Safety Tips in Antarctica

  • Warnings and Dangers
    by XenoHumph
  • Echelon crevasse on the polar cap, Antarctica
    Echelon crevasse on the polar cap,...
    by XenoHumph
  • Oops, that was close! Crevasse on Ascent glacier.
    Oops, that was close! Crevasse on Ascent...
    by XenoHumph

Most Viewed Warnings and Dangers in Antarctica

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    The weather 2: katabatic winds.

    by XenoHumph Updated Feb 9, 2013

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    Picture: Katabatic winds at Miller Range camp Antarctica. By the way, it is the midnight sun you see in this picture, on 2011-2012 New Year's Eve! That's me in the picture and my tent mate almost froze her fingers to take this picture.

    The most famous nasty weather of Antarctica comes from the katabatic winds which are cold (very cold) winds rushing down from the polar plateau towards the North. Wind conditions decrease the temperature significantly for one thing (from -10ºC to -20º or less very quickly). These winds also pick up the snow on the ground and blast it against anything including you, very unpleasant. Katabatic winds can reach speeds above 300 km/h! The eerie thing about these windy days is that the nasty conditions are only close to the ground. Above, you can generally see beautiful blue sky and a bright sun! We avoided as much as possible to work outside in windy conditions. Some days they were so severe that we stayed 3 to 4 days in a row in the tents waiting it out.

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    Crevasses

    by XenoHumph Updated Feb 9, 2013

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    Crevasses are a constant danger when you are on the ice, whether on a glacier or the polar cap. The ice is in constant movement, flowing down toward the sea surrounding the continent and this causes strain and makes the ice break. Crevasses come in all shapes, mostly elongate. They are sometimes hard to see when the ice is covered by snow. You may not see the crevasse until you have broken the snow bridge that covered it! When the ice is bare of snow it is easier to see because the crevasse are generally full of snow (and sometimes small rocks) in contrast to the blue of the old ice.

    Anyway, follow your mountain guide, he knows where to go! Best is to have an ice pick to test the ice in front of you when you walk about. And when on skidoo, always cross the crevasse perpendicularly!

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    • Hiking and Walking
    • Mountain Climbing

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    The weather 1: white out!

    by XenoHumph Updated Jan 21, 2013

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    Picture: Skidoos in looming white-out conditions Antarctica

    The weather is every day's talk in Antarctica! Thing is, it can be deadly. The photo shows you 7 skidoos of my team expedition in a "white out" coming on. That is snow/fog comes in and suddenly you cannot distinguish sky from ground. Actually, when it is full on, you cannot see anything at all, and cannot distinguish anything on the ground. Some of my most spectacular falls occurred during white-outs at camp, just walking from one tent to another in terrain I thought I was very familiar with, but apparently not! Needless to say, during white-outs, you stay in your tent and wait it out. And you try not to be caught in one in the middle of nowhere.

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    public rooms

    by globetrott Updated Jul 31, 2012

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    Another big disadvantage against other Antarctic ships is the fact that public rooms are quite small and there are only a few of them for all of the crew and passengers.
    My pics 1-3: this is the lounge, where all meals are held, but it is also the only place to show a movie : the black spot in the middle of my pic is the TV-set.
    that small table on the left is for the breakfast&lunch-buffet, on the small green seats there will be dishes places, so only a single person can help himself, so it takes a long time for everybody to queue up.
    narrow tables for 6-8 people and most of them have to stand up, whenever someone wants to go to the buffet...
    My 4th & 5th pic: the deckshouse with 6 large tables for a total of 48 passangers !

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    in case of an emergency onboard the bark Europa

    by globetrott Updated Jul 31, 2012

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    In case of an emergency,there are several life-rafts onboard, they will inflate automatically as soon as they touch the water and there is a small boat as well for maybe 15 people maximum plus the 2 Zodiaks that were also used for taking us ashore in Antarctica. Everybody has a life-vest and a neopren-suit in his cabin, so you will not freeze in case that you have to leave the ship.
    A crewmember showed us how to take it on and that looked quite funny. On a real cruiseship jumping into the water is a lot more dangerous than from such a small ship,where you will have the waterlevel just about 1,5 meters below the main deck.
    In my last picture : see the package with the life-vest and neopren-suit on top of my berth.

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    sailing-watches

    by globetrott Updated Jul 31, 2012

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    "Playing Seamen" was done in an organized way, whenever we had several days at sea, like the first 3 days of our cruise, when cruising through the Drake Passage and on the way back. Our passengers were divided in 3 groups and we had different periods of "watches" in a system of 4 hours watching followed by 8 hour free time. There were always 2 people eighter on the watch-out in front of the ship or holding the course of the ship on the big, traditional stirring-wheel, and the rest of the group was on stand-by. In addition there was one of the professional sailors on the watch as well, he would have gotten an alarm, in case that the given course was not followed by us.
    -----------------------------------
    b.t.w.When booking onboard of the Bark Europa you will not get a ticket as a passanger, but instead as a "Sailing-trainee", in my opinion this is mainly a trick to avoid to be forced to have a doctor onboard, because normally all ships with more tha 12 passangers will need to have a doctor onboard !

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    Tiny, oldfashioned cabins of the Bark Europa

    by globetrott Updated Jul 31, 2012

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    I expected a "romantic" cabin in such an old ship, but in fact these passenger-cabins were a lot worse than the ones we had as crew-cabins onboard of the cruiseship "M/S Vistafjord", here I was working for 4 more than years :
    No chair, no table, just a tiny wardrobe that was rather a box. 5 such boxes in total for 6 berths plus one single "hanging-box" for all of us at the same time and it was
    just 30 cm wide, that was really rídiculous !!!
    6 hooks - a single hook for each of us, partly at places, where you could hardly hang anything except maybe wet gloves
    Absolutely no place for your suitcases, I had some of it at my legs inside the berth, the rest of our suitcases we had stored in the 6th berth that luckily was not occupied on this cruise with just 34 passengers instead of a possible capacity of 48.
    The first cruise in November is mostly not fully booked, but all other cruises of 2008/09 were fully booked since a long time, and that means, that also the 6th berth will be occupied then...
    In my pic : this is the wardrobe for all of us : about 170 cm high and 80 cm wide, 5 "small boxes", one for each of us and a sharing box to hang our clothes...

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    Sea-sickness

    by globetrott Updated Jul 31, 2012

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    Sea-sickness is of course a major problem, mainly in the "Drake Passage", but on a tiny ship like the "Bark Europa" it is certainly a lot worse than onboard of an ordinary cruiseship.
    Also the fact that there was no table or chair in our cabin added a lot to this problem, because the only way to get dressed was standing, or rather tumbling from one side of the cabin to the other, while taking on your socks etc...
    Our ship needed 3,5 days to cross the Drake-passage to the Antarctic and 6 days we needed from Port Lockry to Ushuaia on our way back. Take a look at the itinerary of other ships, they mostly need not even half of that time, and every day in the Drake-passage is a potential day of sea-sickness, at least onboard of smaller ships !

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    Dutch kitchen onboard of the "Bark Europa"

    by globetrott Updated Jul 31, 2012

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    The meals onboard were totally different from other cruise-ships: You might feel like beeing on a vacation with the whole family, the food was nutricous and somehow quite "basic" in the best sense of the word.
    Breakfast : white and grey bread,3 different kinds of cheese, 1 kind of sausage, ham and smoked ham, butter and 2 kinds of jam. A single toaster for everyone and a brown toast prepared with that slow machine needed about 10 minutes.
    Breakfast was set up at 2 places and at each of these places not more than 1 person could serve him/herself. Every morning there was also a special dish for breakfast like ham and eggs, prepared in small portions, or maybe a sweet bread with cinnamon etc.
    breakfast is held at the galley, there are 3 long tables where the person on the right and left has to stand up, whenever somebodys else wants to sit at the same table, that was really annoying!

    Lunch : The same coldcuts as for breakfast, plus a soup and another hot dish served again as a selfservice-buffet

    Dinner: you have to queue up at the kitchen to get your dish with the maincourse, there is no soup with it, but after some time a desert will be served at the table.
    Vegetarian meals are available, but you obviously have to order them in advance for the whole cruise.
    NO menu to choose from, no alternative to get some other food,in case that you dont like what is beeing served, except that you bring it onboard by yourself.

    In addition to the meals there was hot tea and coffee available almost all the time, you just had to help your self with the large jugs in the lounge. At the meals there was water, milk or juice as well on display and without charge.
    When coming home from wet excursions we often had a hot soup or hot chocolate as well served in the lounge.
    The crew was really always friendly and helpful, they ate the same meals with us in the lounge and the person who was driving the Zodiak in the afternoon might serve you the desert in the evening or set up the buffet.
    It was all like in "a big family"

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    choose your berth carefully

    by globetrott Updated Jul 31, 2012

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    Try to be the first in your cabin and Choose your berth carefully.
    Onboard of the old, romantic sailing-vessel "Bark Europa" I had my berth in a 6-berth-cabin and unfortunately the best berths had been occupied already and I only got one on the outside of the cabin, along the ships-hull, where I could feel the icy-cold water through the thin skin of the ship.
    There also was some condensation at some places, because of the warmer cabin not having been isolated enough against the ships-hull. This was extremely bad in the Antarctic while it was very cold outside, the closer we got back towards the Drake-passage the better the situation became.
    In my pic : that is me lying on the back in my berth, the isolation-matress on the right, but it covers only half of the berth that touches the outside-hull of the ship, the red safety-box fixed on top of the berth and above my feet

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    bring enough clothings

    by globetrott Updated Jul 31, 2012

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    Bring enough clothings, so you are able to change easily when getting wet.
    Many times in my cruise there were different excursions 2 or even 3 times a day, and every time we got wet eighter by the weather-conditions or by the transfers in the small zodiaks,when we had to drive over a large wave and were spread by seawater all over.
    The best place to dry your clothes is in the engine-room, in front of the ship, but there is never enough place for all of the wet clothings of all passengers, and we even had been only 34 passengers instead of the possible full capacity of 48 passengers.

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    Leopard Seals

    by globetrott Updated Jul 31, 2012

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    Leopardseals will mostly be hunting penguins in the same shallow waters, where also the best and mostly the only places are found in order to land the zodiaks safely. In some cases these seals came close to the zodiaks, they were partly jumping inside of them and bite or attacked people in the zodiaks.
    I am glad that this never happened in our trip, but we had met sealopards 2 times ( Almirante Brown and Port Lockroy) that way and I could see the reaction of our zodiak-drivers, who had always mastered any danger in a cool way, but when such a Leopard-seal was around, they always carefully watched it and were always "on the jump" to any better place inside of the zodiak than the exposed place at the end, where these seals sometimes are attacking the people in the Zodiaks.

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    • Eco-Tourism
    • Beaches

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    Skuas - flying skunks with attitude

    by 850prc Updated Apr 24, 2011

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    The ship's birding expert, Cece Ratto, summed it up this way...

    "I hate skuas, they are awful awful birds. Nasty, unfriendly. They are awful."

    OK, I'm sure that mother skuas love their little skuas, but these birds are not really popular among both other birds and humans in the area. Some call them flying skunks because they will literally bomb you with a horribly smelly defecation if you do something to anger them - such as getting too close to their nests. They'll dive bomb you and peck the daylights out of you, too. And sometimes, like some horrible Hitchcockian flashback, they'll fly right at your face with their claws outstretched. They do the same thing to any unfortunate penguin who gets anywhere around their nests as well.

    Biologically, these birds are closely related to other members of the gull family. And in more scientific terms, their behavior is referred to as "fiercely territorial". Emphasis on FIERCELY.

    But awful? Gee, that's kind of tough. Maybe they are avian versions of "helicopter parents".

    We took Cece at her word and generally stayed the hell away from these little lovebirds. The photos below were most definitely taken with telephoto lenses.

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    Glacial calving could cause a mini-tsunami

    by 850prc Updated Apr 23, 2011

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    Calving is the word to describe large pieces of a glacier falling into adjacent water. It makes a monument sounds.... increased creaking, like the hold of an ancient ship, followed by what sounds like thunder's roar, and finally a huge splash into the water. It's incredible, a true show of nature's power, but can also be very dangerous.

    IF the glacial "calf" is large enough and the body of water that it falls into is small and pretty much surrounded by shoreline, a mini-tsumani can actually happen. At one point on our journey, this was pointed out to us with a severe warning. We were told that IF we chose to explore a particular shore area and IF we heard or saw a large chunk of glacier fall into the small sound on the other shore, then we should RUN not walk as high up onto the hill/slope beside the shore as possible. We were told that waves of 25-35 feet suddenly hitting the shore after such an occurrence were not at all uncommon, and anyone ON the beach at that point risked being swept into quite frigid waters.

    A lot of folks did go ahead and walk the shoreline. As for us, we decided the view from a hill overlooking the shore was more to our liking.

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    X-rated icebergs

    by 850prc Updated Apr 23, 2011

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    With literally thousands of icebergs to see, there is a huge variety of shapes and sizes. And inevitably, just really by luck of the draw, some of them might just end up looking "like something or someone". The "like something" icebergs are especially entertaining when they might be a little bit x-rated. I can guarantee you that the zodiac drivers, madmen that they are, will make a beeline taking you to some questionable content icebergs if they know about them.

    As for the one below, yes... we all knew what it looked like. Fun, huh?

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Antarctica Warnings and Dangers

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