The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Day 6 – Summary of today’s work

Posted by Greg - 2 December 2013

Today we now know why this area is referred to as the roaring forties! This morning we weighed two anchors in the North Arm of Carnley Harbour. Sheltered from the worst of the gusting wind we waited out the worst of it on from the safety of the Shokalskiy in the bay. However there was planet to keep us occupied! We successfully deployed the gravity core into the fjord like harbour and collected 26cm of sediment from the ocean floor. Within this layer we found a number of interesting life forms and with any luck, evidence of previous glaciations and vegetation cover.

By the afternoon the weather had cleared enough for a number of parties to head landwards to make the most of our final day in the Aukland Islands!

There now follows a summary of some of the very exciting activities that the teams got up to at their individual locations:

  • The glacial history team hopped a quick zodiac ride to Emergency Bay where there had been rumoured to be a clear sequence of glacial moraine deposits that were mentioned in the 1940s. With a degree of scepticism the team set off up the beach. They were pleased to find a large moraine situated right down to the beach that was resting directly on the basalt bed rock with a large peat soil layer and habitat of Rata forest above. No evidence of striations or direction of glacial flow, however, it is likely that its origins are the impressive cirque glacier up valley of the deposit.
  • The peat coring group had a whirlwind visit to the ridge above Tagua Bay. After following a nice path initially, they found themselves bashing through Rata… again. With only 1 hour to take the cores, they formed an assembly line and powered through 3 metres of peat with industrial efficiency. On the way back to the zodiac, they came across a baby elephant seal snoozing on the rocky beach. He seemed content to yawn and watch us launch, then continue sleeping.


  • The bird-spotting team managed to get to Figure of Eight Island once the wind gusts had weakened. The island was last surveyed by Kerry-Jayne in 1972, when it was the third largest colony of sea lions. Surprisingly, the team spotted only 5 sea lions, with no apparent breeding activity. On the other hand, bird activity was higher than expected. Three new nesting records were established for that island: skuas, white-headed petrels and sooty shearwaters were formally identified as species breeding there.
  • In consideration of the infamous westerly winds much of the day consisted of walking up and down the boat taking in all the exciting on-boat research activities. It was not until after lunch that the team disembarked onto the choppy seas in search on an abundance of marine life, this was to no avail. Though, across the way we were privileged to a site of shear majestic beauty; a 8m Great Southern Right whale. It was only two hours at sea but an amazing two hours filled with penguins, seals and the Whale of course.
  • A small group of shot off for a 15 km wild ride around the headland and up to Figure-of-Eight Island, a very small patch of land that at most would only be ~200 m2, and with the couple of hours that they had there, they managed to cover it thoroughly. From their brief trip, they ascertained that what was a seal colony in 1972, is now only sparsely populated by sea lions. Also observed were two breeding pairs of skua, three white-headed petrels and a sooty shearwater after an examination of several burrows with a special video camera. From a geological viewpoint, Charles Flemming, in his time as a coastwatcher during WWII, described the island as a glacial moraine, which it most certainly is not! It is in fact, composed of in situ basaltic lava flows, with no sedimentary or geomorphological evidence of glacial activity on Figure-of-Eight Island itself. This team did notice however, that the surrounding Adam Island and the main Auckland Island display convincing evidence of glaciations in this part of the harbour.

We hope you enjoyed this summary of today’s work. Today we head father south through rough seas to Campbell Island!