The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Day 8 – Fog and science at Campbell Island

Posted by Umberto - 4 December 2013

Campbell Island

After spending the night anchored safely in Perseverance Harbour in southern Campbell Island the entire group landed at the old meteorological station just to the east of Tucker Cove. From there we proceeded climbed a boardwalk path just to the east of Beeman Hill up to Mt. Lyall near the middle of the island. Our original plan was for the whole group to head to the summit and then split into different science teams; the geomorphology and terrestrial ecologists would head north and drop down into the valley above Northeast Harbour, while the bird watchers would return to the Shokalskiy. The ship would then leave Perseverance Harbour and head north to Northeast harbour to pick everyone up. Unfortunately, as we climbed higher and higher towards Mt. Lyall, Campbell Island’s infamous weather disrupted our plans. The island has some of the cloudiest weather in the whole New Zealand subantarctic region, with some type of precipitation falling 325 days of the year. Visibility at the summit was ~30 meters or so, making hiking in general, let alone mapping, nearly impossible.  Even what would have been an epic Google Hangout near the summit had to be postponed and carried out at a lower elevation.

That is not to say that the hike wasn’t enjoyable in its own right; we saw about 15 nesting Southern Royal Albatross, sometimes quite close up. It is easy to forget just how large these birds are when viewing them from the deck of ship out at sea. Seeing them up close amongst the scrub is quite impressive. There were also some memorable sea lion encounters down by the shore. Before heading back to the ship some of us were also fortunate enough to cruise around Tucker Cove and Garden Cove, catching a glimpse of “the loneliest tree in the world”, a sitka spruce planted as a memorial in the early 1900s. It was pretty special to see the most southerly tree on the planet.

Once everyone was back on board the ship we spent a few more hours in Perseverance Harbour doing multi-beam tracks back and forth to map the seafloor. Interestingly it appears that two moraine-like features on either side of the harbour continue on the sea floor, suggesting that they are indeed glacial in origin.  The marine ecologists also managed to survey a great deal of the bay, beginning with the entrance and continuing up to the inner reaches of the harbour.

The wildlife of North East Harbour

The wildlife of North East Harbour

From there it was time to turn north, Perseverance being our “furthest South” for this first leg of the expedition. For the evening we anchored just north of Smoothwater Bay, and after a quick dinner made good use of the ~10:30pm sunset by exploring Northeast Harbour. Some groups simply spent the twilight cruising around the bay, enjoying the company of numerous sea lions, the odd penguin or two, and even a Campbell Island teal. Kerry-Jayne and her team surveyed majestic Cossack Rock and then discovered an important breeding colony of sea lions with a territorial male surrounded by several females and pups. Also a young elephant seal was spotted at the very end of the bay.

Meanwhile, some of the terrestrial ecologists landed at the head of the fjord to core some hardy dracophyllum trees and investigate paleo-treeline. A small and enthusiastic team took a quick evening hike uphill to look for sub-fossil wood that would support anecdotal evidence of higher tree line in the past. Wood was found at 275m that may provide the evidence that the team was looking for (above the current treeline of 220m). On the way the group was treated to spectacular views, which also assisted in our glacial geomorphological understanding of the valley and bay. As the final team descended from the mountain they were in high spirits. Arriving back at the Shokalskiy after 10pm they were glad to have made the final push to collect the last bits of data from the Campbell islands. It was an excellent end to our stay there.

Next stop Snares Island!

- The Blog Team