penguins bathed in soft multi-colored alpenglow. However, despite the idyllic and distant nature of this location, it is one of the fastest changing landscapes on the planet. Atmospheric temperatures have increased by more than 5° F since the 1950s, the majority of glaciers are flowing faster and have thinned and numerous ice shelves (floating extensions of glaciers as large as Rhode Island), have completely collapsed. In short, these landscapes look very different from what they did 50 or in some cases, even 10 years ago.

Over the next month, we’ll be returning to remove and replace the memory cards of these cameras and install additional cameras at new sites—including the Marr Ice Piedmont near the US Antarctic Program’s Palmer Station and South Georgia Island’s magnificent Nordenskjöld Glacier.

We’re currently in the Falkland Islands and will be departing for South Georgia Island this evening. We’re taking this opportunity to finish building the camera systems prior to the crossing. Stay tuned over the next month as we download our Antarctica images for the first time and install new time-lapse cameras, all in an effort to create visual records of some of the most rapidly changing landscapes on the planet.

Penguins & Antarctica Onstage?

A guest who traveled to Antarctica with us last season pinged us with an excited note on Facebook: “Great to see Lindblad featured in a music video at the Jason Mraz concert in Portland tonight! Our family has been on several Lindblad trips so were so psyched to see the familiar logo!” A quick search revealed that he’s been showing video he shot as the backdrop to some of his shows. Keep an eye out for us!

Darwin Returns to Galápagos

A new statue of young Charles Darwin landed on the campus of the Charles Darwin Foundation’s research center on the island of Santa Cruz in Galápagos. Guests on all of our Galápagos expeditions visit the Foundation to tour the grounds and see the important ongoing work, and you can bet that getting your Darwin selfie will become a regular stop on the walk. The Foundation chose to depict a young Darwin, notebook and magnifying glass close at hand, as he looked when he landed on the islands. Ecuadorian sculptor Patricio Ruales (on the right) created the statue over the course of about a year. Renowned Galápagos scientist and life-long Darwin scholar, Godfrey Merlen (left), wrote about the project, Darwin’s Right Hand Man.