Tag Archives: Heard Island Expedition

Big Ben Gigapan

Processing the Big Ben gigapan.  Screenshot by Bill Mitchell.
Processing the Big Ben gigapan. Screenshot by Bill Mitchell.

This post is the first in a series of three on the gigapans I took on Heard Island. (Part 2, Part 3)

My first gigapan on Heard Island, this one of Big Ben, came unexpectedly. As I was out hiking one afternoon, my hiking partner, Arliss, noticed that we had a clear view of the summit of Big Ben. Clearings like this can be relatively short and infrequent, so we took a few pictures immediately. We headed back to base camp just east of Atlas Cove, arriving under an hour before sunset. The mountain was still visible, so I moved quickly to set everything up and get the gigapan taken before the light faded.

From camp, Big Ben is situated to the southeast, rising up beyond the flat sandy plain of the nullarbor. In this view, the moraines and glaciers begin about 2 km from the camera. To the right of the image is the eastern slope of Mt. Drygalski. The edge of the Azorella Peninsula lava flow is in the bottom left corner.

Glacial features dominate the landscape, including a prominent moraine now covered in vegetation (lower right). Coming toward the camera are the Schmidt and Baudissin glaciers. I think this view covers from the Allison and Vahsel glaciers (at right) to the Ealey glacier (at left).

On the Nullarbor, there are a few king penguins and elephant seals, primarily to the left of center.

Big Ben itself has a range of rock types, including basanites, alkali basalts, and trachybasalts, overlying limestones and volcanic/glacial deposits.[1-4]

[1] Quilty, P. G.; Wheller, G. (2000) Heard Island and The McDonald Islands: a Window into the Kerguelen Plateau. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania. 133 (2), 1–12.

[2] Barling, J.; Goldstein, S. L. (1990) Extreme isotopic variations in Heard Island lavas and the nature of mantle reservoirs. Nature 348:59–62, doi 10.1038/348059a0.

[3] Barling, J.; Goldstein, S. L.; Nicholls, I. A. (1994) Geochemistry of Heard Island (Southern Indian Ocean): Characterization of an Enriched Mantle Component and Implications for Enrichment of the Sub-Indian Ocean Mantle. Journal of Petrology 35:1017–1053, doi 10.1093/petrology/35.4.1017.

[4] Stephenson, J.; Barling, J.; Wheller, G.; Clarke, I. “The geology and volcanic geomorphology of Heard Island”, in Heard Island: Southern Ocean Sentinel (Eds K. Green and E. Woehler) Surrey Beatey & Sons, 2006, p. 10–27.

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Heading Home

Yellow-nosed albatross flying alongside the Braveheart.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
Yellow-nosed albatross flying alongside the Braveheart. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).

As may have been apparent from the silence here, we have left Heard Island and the good satellite connection we had there. Aboard the Braveheart, we have had only sparse email access on a special pared-down email account. Today, however, with good weather conditions and a very gentle sea state, we have been able to use the satellite internet terminal again.

Presently we are roughly 200 miles WSW of Fremantle, Australia, and expect to enter the harbor on Friday. The sun is beginning to set, and there is a beautiful warm light on the sea and the ship.

On board, we have been going through photographs and paring down the unusable ones, processing the good ones, exchanging images with each other, and writing descriptions of those which are of particular note or are of unusual things. Our science team have been processing samples and preparing them for shipment. Daily cloud observations and occasional 10-minute bird counts are still being performed.

Heard Island was a magnificent place to visit, and I am very glad to have had the opportunity to go. I managed to take three gigapan pictures, including one of Big Ben. I wish there had been more gigapans, but time and weather windows were quite limited and limiting. When I have a bigger, more reliable connection I’ll write more about the gigapan project results (and upload the gigapans).

There are still a few days of travel ahead, plus a flurry of activity in Fremantle. It’ll be a struggle to get photos processed and documented, enter a little data about the scientific samples, and get a couple presentations written before getting home. Even then, I will still need to write up some of the results of my scientific projects on the island.

Pictures from the Field

Standing just outside the tents at Atlas Cove, Heard Island, on a clear evening.  Note that there is no incandescence from lava on Mawson Peak.  Image credit: Adam Brown.
Standing just outside the tents at Atlas Cove, Heard Island, on a clear evening. Note that there is no incandescence from lava on Mawson Peak. Image credit: Adam Brown.

A few days have gone by, and they have been busy! We’ve been fortunate in that when the weather has been poor, the radio propagation has been good. A fair bit of windy, drizzly weather has been present this week, and we have managed to make more than 50,000 contacts with stations all around the world.

Unfortunately, the weather has meant I haven’t had the opportunity to take more gigapans. I am prepared for wet weather, and this morning I went a few hundred meters across the lake which had formed in front of camp (ankle deep) to Wharf Point, the point inside Atlas Cove. There on the cobbles lining the beach I did a stationary count of the birds in the hummocks nearby, on the water, and along the beach. It took about 10 minutes, and I managed to get the list recorded in a weatherproof notebook for upload later. Getting out of the tent and away from things for a while was a welcome change.

Inside the operating tent are many tables with radio equipment.  We have six stations set up, two of which are outside the frame to the left.  The galley is just barely showing on the right, and I'm standing in the front door.  The sleeping tent is through a little hallway.  From left to right, by leftmost extent of the head, we have Adam, Dave Lloyd, Jim, Vadym, Ken, Arliss, and Hans-Peter.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY)
Inside the operating tent are many tables with radio equipment. We have six stations set up, two of which are outside the frame to the left. The galley is just barely showing on the right, and I’m standing in the front door. The sleeping tent is through a little hallway. From left to right, by leftmost extent of the head, we have Adam, Dave Lloyd, Jim, Vadym, Ken, Arliss, and Hans-Peter. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
The sleeping tent, which sleeps 14.  Although there are windows, they are kept shuttered all day.  It's a good place to sleep, but not particularly warm.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
The sleeping tent, which sleeps 14. Although there are windows, they are kept shuttered all day. It’s a good place to sleep, but not particularly warm. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).

One thing which has been abundantly clear on this expedition is that if you want to do something that depends on the weather, be prepared to do it. The weather can shift very rapidly (especially if it’s permissive weather), so “I’ll just wait until later” often won’t cut it. If you see Big Ben and want a photograph of it, get your camera and shoot. There may not be another chance. This evening I didn’t immediately take a picture when there was a clear, starry sky. I at least saw the starry sky, but did not get the photograph. With only a bit more than a week to go, I hope I can still get that picture.

In the afternoon a few days ago, the weather cleared enough to get a view of Mawson Peak atop Big Ben. I quickly grabbed the camera, put on the telephoto lens, and got a few pictures of the summit. Indeed, there was a small plume indicating (at minimum) hydrothermal activity or venting, but possibly a small active lava flow.

Mawson Peak with a small plume indicating volcanic activity.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
Mawson Peak with a small plume indicating volcanic activity. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).

Heard Island’s mood changes with the weather, and the effect that has on the landscape can be quite striking. The picture at the top of this post and the one immediately below are taken in pretty similar places looking in similar directions. What a difference the weather makes!

Antenna Lake, Atlas Cove, Heard Island.  Rain fell fast enough to flood much of the low-lying volcanic sand plain near our camp.  We were glad not to have camped there, and the antennas still worked.  It looks quite other-worldly, with the dark, broken lava flows and fog concealing the mountain.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
Antenna Lake, Atlas Cove, Heard Island. Rain fell fast enough to flood much of the low-lying volcanic sand plain near our camp. We were glad not to have camped there, and the antennas still worked. It looks quite other-worldly, with the dark, broken lava flows and fog concealing the mountain. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
Camp seen on a rainy, dreary day typical of Heard Island.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
Camp seen on a rainy, dreary day typical of Heard Island. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).

Finally, the king penguins make tracks as they walk around on the wet sandy ground.

King penguin tracks in the sand of the nullarbor, Heard Island.  Each track is roughly 8 cm in length.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
King penguin tracks in the sand of the nullarbor, Heard Island. Each track is roughly 8 cm in length. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).

Pictures!

Gentoo penguins, surf, and glaciers at Corinthian Bay, Heard Island.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
Gentoo penguins, surf, and glaciers at Corinthian Bay, Heard Island. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).

Heard Island is a pretty magical and dramatic place. I’ve been very busy with my IT duties, radio duties, and general camp upkeep. However, I’ve managed to take a few pictures in spare moments, and the highlights are posted here.

First glimpses of the Laurens Peninsula, Heard Island, after twelve days at sea.  As this image was taken, our ship was being welcomed by large numbers of birds, particularly albatrosses.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
First glimpses of the Laurens Peninsula, Heard Island, after twelve days at sea. As this image was taken, our ship was being welcomed by large numbers of birds, particularly albatrosses. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
A Heard Island cormorant flies in front of the Laurens Peninsula, Heard Island.  A tall waterfall can be seen cascading down the cliff.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
A Heard Island cormorant flies in front of the Laurens Peninsula, Heard Island. A tall waterfall can be seen cascading down the cliff. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
A southern giant petrel, one of the more commonly seen birds over Atlas Cove.  This individual is a juvenile, with a wingspan nearing 2 meters.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
A southern giant petrel, one of the more commonly seen birds over Atlas Cove. This individual is a juvenile, with a wingspan nearing 2 meters. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
King penguins at Corinthian Bay, Heard Island, are caught in a very dusty squall.  High winds over the nullabor, a large, flat expanse of volcanic sand, bring lots of grit with them, and are strong enough to make walking difficult.  On the other side of the bay, glaciers flow down the flanks of Big Ben.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
King penguins at Corinthian Bay, Heard Island, are caught in a very dusty squall. High winds over the nullabor, a large, flat expanse of volcanic sand, bring lots of grit with them, and are strong enough to make walking difficult. On the other side of the bay, glaciers flow down the flanks of Big Ben. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
Big Ben seen in twilight from Atlas Cove.  On unusually clear nights such as this one, the summit of the volcano can be seen from sea level.  Under ordinary circumstances, the low clouds would be too thick to see up more than 1000-2000 feet.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
Big Ben seen in twilight from Atlas Cove. On unusually clear nights such as this one, the summit of the volcano can be seen from sea level. Under ordinary circumstances, the low clouds would be too thick to see up more than 1000-2000 feet. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).

Farewell, Cape Town!

HDT Airbeam tent being loaded onto the Braveheart.  The tent is also blocking a nice view of Table Mountain.  Image credit: VK0EK team.

We are in the final breakfast and boarding process for departing Cape Town. Above is a picture from yesterday, where all the inspected expedition gear was loaded onto the Braveheart.

Cape Town has been very nice. Our hotel is within an easy walk of the ship, and there are many shops nearby where we have acquired food, groceries, clothing, outdoor gear, and souvenirs. Weather has been quite warm (26 °C, 79 °F) with a breeze. The local Cape Town team has been extremely helpful and have made much of the project move more smoothly. Crew from the Braveheart have also been wonderful to work with, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them more in the next six weeks. As the ships were loading, a seal was playing in the harbor, gulls were flying around, and even a few terns were spotted.

As can be seen in the photo above, there is some interesting geology around Cape Town. Most noticeable is Table Mountain, which is primarily made up of the Table Mountain Sandstone. Closer to the hotel is Signal Hill, which has slates that have been tilted nearly vertical. We were able to see these up close yesterday evening after the ship was loaded and things were under control. It’s quite a view from up there (sorry, haven’t had time to process pics). For more on the geology of Cape Town, take a look at this post by Dr. Evelyn Mervine, who writes one of the AGU blogs.

Internet connectivity on the ship is likely to be minimal, but with luck I’ll be able to get a post or two up from Heard Island! More frequent news updates can be found at vk0ek.org.

Heading Out!

Ready for departure.  Image credit: Stuart Mitchell.
Ready for departure. Image credit: Stuart Mitchell.

After a long day of backpack tetris, I was able to fit just about everything on my list in. One shirt has to stay home, and the headphones coming with me aren’t my favorite—but they work. I even managed to find space for some M&Ms!

Now I’m all packed and departure for the airport is imminent. It’ll be a long series of flights to Cape Town, but the weather looks good at all airports along the way, so at least that shouldn’t be an issue.

Heard Island, here I come!

***

If you’re wondering about the weather on Heard Island, here’s a forecast. I’d take it with a big grain of salt, but it seems to have the general idea (cold, wet, windy).

Plan for Updates from the Field

Southeastern Heard Island in true color, February 20, 2016.  Image credit: data from NASA EO-1/ALI (public domain), processed by Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
Southeastern Heard Island in true color, February 20, 2016. Image credit: data from NASA EO-1/ALI (public domain), processed by Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).

For what I hope are obvious reasons, during the Heard Island Expedition posting around here could get infrequent or disappear entirely. I will try to get updates in when I can. Here’s the general plan for when and where to expect updates:

  • VK0EK.org will be maintained by our mission control team, and will be the best source of information. It is reasonable to expect they will be in contact with us at least daily.
  • We have a GPS tracker, which you can follow here.
  • My blog here will be updated as I am able to do so. I’ve been told that internet connectivity aboard the ship is extremely limited (few text-only emails), so don’t expect much March 10–20 and April 10–21. However, on Heard Island (est. March 21 to April 10) the situation should improve because we can aim antennas at the geostationary satellites from stable ground rather than a pitching and rolling ship.
  • This post is going to be pinned to the top of the front page, so you will need to scroll down for updates.
  • I may post things to Twitter (@i_rockhopper), but I doubt it will see much use beyond linking back here.

Here are a few reading suggestions in case you’d like some additional Heard Island flavor while I’m gone:

  • Fourteen Men by Arthur Scholes. It’s an account of the 1947-1948 Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition to Heard Island, which established many of the scientific baselines from which changes are measured on the island. I enjoyed it, and it was available at my local (large city) library. The book is written for a general audience.
  • Heard Island: Southern Ocean Sentinel, Ken Green and Eric Woehler, eds. (2006). This book has the latest research on Heard Island. It is written for a scientific audience, and is effectively a collection of research papers or review articles. The print run was small, and your local library probably doesn’t have it. However, I ordered a copy from a bookstore in Australia, and I’ve found it an invaluable resource for preparing for this expedition.
  • Heard Island 1986-1987 Scientific Expedition Report, including significant geologic and Earth science research. Open Access
  • Heard Island 1987-1988 Scientific Expedition Report, including excellent hand-drawn maps raw population counts for several species of birds, and other great early-stage science! Open Access