Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Field Dispatches

Argentina’s Staten Island: Pioneering Expedition

Photos & story by Eric Guth.

Four years hard work from our staff and agents finally paid off as today we were the first foreign-flagged expedition ship in history to sail into the protected waters in and around Staten Island, Argentina. Administered as part of the Argentine province of Tierra Del Fuego, Staten Island has been off limits to tourism since 1923 when it was decreed a natural reserve for fur seals. Since that time protection of the islands natural heritage has increased and visitation further limited. As of this year local authorities have decided to slowly open up the island to permitted visits with the National Geographic Explorer being the first.  We will be spent three days exploring this small island located 18 miles of the south eastern tip of Tierra Del Fuego.

With a strong western wind and another vessel ahead, our attempt to land on Cape Horn today was a lesson in patience. Hopes were high that the forecast of calming winds would prevail but when our chance came, and there was no reprieve, we made the charge anyway. This photo was taken from my porthole aboard the National Geographic Explorer while rounding Cape Horn for the first time this season and about an hour before we all braved the elements and stepped foot on the southernmost bit of land outside of Antarctica.

The southernmost corner of Hoppner Bay on the islands sheltered northern shore.

Day two at Staten Island, Argentina. During the night National Geographic Explorer cruised into Puerto San Juan del Salvamento, located in the extreme northeast corner of the island. This is the protected locale where Jules Verne wrote the first draft of his adventure novel, The Lighthouse at the End of the World in 1901. This is the view from the lighthouse (San Juan del Salvamento) that inspired his writing and offered our first opportunity to step foot on Staten Island after a day of Zodiac cruising yesterday. With calm conditions and warm weather our first hike ashore could not have been more inspiring.

Our last day at Staten Island proceeded as unexpectedly calm as the rest. With only a few kilometers to cover between Cook Bay (our evening destination yesterday) and Isla Observatario, we arrived to this low, inconspicuous island early this morning and were immediately inundated with life. Imperial blue-eyed shags, Magellanic penguins, South American sea lions, fur seals, etc. were all coming to and from the sea as we cruised along the edge of this unassumingly biologically rich island. Here, a group of imperial blue-eyed shags takes off from their nesting site on the north shore of Staten Island.

Before pulling away from Argentina’s Staten Island until next year I wanted to add another shot from my favorite location this trip. Hoppner Bay on the islands northeast corner was thick with lichen, moss and southern beech trees like this gnarled specimen. Right down to waterline this wind sculpted flora will leave perhaps the most lasting memory for me when I day dream about the landscape of Staten Island.

As National Geographic Explorer transitions from Staten Island to Ushuaia and preps for her next voyage the link between the two locations might not be readily apparent. Inhabited initially as a penal colony, Staten Island’s prison was abandoned in 1903 and all its inmates, as well as their buildings, were transferred to Ushuaia, establishing the roots to this jumping off point towards the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and Antarctica, the three destinations for our upcoming trip aboard National Geographic Explorer. Goodbye Staten Island. See you next year.

Vanuatu’s Tanna Island, Devastated by Cyclone, Welcomes Its First Visitors

By Erin McFadden. Photos by Jack & Rikki Swenson.

The reception we received as we landed on the tranquil shores of Tanna Island was filled with the distinctive joviality that lines many of the South Pacific shorelines we visit. On this Vanuatuan Island women with wide smiling faces proudly placed colourful flowers behind our ears as we walked up the beach to the sounds of the gentle and cheerful singing voices of the locals. Children sat and stood by their families; their shyness was soon overcome and replaced with wide-eyed and cheeky smiles. The adults were selling their local produce and handmade souvenirs. Tanna is known as the Garden Island of Vanuatu with fertile soils producing kava, coffee, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. It is also one of the most traditional islands. Most of the population are Melanesian and our welcome included a variety of dances by men, women, and children dressed in grass skirts and with painted faces.

Our welcome to Tanna was a picture of happiness and with a large number of local people having come to join us on the shoreline there was an aura of enthusiasm and pride. There was nothing to suggest that just seven months earlier in March 2015 this island bore the brunt of one of the worst natural disasters to have ever hit Vanuatu. Homes, farms, crops, schools, and almost the entire infrastructure of this gentle island was destroyed in a matter of hours as Cyclone Pam travelled directly across Tanna. All of these smiling faces had lost something if not everything and yet as the first expedition vessel to visit Tanna since the disaster the resilience and positivity of the Tanna people emanated from everyone throughout our visit.

Asking of their plight since the disaster would be to put words in the islanders’ mouths. People answered our questions, explaining how houses and roads were destroyed, drinking water was unavailable, and that the clean up effort continues to this day. They did not complain or dwell. Dozens of young school children huddled together ready to sing for us and as children would anywhere else in the world they jostled for space amongst their friends, not wanting to be pushed to the front or right to the back. Many of their lives were severely impacted by the cyclone and yet here they were smiling, singing, and happy to greet us. Receiving our donations of school supplies, fuel, clothing, and tinned food it was clear to see that these islanders would ensure those who needed these supplies most would be the ones to receive them.

Our local guides pointed out some of the more obvious effects of the cyclone as we travelled in the back of trucks through the rain forest past small villages where many houses were in the process of being patched up and reconstructed. Some of the immense fig trees that dominate these rain forests had come crashing down leaving patches open, bare, and a gaping sign as to the magnitude of this cyclone. But again our guides smiled and pointed out the brilliance of the erect fig tress and the fact that although the road had been blocked by dozens of fallen trees they were now clear.

Now the roads were repaired and cleared they could once again take people to see the imposing Mount Yasur volcano. After a steep and winding final stretch of road we reached a rather abrupt looking staircase—our final ascent toward the crater rim. The guides ushered us with keen excitement to the top where they kept a watchful eye over us lest one of us step too close. Every time the volcano erupted their animated grins filled the atmosphere as much as ours. It is evident that these islanders have an island they cherish and respect. It is evident that despite the worst that nature can deliver, these islanders will continue to smile.

The Viking Ruins of Brattahlid: From a Teacher’s Perspective

By Angie Miller, Grosvenor Teacher Fellow in the Arctic

As I step out of the Zodiac and onto the rocky beach, I am acutely aware that over 1,000 years ago, a crew of Norsemen—loyally following their exiled leader, Erik the Red—stepped onto this very beach. I pause and look around at the beckoning green hills that stretch beyond the lower fields and wonder what fears they may have held tight in their hearts and what wonders they must have experienced as they decided to claim it as their new home.

My own heart is full of wonder and awe that I have the opportunity to be here to learn.

It is an unusually blue-sky, billowy cloud kind of day, but the glacier that sits at the head of the fjord, the rocky pitches on the horizon, and the chunks of ice floating in the waters are a reminder that Qassiarsuk, Greenland is a fierce place to survive. Currently, around 90 people, mostly sheep farmers, live here in the few houses splattered across the countryside. Across the fjord sits the Narsarsuaq Airport—the only international airport in southern Greenland, built in 1941 as a US airfield and military hospital during World War II.

But what brings us here are the ruins of Brattahlid (“the steep slope”)—Erik the Red’s estate in the Viking Eastern Settlement. In 985 Erik arrived here, in the inner end of Eriksfjord, recognizing it as some of the best farmland in Greenland. It is here that he built his newly-converted wife, Thjodhild, a Christian church—the first Christian church on the North American continent. The first Greenlandic parliament was held here, and it is also where Leif Eriksson departed to go on to discover Newfoundland and Labrador. The Norse lived here for approximately the next 500 years, which is extraordinary when you consider the United States was not colonized 500 years ago.

Recently, reconstructed versions of the longhouse that once existed on these lands and Thjoldhild’s church have been built, so that visitors can see what the actual ruins may have looked like when they were a thriving community. We admire the sod walls and duck into the tiny chapel that would have once housed 30 Norse for Christian worship. The longhouse is full of sealskins, a loom, and reproductions of clothing, an interesting and closeup look at life during this time.

After passing a statue of Leif Eriksson that overlooks the fjord and climbing over a sheep fence, a colleague and I stretch our legs and see what lies beyond the town, losing ourselves for hours in the highlands. Mountain lakes, rushing rivers, small ponds, and sheep smatter the fertile landscape. The colors are all Kodachrome; the air crisp, clean, and still.

Standing at the top of a hill in comfortable silence, I realize that this is the kind of professional development that will stay with me forever. I will remember the facts. I will understand the spirit of the Norse. I will know the climb of the gray mountains and the cerulean blue fjord.

And this makes me wish I could bring my students here—I wish I could pull each and every one of them across the Atlantic, into this fjord, up this mountain, and have them stand in the very awe that I am experiencing. Of course, this is unfeasible. And I will have to settle into finding ways to deliver this magical experience to them, instead. But it makes me realize the importance of the oft-cut-in-the-school-budget field trip. My students cannot get to Greenland. But back at home we have mountains and lakes, too. We have historical Revolutionary War sites in our back yard. We have museums, conservation areas, and islands filled with ghost stories. We all have magnificent ways to bring our students into their world, and we need to remember, just as I do, standing on top of a hill, that sometimes the best learning takes place when we leave school for a day.

Vietnam & Cambodia: Intimate, Up-Close Cultural Experiences Abound

By Jennifer Kingsley, field correspondent for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, who is currently working on #MeetTheNorth, a project about the lives of the four million people living above the Arctic Circle. Follow along at or on Instagram.

The floor of my balcony aboard Jahan is so close to the Mekong’s surface that I can almost dip my toes in the water. When I open the curtains, I see the red sun rising. I open the sliding door to let in both the heavy air and the sound it carries; boats thrum by and the river laps at water hyacinth. The earthy smell of wood smoke reaches our boat from shore. Today, this river will carry us from one country to another; I head up on deck to watch it happen.

Our days in Vietnam have been busy, some would say “bustling” which sometimes means crowded but also (and always) means full of life. Our last morning is no different; as we head for the border with Cambodia, we travel through knots of boats. The small ones carry coconuts, jicama, rose apples or bananas. I see a woman alone in a small canoe. She crouches at the very tip of the bow, and, using a single paddle, swivels the boat around herself like a weathervane. Mid-sized boats putt by, powered by car engines connected to tiny propellers by long steel pipes. Drivers use the heels of their hands and feet to raise, lower and twist the propellers through shallow water. The larger boats spill rice husk from piles three times my height, and the biggest vessels carry tons of silt and soil to the cities for construction; workers walk barefoot over the cargo to shovel it into perfect pyramids.

I wander the deck after breakfast to catch so many glimpses of life—men together packing fish, women hanging laundry from the stern decks. I don’t yet know how different the river will look two hours from now in another country.

The border is calm and uneventful. The Mekong carries us effortlessly; this river is an ancient trail that has seen political boundaries change countless times. By mid-afternoon we are the only boat on the river. Green branches trim the riverbanks, then give way to the fabric of fields. I see some smoke trails, wooden houses, and the occasional temple in shapes entirely different from what we visited in Vietnam; we could be back to that country in two hours, but it doesn’t feel that way. It’s hard to believe we are barely across the border.

Children bathe and splash in the water up ahead, and the closer we get the more enthusiastically they wave. Further on, two men bring their white cows to the river for a drink. Anything white, like a cow or an ibis, stands out against the red earth and the green forest. On this first day in Cambodia, the natural world steps forward. The river is quiet, and I find myself thinking about borders and transitions.

I overhear someone say that it’s like traveling back in time, but that implies forward and backward as though progress looks a particular way. It doesn’t feel like the past to me; in fact, it feels more like what I hope for the future. I wonder what I’ll see when I pull back the curtains tomorrow.


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

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

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



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 ( 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.