Come and join us on walks & hikes exploring the geology and history of the Rocky Mountains and the Town of Canmore. Our first hike is June 2, when you can join Gerry Stephenson on a tour of the mine sites around Canmore. Please call the museum to pre-register (403.678.2462).
JANUARY 6, 2013
54° 26′ SOUTH AND 36° 11′ WEST
ST. ANDREW’S BAY, SOUTH GEORGIA
Our fifth and final day of exploring South Georgia involved a memorable landing at St. Andrew’s Bay, home to the island’s largest colony of King Penguins. Comprised of more than 150,000 breeding pairs, the colony contains close to half-a-million birds when the juveniles, non-breeding adults and recently hatched chicks are included.
Framed by three mountains (Mount Roots, Mount Kling and Nordenskjold Peak) which tower 2,000 metres above sea level, the St. Andrew’s Bay King Penguin colony sits at the confluence of three glaciers.
The pungent aromas of urea and guano hit us long before we stepped ashore.
Katabatic winds – dense cold winds generated by glaciers – buffeted us about on the beach. Capable of flipping boats, these chaotic winds have forced visitors to seek shelter inside the British Antarctic Survey’s emergency hut at St. Andrew’s Bay.
The glacial outwash plain pulsated with non-stop action: family conflicts and life and death dramas played out before us. Loping like a quarter horse in slow motion, I observed a large Antarctic Fur Seal cut a wide swath through the penguin colony, sending adults and chicks scattering for safety. Caught in the melee, some of the adult birds dropped eggs that they had been painstakingly incubating. Accordingly, we observed the breeding colony from a respectful distance, atop an adjacent hillside.
JANUARY 5, 2013
54° 16.9′ SOUTH AND 36° 30.5′ WEST
GRYTVIKEN, SOUTH GEORGIA
Ninety-one years ago, to the day, Sir Ernest Shackleton died aboard a boat anchored in Grytviken Harbour, South Georgia. Suffering a massive heart attack at the age of 47, Shackleton’s death marked the end of the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration.
On this auspicious and rainy day, we made the obligatory pilgrimage to Shackleton’s gravesite in Grytviken. We raised a wee dram to his polar achievements. As is customary, each of us saved a modicum of the single malt whisky for Shackleton, reverently pouring it on his gravesite.
During the 1907-1909 Nimrod Expedition, Shackleton’s team discovered the magnetic South Pole and came to within 100 miles of the geographic South Pole; his difficult decision to abort the race for the pole – due to dwindling food supplies and the deteriorating condition of his men – ensured that everyone made it home alive. When Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice during the 1914-1917 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, his leadership ensured that all the men under his direct command survived the two-year ordeal.
But Shackleton’s gripping story didn’t end with his death: in a convoluted series of recent events, Frank Wild’s ashes were discovered after languishing, since 1939, in a South African crematorium.
JANUARY 4, 2013
54° 9.4′ SOUTH AND 36° 42.6′ WEST
STROMNESS HARBOUR, SOUTH GEORGIA
Following in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s footsteps 100 years later, our group of intrepid explorers retraced the final leg of Shackleton’s epic trek across South Georgia. In the process, we shared, in a very small measure, some of the sights, sounds and emotions that Shackleton and his men experienced a century ago.
Symbolic in nature, the 5.5-kilometre-long hike from Fortuna Bay to Stromness Harbour represents the final chapter in Shackleton’s monumental story of survival against all odds.
In May 1916, Shackleton and two of his men set out – without tents or sleeping bags – on a non-stop crossing of the largely unmapped island. Equipped with ice crampons fashioned from screws wrenched from their lifeboat, they arrived in Stromness thirty-six hours later.
In an effort to save time and energy during their 33-kilometre-long crossing of South Georgia, Shackleton and his hiking companions formed a three-man toboggan chain, glissading down an uncharted mountainside.
Our hike from sea level to the 300-metre mountain pass was slow and measured. But, the toboggan ride down the backstretch was wild and lasted mere seconds.
After a hurried session of perfecting my skills at arresting – or, at the very least, impeding – my trajectory down the snow-covered mountainside, I held my breath and plunged, feet first, over the precipice.
Although my backpack acted as a speed retardant, my Gortex™ pants turned into a potent accelerant…
Date: January 3, 2013
Place: Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia
Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctica: Dispatch Number Two
JANUARY 3, 2013, 08:39 AM
54° 49.8′ SOUTH AND 35° 59.8′ WEST
AIR/WATER TEMPERATURE 6°C/2°C
A booming voice sounded over the ship’s public address system at 6:30am. Dr. Ian Dalziel, professor of geophysics at the Jackson School of Geosciences (University of Texas at Austin), was on the horn, enticing us to forsake our warm beds for the ship’s bridge. At the very least, Dalziel encouraged us to gaze out of the cabin potholes.
But, it wasn’t charismatic mega fauna – Southern Right Whales, Humpback Whales or Weddell Seals – that catapulted me and my fellow group of explorers to rise so early. For the group of intrepid geologists, it was the opportunity to view something that’s rarely observed in nature: ophiolites or primordial rocks formed at oceanic spreading centres and brought to the Earth’s surface via violent tectonic forces. A world-class outcrop of these ancient sea floor rocks is exposed in the Drygalski Fjord on the southwestern tip of the island of South Georgia.
Suitably inspired, I assembled my camera gear and headed to the Akademik Ioffe’s bridge where I was greeted by a stunning panorama of towering cliffs, glaciers cascading to the ocean and sea birds aloft.
Comprised primarily of the mineral olivine, the olive-green rocks of the Drygalski Fjord Complex represent a classic textbook example of basalts that spewed from the Earth’s mantle during the Cretaceous period, some 150 million years ago. The basalts poured, like molasses, from a fissure in the oceanic crust, creating new sea floor mass in the process.
Towering more than one kilometre above sea level, the exposed ophiolitic sequence is comprised of basalt lava flows that formed in the shapes of pillows – telltale signs that the rocks erupted onto the oceanic floor where the cold waters slowed their viscous flow and created hardened, outer skins characteristic of pillow lavas.
South Georgia is 160 kilometres long and measures between five and 30 kilometres wide. Deeply dissected by glaciers, the island’s central mountain range rises to almost 3,000 metres in elevation. Once connected to the southern part of South America, the micro-continent containing South Georgia is situated some 2,000 kilometres due east of South America’s Cape Horn. Plate tectonic movements, on the order of 6.5 millimetres per year, continue to transport the micro-continent towards Africa.
“This ophiolitic sequence of rocks helps us identify where the South Georgia micro-continent originated in continental South America,” said Professor Dalziel. “At Drygalski Fjord, we see similar rocks of a similar age in a similar tectonic setting, in a place where there is clearly a missing piece of the South American continent.”
JANUARY 1, 2013
53° 17.3’ SOUTH AND 45° 7.2’ WEST
AIR/WATER TEMPERATURE 4°C/3.8°C — SPEED 12.2 KNOTS
SAILING FROM THE FALKLAND ISLANDS TO SOUTH GEORGIA
We heralded in the New Year with two celebrations: at midnight, Greenwich Mean Time, our dinner concluded with a rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne. In the ship’s bar, at midnight, local time, we toasted to a healthy, happy and prosperous 2013 and to great geological discoveries in the Scotia Arc.
Understandably, breakfast was pushed back by 30 minutes the following morning.
Our 22-day-long geosciences expedition departed Santiago, Chile, on December 29, 2012, bound for Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. With a population of 2,000 people, Stanley is the smallest and most remote capital city in the world. It’s also, unofficially, the lupine capital of the world – every house sports a lovely English garden that’s chock-a-block full of lupines and other hearty flowers.
Following the spine of the Andes, we jetted southwards towards Tierra del Fuego. On several occasions, the plane lurched, seemingly, to the port side when a good half of the passengers jumped across the aisle, straining to get a glimpse of geological processes in action: a smoking volcano and glaciers descending from mountaintops on their death marches to the adjacent Pacific Ocean.
At writing, we’ve travelled 585 nautical miles across the Scotia Sea, en route from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia and the Western Antarctic Peninsula. During the expedition, we’ll spend six days at sea and 15 days on land, exploring geological outcrops and experiencing Serengeti wildlife moments. The seas are uncharacteristically calm this afternoon, and are waves gentle. Although some people have been queasy, no one has suffered from seasickness. Continue reading…
Published decades before the famous expeditions of Scott and Shackleton, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” describes Antarctica as a desolate landscape filled with endless ice that “cracked and growled, and roared and howled.”
Today, the mysterious continent continues to draw international scientists and explorers who study and chart its landscape. Susan R. Eaton, a Bullfrog Power customer, is one such explorer.
As Susan puts it, “Everything came together for me in Antarctica: my scientific background, my passion for the environment, my extreme snorkeling skills, and the chance to tell the stories of Antarctica.” Antarctica once stood as the dividing line between the known world and the globe’s unexplored regions; today it represents a perfect outdoor laboratory to study climate change.
In January 2012, Justine Wild, age 14, embarked upon an expedition-of-a-lifetime.
Justine, a petite and resourceful Grade Nine student from Kamloops, British Columbia, joined 60 other teenagers from around the world, crossing the perilous waters of the Drake Passage to the Western Antarctic Peninsula.
My outreach and educational activities (funded, in large part, by the AAPG Foundation) played a role in Justine’s decision to travel to the Bottom of the World. During the past 20 months, I’ve encouraged Justine and others to follow their dreams, and I’ve provided them with an Antarctic road map to make it happen.
Sponsored by CMAGS, Susan R. Eaton, a Calgary-based geophysicist, geologist, science journalist and Antarctic Explorer-in-the-Making, will travel to the Bottom of the World from December 29, 2012 to January 21, 2013, participating in the Scotia Arc Tectonics, Climate and Life Expedition. Bitten by the polar bug, this is Susan’s third Antarctic expedition since 2010.
Led by the Jackson School of Geosciences (University of Texas at Austin), this international expedition involves world-renowned instructors — geologists, geophysicists and biologists — who will focus on the interplay of geology, geophysics, glaciology, plate tectonics, climate change and life.
The Scotia Arc is a tectonically active area comprised of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Western Antarctic Peninsula. The Scotia Sea and Scotia Arc evolved during the past 40 million years, via an eastward-migrating subduction zone situated at the boundary between the South American and Antarctic plates.
Learn more about Antarctica.
Gerry Stephenson will lead the “History of Mining Tour” for the Canmore Museum. Gerry began work as a miner and, later, mine manager in the undersea seams of Northern England. He spent time as a Gen-eral mine manager in India and later came to Canmore in 1968. He was Chief Engineer of Canmore Mines Ltd until 1974 when he founded one of the premier resource consult-ing companies in North America; the Nor-west Corporation. After 60 years of mining, Gerry has a wealth of stories to tell about mines and miners local to Canmore and world wide.