giant icebergs and fluff
Looking out of my kitchen window, I can see a lot of ice in the water. On a daily basis, the nature of the ice varies. After a cold, still, night, there is a thin sheet of grease ice coating the surface of the bay. Add a bit of a breeze, and the sheet breaks up into irregular shapes that rub up against on another and form pancakes, with frilly edges.
There is another, much more menacing type of ice out there, though, and we have been visited on and off by it since we arrived, and it is in the form of a massive tabular ice berg. By massive, I mean both large in area, and large in mass, to be clear. In the bay to the north of where I am sat typing, and all around the inlet to said bay, float a large number of small bergs and bergy bits - by small I mean less than 200m across. They are all the product of a quite large berg that has recently broken up. By quite large I mean about 15 miles in diameter. The distance from my home to the centre of Hull. Central London, more or less. Covered with one large piece of glacial ice, calved from an even more massive, floating ice shelf that itself is the product of possibly dozens of glaciers, that pour ice down from the polar plateau to the coast.
The really large bergs ( 15 miles is not really large ) are more than impressive. On the wall of the bar here at King Edward Point, is a satellite photograph of South Georgia, the island I am sat on at present. The island is roughly 90 miles long, and it can be clearly seen on the image. Alongside it is is an iceberg approximately as long and twice as wide - perhaps 80 miles by 50. A second photograph shows it split in two. Guessing that would have been a big noise.
Once these icebergs begin to break down, they often split up and ground themselves, catching their base on rocks. As the sea inevitably melts them from the underneath, they become top heavy and topple over, or collapse explosively which is fun to watch, but not to be near in a little boat.
Several years ago, while here on South Georgia crewing on a yacht, I was fortunate to find myself sat on the roof of its wheelhouse, perhaps 150 metres from the front of the Neuymeyer glacier - I think it is the second largest on this island. A few km across, any way, and a couple of hundred feet high above the water. As we sat, eagerly hoping for bits to fall off, so the film crew could do their bit, a piece of ice a hundred or two feet high emerged from beneath us, soared to its full height, and collapsed back on itself into the water. A sobering lesson, that.
A day or so later, a couple of us from that particular yacht jumped off for a walk at Carlita Bay, just to the west of the glacial front. I seem to remember that the film crew were off flying with the navy. We walked through a splendid, low and wide glacial valley - the Olsen. Its floor was pure bog, covered with rivulets dug into ten or twenty thousand year old moss banks. Walking higher up the valley, to the west in fact, we crossed into a large bay at Husvik, home to a small and fascinating collection of buildings, wrecks and former whaling activity. The manager's villa, a two story wooden affair - handsomely proportioned - is now home to our small outfit of rat killers and ne'er do wells. It is a lovely place to be - with good walks in almost every direction.
In addition to our villa, we have a series of tents and out buildings, so that we have rather spread out to take advantage of the space. I am not sure how long we will still be here for - it depends largely on the weather and when we get our rat killing finished. Our little hut there would fit a thousand, and more, times onto one of those massive icebergs, but even though it is small, our home is our home, and the people there - the team of which I am part - is as close to me now as any group of friends anywhere in the great big world out there. Gerard