Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Surprisingly and frustratingly the voyage is still continuing. But I refuse to title this entry in my diary at ‘ANTARCTICA ON 11.04.2008. I know Chitra will smile mischievously and say something deeply piercing, but I shall take the risk of subjecting myself to that. It is 11 in the morning, and I have just returned to my room from the deck, no land yet to be sighted. The voyage is still continuing! So annoying! For last few days when we all were playing the guessing game of when we would see the Goa shoreline, some more knowledgeable amongst us had confidently said that by 6 pm on the 10th April our mobiles would start getting the signals confirming that we were only two hours away from the Goa shoreline and by 6 am next morning we should be able to dock since the ship is not guided to the shore during night time; and hopefully we would touch our dear ‘mathrabhoomi’ by ten am. But, alas, it did not happen. By no stretch of imagination we are anywhere near the Antarctica, however, the unpredictability of Antarctica continues to cling to us and influence each and every decision of ours. Last night at about 9 pm, rumour spread in the dinning lounge that mobiles had started getting signals. Abondoning the party, people left their Scotch on the table to join the excitement on the deck. I rushed to my room climbing all the way to the top floor to fetch my mobile. But it all proved to be a hoax; there were no signals yet. What was surprising that the ship was standstill on the seas which appeared totally still. I had seen her once grinding to a halt in the pack ice on our return journey from the Larsemann Hill, but there was no pack ice here. Next morning we would know that one engine had developed some snag and while repair was being undertaken, the strong current had pushed back the ship by three nautical miles.
Since this morning I am restless. I could manage only a few hours of sleep last night, and have been awake again since 4:00 in the morning. I try for some time to get back to sleep, and then leave the room at five to have some tea. I come out on the deck, the ship is sailing faster as if to compensate for the loss of three hours last night. There are still some stars visible in the sky. The wind is warm and humid, unlike any of which I had been enjoying all these past days. No birds or dolphins to be sighted. The tea tastes tasteless. I retire to my room. I am over with most of my packing. In last two days I have gone through print edition of most of my mails, and trashed them. I am now reading Chitra’s mails of last two months. How biting are her words! What Ishu says as her ‘wit or dry wit’, is sheer stabbing: “vain you have been all along; insufferable to live with a celebrity; don’t count on us, just count your fan mail; come by the slowest train, or better, just walk to extend your voyage; you have an MBA in remote management”
I do not have appetite for any breakfast. I make a strong cup of coffee for myself, but do not enjoy it. There is some activity on the deck, everyone out there has a mobile in his hand, however no luck so far. I join the group walking from fauxel, the frontmost area, to the stern, the last open space of the ship on the back, to find the vintage point to receive the signal. Very anxious moments indeed. Then at 11:30, someone shrieks that his mobile is getting a strong signal. Hurray, my mobile does not fail me. I scurry for a spot which gives me strongest signal. After five months of not using my mobile, I fiddle with its keys. I try Chitra’s mobile and in my first attempt it connects. It is reassuring talking to her, it is like a balm to my frayed nerves.
Monday, April 28, 2008
(V R Manchem was my partner during my long walks at Maitri. He too followed the story of Shiv and Uma and their family closely with me - Sudhir)
On the night of 13th March, the lake was frozen completely. One part of the frozen lake is like glass now, while the other is like waves frozen in motion. The young skua is now flying very well. It exhibits great patience, perseverance, and high spirit in following his lessons of flying. It spends most of its time on the frozen part of lake. The parent skuas sit on land watching it. They must be feeling proud of its getting ready for the long journey ahead. Even during high winds when the parents are under the shelter of the rocks, it is out in the open like a mischievous child. At the wind speed of 60 knots (100 kmph) per hour, it is not only out of the shelter, but defies the storm by flying against the wind direction. From the window of my lab, I would watch its concentration, devotion and interest to develop strength and skill to fly with or against the wind. Sometimes, it appeared as if the wind was blowing at greater speed just to break the vanity of the novice flyer. However, it could not; the young one would flutter and flutter at one point but would not come down. One more pair of skua has come here and is developing friendship with the family. Since the chick is almost fully grown, its parents do not feel threatened any more from any intruder. Very frequently all five fly together, playing and chasing each other and building up on their stamina. They may fly together as a group to their distant destination. The day may come sooner for their departure. I shall feel sad on their going away. It has been a wonderful experience over last few months watching them right from their days of courtship in November to their journey of nest building, laying of eggs, hatching of chicks and then seeing the chick grow. I wonder if the family would miss me or remember me. They must have seen me practically everyday peering towards them from behind some rock.
I know they have to go; they perhaps have a promise to keep. I shall remain here to face the polar nights and long winters. That they will surely come back next November will certainly help me withstand the Antarctic winter.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Antarctica was a voyage that I enjoyed so much; every day, and every moment of it. Talking to you people through this blog and reading your comments was a very novel experience. I hope we shall continue to interact and be in touch. Meanwhile, if you have interesting experiences, do share with us all through this blog.
Friday, April 11, 2008
By latitude, we have crossed Kanya Kumari, but can not see the shore line as we are quite deep into the Arabian Sea. Last night some ships were sighted.
I must do cleaning of the hard copies of lot of mails, then get going with the packing.
Appending one more story on Equator.
The Amazons: the Story of Women Warriors
The islands ruled by women, with mountains of solid silver, where strangers were eaten almost raw after being hung out, upside down, to ripen in the sun, and where crayfish emerging from the surf were turned to stone as soon as they touched dry sand.
In Greek language, the word ‘Amazon’ means, she who is without a breast.
In April1542, Francisco de Orellana, the Spaniard from Spanish colony of Quito, led an expedition to find Land of Cinnamon, the most profitable spice those days. In the land of Paguana, after they sailed past the mouth of a broad and powerful tributary with water that ran black as ink, they landed at a village where they saw something absolutely worth seeing: a tree trunk some three yards across, upon which had been carved a city surrounded by walls, supported by two jaguars. The courteous natives explained that this was a sacred symbol dedicated to a race of women warriors to whom the village paid a tribute in the form of parrot feathers and palm fronds to use as roof thatching.
Subsequently, the Spaniards found themselves surrounded by canoes loaded with warriors. The Indio warriors, midway through the battle, called for help from the Amazons, their mistresses. A dozen of women warriors came to their assistance, fighting as if they were in command.
According to Carvajal, “These women are very white and tall, and have hair very long and braided and wound about the head, and they are very robust and go about naked, but with their privy parts covered, with their bows and arrows in their hands, each woman doing as much fighting as ten Indian men, and indeed there was one woman among those who shot an arrow a span deep into one of the brigantines, and others less deep, so that our brigantines soon looked like porcupines.”
The Amazons lived, without men, in some seventy villages. Their houses were made of stone, and they had furnishings of gold and silver, they worshipped idols made of gold and silver, they wore jewelry made of gold and silver, they ate off of dishes of gold and silver.
“These women would couple with men from time to time, and when the desire took them, they would assemble a large force and would set off to wage war against a powerful lord who resided not far away. They would carry off men and hold them captive in their own land as long as they wished, using them to satisfy their desires. When they found that they were pregnant, they would send them back to their villages without hurting them in any way. Later, when they gave birth, if the babies were male they would kill them, and send the bodies back to their fathers. If the babies were females, they reared them with great solemnity and taught them the art of war.” (Descubrimiento del Rio de la Amazons by Gasper de Carvajal)
Carvajal, a learned man, added that these women should not technically be called Amazons because, though they did fight with bows and arrows, they did not cut off a breast to use them more efficiently, “and in Greek language, the word ‘Amazon’ means, she who is without a breast.”
At the end of August, 1542, Orellana’s two brigantines reached the mouth of that infinite river that the Portuguese had previously called the Maranhao. From that day on, it would be known as Rio de las Amazonas, literally River of the Amazons – the Amazon River.
Bernard O’Brien, an Irish nobleman in the search of El Dorado in 1620,
claims to have met with a woman chieftain in a city on an island where there may have been gold. He insisted later that he had seen decisive proof that he had visited the legendary Amazons: during his stay, he had seen only women; there was not a man to be seen. Moreover, those women had “vestigial right breast, not much bigger than that of a man, artificially shrunken in order to shoot better with bow and arrow. Their left breasts, in contrast, were entirely normal, like the breasts of European women.” His document still remains in the files of General Archives of the Indies, in Seville where one can read an account of an Irishman who lived among the mythical cunantensecuima, the “women without husbands”, as the natives called them.
This merging of the legend of the Amazon women warriors and the city of El Dorado is a saga of fruitless trekking and quests after phantoms that marked a full century of South American exploration.
(Source: Latitude Zero by Gianni Guadalupi and Antony Shugaar)
The Story of El Dorado: the Golden One
The tales of Equator often seem to involve obsessive quests. One of the most amazing has been the South American saga for the kingdom of El Dorado, the Golden One, who was said to live in a city of gold set on a lake that glowed each morning in a second sunrise that rivaled the real sunrise in glory and intensity. One after another great explorers of 16th and early 17th centuries chased after El Dorado, a name that has become synonymous with vast and illusory wealth.
In the 16th century when the Spaniards who had already plundered the astounding rich coffers of Peru were ready and willing to believe that all of the rest of the South American continent was one vast treasure chest. Word had filtered back that east of the mountains there lay a kingdom whose ruler was so fabulously rich that the Inca emperors had only been a clan of mendicants in comparison. This king was literally covered with gold from head to foot, because a golden powder was scattered over him every morning, adhering to his skin with an aromatic resin. Each night, he would wash off the golden covering in waters of a lake. He would be clad from head to foot again in gold the next morning. The entire kingdom was worthy of the king’s apparel: El Dorado, the Golden One, as the Spanish called this fabled king, lived glittering in the midst of a capital – called Manoa – filled with metal palaces. The walls of the city of Manoa were sheathed in slabs of gold, it was said. At sunrise, the gold would reflect its light so brightly that the entire island glowed in the middle of the lake, appearing to be a second sun rising from the lake waters. Temples and palaces were all sheathed in gold, inside and out. The poor covered the walls of their houses with mere liver. The cobblestones in the streets were diamond; the bed of the lake was carpeted with the pearls.
(Source: Latitude Zero by Gianni Guadalupi and Antony Shugaar)
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
LATITUDE ZERO – Tales of the Equator
Gianni Guadalupi and Antony Shugaar
Stories of great explorers and eccentrics who braved the exotic equatorial regions of the Earth
EQUATOR – ANCIENT’S UNDERSTANDING
The history of the world has almost always been written from a point of view situated around forty-five degrees north latitude. Consider a territory bounded on the south by Cairo (thirty nine degrees north latitude) and on the north by Saint Petersburg (sixty degrees north latitude), we are looking at the stage on which Western civilization has developed. London lies just above fifty-one degrees, Paris is around forty-nine degrees and Rome stands at forty-two degrees north latitude. Asia lies a little further south. North America lies at nearly the same latitude as Asia.
The band of territory between the 30 and 60 degrees north latitude may not have a monopoly on the world’s history, but it has had a virtual monopoly on the world’s history writing. Most of the Earth’s publishers, broadcasters, universities and libraries look on the world from this relatively narrow swath of territory. Latitude, then, is destiny.
Great stories have been told in recent years about the exploration of the rooftops of the world (South and North Poles). But the tales of the Equator have largely been told piecemeal or overlooked entirely.
The Equator is the largest man made object on Earth. The imaginary line drawn along latitude Zero is longer than any other straight line that can be drawn on the Earth’s surface. It is the fastest moving point on the Earth, gets more sunlight than any other point, and the equatorial sun stands still, straight overhead.
To the people of the ancient world things that we take for granted, like sky, sun, or changing seasons, were much more substantial. For us, for example, cerulean might be an attractive designer colour; however, for the ancient world cerulean was the colour of the sky reflected on the surface of the sea. For them, sky and sea were both vital and immediate factors in life.
In waterfront taverns, tales of all kinds are told of adventures and misadventures of all kinds. Islands of serpents; or of men with forked tongue speaking with two different persons at the same time; or the island of the rukh bird whose egg was as large as the dome of a mosque; another island was inhabited by the karkadann which could spear an elephant on its horn; or another island which concealed the copper urns into which Solomon, the wisest man on Earth and who loved Queen Sheba, had sealed the evil spirits.
The Greek philosopher Eratosthenes compared the noonday shadow at Alexandria and Aswan, and from the difference he was able to calculate the curve of the Earth between those two points.
People of the ancient world had a number of amusing and astonishing understanding of the world, however, they also got a lot things right. They were incredibly brave people and took great and arduous journeys to explore the world without the advantage of mechanized boats and ships or telecommunication satellites, or GPS.
For some humility and understanding: a squad of U.S. fighter jets using computer-guided navigation crossed the Equator not too many years ago, flying in perfect formation, wingtip to wingtip, autopilot engaged. As they crossed Latitude Zero, their navigational systems flipped them over, still in perfect formation. Half a dozen pilots hung head down, safe and sound, but frightened and quite confused.
Emerald Sea has a huge hold (basement storage) of 30 by 15 meters which has been vacant now after the containers were removed at the Maitri. The wind has been very behaving very well since we left Cape Town and there was no pitching or rolling. However, a sea swell coming from some distance away would occasionally make it mildly roll and pitch. With a cricket bat and a tennis ball being handy, the members climbed down the ladder into the hold for Fifteen-15 matches. The rules were framed, but the application of rules being dynamic, they kept on changing. I was member of the Sea Lion team. We narrowly lost the first match. After lunch break, we were soundly thrashed in the second match. However, we could narrow the gap in the third match. Players complained of poor lights many a time when they missed on a catch or misfielded, but light conditions were same for both the teams. The ball soon lost its colour and became dark which also added to the poor light conditions. The rolling and pitching, quite infrequent though, added to the woos of fielding when a fieldsman who was moving forward to catch a ball, suddenly and involuntarily froze in his steps because the ship had moved in the opposite direction. There were many instances of heated arguments between the two teams, but the decisions of the umpires prevailed. These remained topics of discussion even after the day’s play was called off.
On return we found that the revised time to sail was now 5 pm. Finally she left at 6 pm, after a delay of 10 hours. So unpredictability of the journey did not cease to exist with crossing of the Antarctic circle.
Lifting the anchor and sailing away (‘cast away’ is the appropriate term) from the port is no ordinary event. It is quite a ritualistic affair to prevent any untoward event during this period. Port designates a person, Pilot, to come aboard. The ship can not sail until he comes. Two tug-boats pull her to cast away from the port land till a point from where she can turn and move freely. Then the Pilot, who supervises all this from the bridge (navigation deck), comes down and through the ladder, suspended from the ship, rides away in his pilot boat.
For dinner, we had fresh vegetable for salad and veggie. I suggested to make aloo-gobhi differently by stir-frying and putting just some salt (white as well as black) and black pepper only. The idea was accepted, Surjeet also sprinkled some chaat masala. We got compliments. The fresh vegetables had made all the difference.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Sunday, April 6, 2008
THE SEALS: MAMMALS ADAPTED FOR THE COLDEST CONTINENT
The Antarctic coast as well as pack ice of the Antarctic Ocean is home to five species of seals. Seals are mammals and do not have external ears. There are five species of seals found in Antarctica: Weddell, Ross, leopard, crab-eater and elephant seals. Though the seals spend most of their lives in water and collect their food from water, they are not entirely aquatic animals like whales. From the surface of water, they mostly collect planktons, fish, squids, and birds including penguins.
Weddell seals were the most common variety that I encountered in my sea voyage towards the Larsemann Hills lying mostly singly on the pack ice. They must be hunting penguins there as I saw many times marks of blood all over a piece of pack ice.
Seals appear clumsy and lazy on ice or land, but are extremely active and agile in water, swimming, diving, rolling, and turning with ease. In winter, they live below the frozen surface under water, and breathe through the holes. Males defend their breathing holes from other males but allow a small group of females to use such holes. Such groups of females then become members of a male’s harem. The pups are born in September and measure much as half of the mother’s length at 25 kg. Pup grows quickly on mother’s milk containing 60% fat and in 6 weeks weighs double of birth weight.
Killer whales and leopard seals are the main predators of seals. Despite their being agile swimmers, they do not have a chance against a pack of killer whales in the water.
Penguins evolved as sea birds of a much broader temperate climate about 60 million years ago. As circumpolar regions grew colder, they spread and diversified. Their adaptation for cold is simple. Dense overall plumage, each feather overlapping its neighbours combines with an underbelt of woolly down to keep out cold air, wind and water. Thick layer of fat provides additional insulation. Emperor and Adelie penguins have slightly longer plumage for their size, with shorter extremities, flippers, legs and head to prevent heat loss. Penguins are superb swimmers. Their feet and tail combine to form a rudder, and flippers become powerful propellers on either side. Most species feed on krill (shrimp like creatures). EMPEROR PENGUINS The largest of penguins reach a height of 1 meter. The adult weighs upto 30 kg. Emperors are truly Antarctican of all birds. It is characterized by black cap, blue grey neck with ear patches brilliant orange. Breast is lemon yellow and feet are black. These penguins can dive upto 250 meters and are the fastest of swimmers among all penguins reaching 40 kmph. Only leopard seal can match that speed to which emperor penguins can become its prey. There are only about two dozens colonies scattered around the continent with a population of 250,000 breeding birds.Emperors assemble early autumn in scattered bays around the coast to breed. They breed from late March to early May in colonies in the shelter of icebergs and coastal ice cliffs. They do not build any nest. The female lays single egg which is held by the male on its feet. Incubation lasts for 60 days.The male remains on the ice incubating a single egg through the winter while the female returns to the sea. ADELIE PENGUINS Adelie penguins are about 70 cm and weigh only 5.5 kg. They spend their winters on pack ice where temperature is higher than the land. Early spring they return to South and head towards their colonies of previous years (rookery) navigating through the Sun. Males arrive first in late October, where they return to their previous nests and refurbish it. Females arrive a few days later; after joining their mates of previous years they help to rebuild and defend their pebble nests. The female lays two eggs in the first or second week of November, and return to the sea for 8-15 days leaving males to incubate. Separated from the sea and food, males have already starved for 2-3 weeks during the nest building and courtship. A further spell without food during the first few weeks of incubation watch in biting cold of spring takes them to the physiological limits set by fat reserve. By the time female returns, the male has already lost half of its weight. By mid-November, the sea ice is usually dispersing and food is available closer to the colonies. For next 3-4 weeks of incubation, the parents alternate at intervals of 2-3 days bringing back fish and planktons. Often it is not possible for the parents to bring enough food for both the chicks. If they divide food equally between both the chicks, none will survive. The parents select the chick which has a better chance of surviving the harsh climate of Antarctica. The parent makes the chick run after it for food. The chick which wins the race earns the food. The weakling gradually starves and dies through the process of natural selection. After brooding for 4 weeks, the parents return with their chicks to the sea.The penguins that we have seen around Maitri in January and February singly or in small groups of 2-5 are the ones that have failed to return to the sea. They will gradually become too weak starving and fall easy prey to the skua.
The largest of the Antarctic petrels are albatrosses. Albatrosses are large birds with wing spans of two meters in smaller species and upto 3 meters in larger ones. They are superbly insulated against the very low temperatures of Antarctica. Breeding mainly on the wind blown slopes of tussocks grasslands north of limits of pack ice, wandering albatrosses roam freely throughout the westerly winds, soaring and swooping in effortless gliding flight. Albatrosses feed mainly by scanning the water and gobbling fish, squids and planktons from the surface. They even enter penguin colonies and gobble up unwary chicks, and avidly clean up carcasses of whales and seals afloat and ashore. By breeding overland in springs and spending wintering over the sea, they make the best possible use of their uncompromising environment, avoiding the very low temperatures and thick snow of the land in winter, and using the brief summer and autumn to rear their slow growing chicks when the food is most plentiful in the sea.
At a superstore, Pick & Pay, I bought some chocolates and totally forgot about tooth paste. I wanted to buy the book that I wrote about, but found it quite expensive at 219 rand (Rs 1500). In hard cover, it looked beautiful and paperback was not available. We went around the Table Top Mountain for a long beautiful drive to reach a ferry point for going to Seal Island. The ticket for ferry was expensive and almost no one in our group was interested, but Ramakrishna agreed for this 1 hour trip. This was a small island and must be having some kind of record to have more than six thousand seals. It was amazing with seals of all sizes and age groups. Then I made the phone calls. In 20 rand phone card, I talked to Chitra, Jiji, Babuji, Gargi and Bose auntie. Bhabhi was not at home. Auntie’s memory for places and persons is remarkable, like Naniji; she immediately asked me if I had been to the Table Top mountain. I do not think she ever visited South Africa.
In the evening Mr Beg had organized dinner at an Indian restaurant in Water Front shopping mall. No prizes for guessing the name of the restaurant: Jewel of India. Some people from the local Indian Consulate office were invited. It served such a lousy food. I was looking for some fresh green vegetables and fruits. It served the most unimaginative food, nothing different from, or may be worse, what we had been eating for last four months: dal makhani, chholey, and aloo-paneer followed by vanilla ice cream. I am sure going to tell Mr Beg that a salad and fruit bar would have been much more welcome. But then, everyone does not think like me. When people get free booze, they are willing to accept any kind of food. It is amazing to see people’s capacity to drink when it is free, and they can have it everyday. I refrained from any alcohol this evening.
The only good thing about the dinner was that we were being served on the table and the table or the hall was totally stationery. Heheh :)
Thursday, April 3, 2008
We all decide to host a farewell party to the crew of the ‘Helicopter New Zealand’, Lee, Phil and Jim. They have been very friendly with all the team members and have done excellent job in ferrying load and people at Maitri as well as Larsemann Hills. They all have developed taste for Indian food and dessert. Earlier India perhaps did not figure in their scheme of places to visit, but now they think seriously about it.
The party is fixed at 6 pm on 23rd March on the open deck. Russians are also invited. Though a number of snacks are being prepared, emphasis is on the drinks. Whiskey, beer, wine are being brought out from the stores, and of course, there are fruit juice and other soft beverages. I go out in knickers and t-shirt. Some people are in their formal attire with tie on. I know for sure that the guests will come in shorts. After some time I find the wind getting colder and realize that I shall feel uncomfortable for next 3 hours in my present dress. I come back to my room and change into trousers and full sleeve warmer. People are busy getting their drinks and forming their usual groups, very predictable. At the bar I ask for red wine, but am curtly told that wine is for them. Who they? I must have rubbed the barman (Indian guy only) wrong way, and he got his chance. I settle for a beer.
I strike a conversation with Lee and Jim. I ask them what they found most interesting about Antarctica. Lee answers since he is here for the first time. Jim has come six times before and Phil three times. Lee has done lot of flying on the snow, ice and glaciers elsewhere, but he found icebergs in the Antarctic Ocean amazing. Penguins were very interesting to watch and photograph. Antarctica also gave him a chance to work together with Indian people and know a little bit about the Indian culture. I also want to know what distressed him most about Antarctica. Inspite of all its beauty, lack of greenery at such a huge continent is very depressing. I ask him what irritated him most about the Indians. He hesitates for a moment, but beer gets better of him. What annoyed him most as pilot about the Indians was nodding their heads in affirmation when their subsequent behaviour would clearly show that they didn’t understood a thing. He would explain many times the safety instructions to observe while boarding the chopper or disembarking, but they would do the same mistakes again and again. He also did not understand why they were so keen in crowding around the parked but running chopper. Such a chopper could be very dangerous. More helicopter accidents occur on the ground by its running blade than while airborne. Unlike aeroplanes. NK has had a drink too many. He is going around kissing everyone. Lee wonders about his sexual preferences. But next moment I see him getting terrified. NK is advancing towards him with outstretched hands. Lee runs and NK follows him closely shouting to stop. But Lee is younger and very agile, manages to escape. Miss N too has had her share of drinks. Indians wish to talk to her, touch her and get photographed with their arms around her. She doesn’t mind. Some of her compatriots are also enjoying. One of them wishes to have photo carrying her into his arms. She willingly obliges. Some of our guys too get bolder and do the same. Many cameras click simultaneously. Later in the evening, AL gets some sense into his head. He wants people to delete his photo from their cameras. Some oblige, some tease him and threaten to email it to his wife. He is laughing, but petrified too. I suggest him that he should tell his wife that he was provoked into a bet and he did it to win the bet. He cheers up, but is still not comfortable. Russians are real alcohol guzzlers. They top their whiskey not with water or soda, but with whiskey only. And they drink and drink. Remarkably they remain quite restrained and steady. Total alcohol consumed in four hours by 50 people: 15 bottles of whiskey, 36 cans of beer, and two bottles of wine.
India is now establishing its third station at Larsemann Hills. The present expedition, 27th IAE, was flagged off from Goa in December 2007 and reached Larsemann Hills on 24th February, 2008 after spending 6 weeks at Maitri where it established India’s first Earth station.
The leader of the wintering team at Maitri of the 27th IAE is Mr Arun Chaturvedi, while the leader of the Indian expedition to Larsemann Hills is Mr Ajay Dhar. Both the leaders are veterans of many expeditions to Antarctica. The current objective of the Expedition to Larsemann Hills was to carry out a detailed survey of the area for establishing its station, Bharti, on coordinates of latitude of 69 degrees 10 min to 69 degrees 14 min South and longitude of 76 degrees 24 min to 76 degrees 25 min East.
This Time Capsule is being lowered in the Indian Ocean from the ship, Emerald Sea by the team of the Indian Expedition to Larsemann Hills on 23rd March, 2008, a sunny and bright day, with following coordinates:
Time: 8 am GMT (UTC)
Longitude: 36 degrees 27.18 min South
Longitude: 24 degrees 39.38 min East
Wind: 17 knots
Temp: 20 degrees C
Ship’s speed: 12.2 knots
The 27th Indian Antarctic Expedition will have many achievements to its credit, for example, installation of Earth Station, detailed survey of Larsemann Hills in record time, and others. However, one of the major highlights of the 27th Indian Antarctica Expedition is the inclusion of number of young scientists in its summer as well as winter teams. Out of a total of 50 scientists (in summer and winter teams combined) in the 27th IAE, 8 scientists are 32 years or younger. The youngest is just 23 years in age. Many of them are still at the universities engaged in their doctoral research programme.
Geological Survey of India (GSI) is one of the oldest organizations in India engaged in surveys. It is doing pioneering work in Antarctica since the inception of India’s Antarctic programme and has given many distinguished scientists and expedition leaders to Antarctic expeditions. The present 27th IAE is fortunate in having Mr Arun Chaturvedi as its leader who is spending his fourth winter in Antarctica and his third as the leader of the team. Mr Chaturvedi is leading a team of five scientists from GSI of whom two are just 32 years in age. Ashit Kumar Swain studied, during the Austral summer phase of 24 hours daylight, the characteristics of the shear zones exposed in length and breadth of Schirmacher region and their implications in the evolution of this area. He also monitored the movement of the Dakshin Gangotri glacier snout to study the impact of global warming on glaciers. During the austral winter phase at Maitri, he plans to utilize the ground penetrating radar (GPR) for the measurement of water column depths, snow-ice interface and bed rock depth in different lakes of Schirmacher region. This study will be helpful in carrying out further research work on the lakes and finding a safe passage for convoy route to transport fuel, food and all other necessary material from India bay shelf region to Maitri station. Amit Mondal spending summer months at Maitri and Larsemann Hills studied the crustal evolutionary history of Larsemann Hills area, East Antarctica and the Eastern Ghats (India). The geology of Larsemann Hills is particularly relevant in Indian context to correlate it with Eastern Ghats. As per the Gondwanaland continent theory, the Eastern Ghats area in India was joined with Larsemann Hills before the supercontinent broke into different land masses.
Indian Institute of Geomagnetism is another institute in India which is closely associated with Antarctic expeditions and has given many scientists and leaders towards this endeavor. Mr Ajay Dhar, a senior scientist at the IIG, is one of the stalwarts of India having multiple exposures in Antarctica. He has spent two winters (one as Leader) and several summer seasons here. As a member of the 27th IAE, he is the leader of Larsemann Hills expedition where India is building its third station. Under his guidance, Anand Kumar Singh, Research Fellow at the IIG is monitoring geomagnetic variations and atmospheric measurements, with the help of continuous operation of GPS receiver, like total electron content (TEC), water vapour content and meteorological parameters. The newly coming up Indian station in the Larsemann Hills (69.20 degrees South, 76.40 degree East) is situated in the auroral zone while the present station, Maitri (70.45 degrees south, 11.45 degrees east) in Schirmacher Oasis lies in sub-auroral zone. The simultaneous geomagnetism measurements at Larsemann Hills and Maitri will be helpful in predicting space weather in future. IIG completed the ground work for installing an Imaging Riometer at Maitri during this expedition, which will be installed during the 28th IAE (2008-09). The instrument will provide information on layer absorption; and along with Magnetometers will also provide information on the physical processes taking place in deep magnetosphere.
Jai Prakash Chaubey, Research Fellow at Space Physics Lab, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (ISRO) is studying the land based anthropogenic impact of coarse particles on Antarctic shelf. These aerosols particles have a great impact on climate (global warming) and influence the biological activities. This study aims to determine the physical and chemical characteristics of these aerosols with the help of instruments, which are able to give mass, size and chemical composition of the particles of Antarctic environment.
Pramod Kumar, Research Fellow at the Department of Limnology, Barkatullah University, Bhopal is comparing the impact of Anthropogenic Activities on Flora and Fauna of Antarctic and High Altitude Himalayan Lakes of Ladakh. Limnology is the branch of science that studies the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of fresh water or inland water. The study will attempt to answer the complex question whether anthropogenic activities in these areas lead to any pollution load or not. The study will also compare the past and present environment of Antarctic and Himalayan regions by studying the floral and faunal biodiversity of these areas.
Purushottam Bhawre from the National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi is wintering at Maitri to investigate the magnetospheric-ionospheric coupling between high and low latitude related to space weather events during International Polar Year. This study is significant since ionosphere plays an important role for long distance HF communications as well as affects the satellite communication and navigation services especially in high and equatorial latitudes.
Sudipta Sasmal, Centre for Space Physics, Kolkata is studying the global tectonic plate movements and earthquake precursory studies. The instruments/antennas will constantly monitor the signals from VLF stations throughout the world and data will be analyzed and stored in the data banks. The significance of the present work is that during the last few days preceding a major earthquake, when the tectonic plates begin to crack and micro-electric discharge ionizes the lower part of the ionosphere surrounding the earthquake preparation zone, the modulation of the signals has already started taking place. Thus, this procedure gives warning several days ahead of time as opposed to only a few hours in other warning methods. Thus it will be possible to warn the public well in time for earthquakes as well as for Tsunami.
Rudra Pratap Singh, Department of Environmental Sciences, Dr R.M.L. Avadh University, Faizabad will study the influence of Ultraviolet-B radiation on survivorship and pigment concentration of flora over Schirmacher Oasis in Antarctica. The study is important in view of the increasing global concern of ozone depletion which is believed to have been reduced up to 50% over Antarctica over last two decades. Thus, a significant amount of harmful UV-B radiation is entering the atmosphere at a higher intensity. The organisms which are not accustomed to this high level of UV radiation will be adversely affected suppressing their photoautotrophic productions. If the primary producers are threatened it will be difficult for the survival of higher trophic level organisms.
Soumya Biswas, Visva Bharati, West Bengal is involved in the assessment of microbial biodiversity of Antarctic soil and its implications for future. Conservation of biodiversity as a lone issue may not sound profitable but biodiversity is the source from where the important exploitable organisms may come. The project intends to accomplish the primary observation to discover that fermentation process, precursor of a useful product, is taking place within a microorganism. Fermentation processes obtain most of the exploitable biotechnological microbial products.
The enthusiasm and work of these young people is exemplary, weathering long working hours in biting and freezing temperatures and piercing winds. It is highly encouraging and reassuring that India’s scientific future is in safe hands.
(Acknowledgement: Mr Ajay Dhar, Leader, 27th Indian Scientific Expedition to Larsemann Hills)
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
On 14th March I completed four months in Antarctica below 60 degrees South. Once we cross this latitude we are no longer in Antarctica.
How should I look at the last four months: an achievement, a dream fulfilled, another name on the list of places that I have visited, or an adventure?
To be honest, coming to Antarctica is no longer an adventure, not the way I have come here. Adventure it was when great explorers like Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen came here taking all the risks, ready to save lives and willing to sacrifice own life. However, since then the world has changed far too much. Earlier, coming to Antarctica was itself an adventure. Now people have to devise means to discover adventure and set records in Antarctica by doing things no one has done before. For example, skiing all the way to the South Pole, or using kites to reach South Pole, or being the youngest to reach there, or to be the first to cross the Trans-Antarctic Mountains. Current advances in travel, communications, computers and information technology have made things far too easier for someone like me to come here.
What was my contribution in making my visit to Antarctica possible? Well, I only had to submit a reasonably viable scientific project to NCAOR to be undertaken at the Antarctica. After that it was all the efforts of the Logistics team of NCAOR to plan entire visit for me and the rest of the group. My travel both ways, coming to Antarctica by air and returning by sea, was taken care of by the Logistics team. At Maitri we all got heated cabins to stay; had the luxury of 24 hour hot and cold water supply; round the clock power supply; email and telephone facilities; and choice and variety of food items. We had assistance of huge ice class ship, Ilyushin cargo plane, helicopters, and snow vehicles to assist us in all our needs and make life far too simple for us in Antarctica. If anything was lacking it could be flown from Cape Town during the summer months when Ilyushin flights were operational.
I have truly found Antarctica an amazing place. It is unique in all its characteristics, too numerous to mention here. The temperatures, snow and ice, freezing of ocean, glaciers and icebergs of Antarctica are unparallel. The adaptation of wild life, penguins and seals for example, to survive here is unique. However, what I will remember the most later will be the time I spent with members in Antarctica when they shared their experiences, frustrations, achievements, aspirations, and dreams.
I have gained immensely by coming to Antarctica in many ways besides knowledge or experiences. I could not have been richer elsewhere. I think it has widened my horizon in relation to time and space. Difficult to express, but is it like looking at the whole existence of Mankind as inconsequential?
The ship is moving forward at snail’s speed with its rolling and pitching. In the morning the sea had become very rough with very high wind speed. A number of people are obviously seasick but trying to keep a brave front. For breakfast not more than 20 came; for lunch the attendance was a little better. However, for dinner again the attendance was thin. Consumption of diet has also decreased. People try to hide their being seasick when they know it fully well that it is natural to have seasickness. You meet them in the corridors and they look as if they have just seen a ghost. When you ask them their welfare, you can easily see their brave effort in smiling and hiding their unpleasantness. They may be feeling suicidal or wishing for making a euthanasia plea, but still they would respond that they are feeling on top of world. There is no foolproof mantra to combat the seasickness. At very rough sea, everyone would experience it till one gets acclimatized. One should not try to hide the fact of being seasick; no shame or embarrassment in acknowledging it. Do not isolate yourself. Do not hide yourself in the room trying to read a book. Be physically active as much as possible. I keep on climbing up or down the stairs for no other purpose. People also recommend looking at the waves, the very reason for being sick, to condition the brain with the movements. Finally, there are medicines that can be helpful.
The rolling ship makes the gait quite unsteady. We have to walk taking frequent support of the wall or the railings. Carrying a food plate from the serving bowls to the dinning table is a big balancing challenge. I acted like a tipsy in the lounge amusing everybody there.
I guess that the experience of being seasick while going from Indian bay to the Larsemann Hills conditioned my vestibular apparatus; I haven’t felt sick though the sea is experiencing more rolling and pitching.
People do not head off to Antarctica to avoid risk; they go there because risk is exactly what they seek.
In last 100 years, Antarctica has not changed much; our own world has advanced at a frightening pace. Technological developments in air travel and computers have compacted everything, diminishing the last great wildernesses. Suddenly, the planet Earth is a much smaller place. For good or bad, this fact enables people like me, who are fragile and unadventurous in comparison, to follow in the footsteps of great explorers and reach for the same goal. We are product of that advance and piggyback off it to our advantage.
“…but all in not the Pole. Man can only do his best…Better to be a live donkey than a dead lion.”
Shackleton in a letter to his wife on turning back his Nimrod Expedition 93 miles short of 90 degree South
“It is the sad part of expedition of this kind that one systematically kills all better feelings, until only hard-hearted egoism remains.”
Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian explorers, 1988
“Antarctic’s terrible interior tries to turn men into its own image – frozen!”
Will Steger, Trans-Antarctic explorer
“We had suffered, starved, and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at the glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole. We had seen God in his splendours, heard the text nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man”
Shackleton’s account of the Endurance expedition
“Just by taking a couple of paces, a person could walk round the world. They would cross every time zone on the planet, traverse every line of longitude. This was the end point, the place where everything converged.”
Patrick Woodhead; British explorer and author
“There is very little that is different from the awful monotony of the past few days. Great God! This is an awful place terrible enough for us to have laboured here without the reward of priority…now for run home and desperate struggle. I wonder if we can make it.”
George Scott in his diary after being beaten by Amundsen in his race to South Pole by 35 days.
“I can not say – though I know it would sound much more effective – that the object of my life was attained- that would be romancing it rather too bare-facedly…The regions around the North Pole – well, yes, the North Pole itself – had attracted me from childhood, and here I was standing at the South Pole. Can anything more topsy-turvy be imagined?”
Amundsen, on being the first man to reach South Pole
The ship started sailing on midnight of 9th and 10th March. Earlier the plan was to follow the Chinese ship, an icebreaker, which was starting today at 10 am. She would have helped our ship in negotiating the pack ice. However the crew decided to go ahead and take advantage of starting 12 hours ahead of her. After 6 hrs, we started having sea freezing in different stages of ice formation. By noon time, the pack ice was getting thicker and closer. At 2 pm she was crawling at 2-3 km per hour. And then, at 2:30 pm, it just stopped! The pack ice was 1-2 meter thick above sea surface, it must have been thicker below. She must have been stranded like this for 30 min, and just when I was getting ready in my mind for another story that she started inching forward.
So now we have started from LatLong of 69 degrees South, 76 degrees East and we are heading towards 23 degrees North (Tropic of Cancer) and 80 degrees East. In the evening at 7 pm local time, our position was 66 degrees South, 80 degrees East (66 degrees 20 min 11 sec South and 80 degrees 23 min 5 sec East, to be precise). The daily movement of the ship is posted on the NCAOR website: www.ncaor.org
Originally meant to be posted March 9th:
Can you imagine a life of four months without having seen any ant, insect, fly or mosquito? Well, that’s what it was like till a couple of days ago for me in Antarctica. I had not seen any such creature since I put my feet on this continent on the 15th November, 2007. It was a funny and pleasant feeling living at Maitri where I could leave any food item or my cup of tea uncovered without the fear of flies swarming over it. Whenever and wherever I was wandering during my stay at Maitri and saw a lake or a puddle, I usually thought of seeing larvae, insects or fish well aware that I would not see any such thing.
Finally, I saw my first insect in Antarctica, the only arthropod (insects are called arthropods in classification) found in Antarctica. This insect lives in lake (perhaps on the ground also), and I saw it in the frozen lake. The lakes here at Larsemann Hills have frozen by now and this particular lake was frozen like transparent ice. There are some scientists with us working on lakes. They had found it and we were all excited. I was never so impatient in my life to see an insect. When I went to that island a couple of days ago, that was the first thing I wanted to see. RP took me there. To be able to see an insect below the frozen ice was not easy. I had to walk on the frozen lake to reach a spot where ice was transparent and then lie prostrate. I had to train my eyes hard to see the moving objects in water below the frozen ice. In the process I froze the tip of my nose.