Bowermaster’s Adventures — Live from Antarctica: part 3

Tabular Heaven, Antarctica, Day 3

Every place along the Antarctic Peninsula tends to be my favorite. Bailey Head. Neko Harbor. Paradise Bay. Cuverville. The Lemaire Channel. The Grand Didier Channel. Crystal Sound. The Fish Island Group. Marguerite Bay. And on and on and on.

But in Antarctica places can tend to run together thanks to one commonality: Here it is truly all about just one thing, The Ice. Sure, we all know there’s rock and snow below (even petrified forests and most likely dinosaur bones). But for the moment still, I still come to the far south each austral summer for the ice.

I admit to having a favorite: The big, tabular icebergs that litter the Weddell Sea like giant white dominoes. Set free from their role as guardian of the coastline gives them an independence apparent in their grandness. Frozen sea built up over centuries of falling snow, these particular tabulars are broken off from, remnants of the Larsen Ice Shelf. They are drifting (very slowly) north through the Antarctic Sound, where they will eventually float (very slowly)from the Southern Ocean into the Atlantic where they will, in a decade or so?, melt.

Today they are significant for more than just their size. These were once the grand guardians of the glaciers lining the eastern side of the Peninsula. That they have broken off and drifted away means those glaciers are at risk of disappearing ever faster.

They are long (on average a mile, sometimes up to ten and twelve miles) and high (one hundred and fifty, two hundred feet) and barely on the move. At the moment most are grounded and lodged on the ocean floor, shearing it clean of all living things. Their role in Antarctica’s future is powerful. Free to roam, and to disappear with the assistance of wind, rain, and warming temperatures, they’ve given up their role as protectorate and taken on the role of floating idols, reflecting sky and sea in new patterns every single minute.