A sea of ice, at the very edge of the South Pole
Beyond the Antarctic Peninsula, sailing through the icy, pristine white expanses of the Weddell Sea is a true privilege. Incredible wildlife, breathtaking panoramas, and a vast polar landscape… People are only passing guests in this extreme environment. Commander David Marionneau, a specialist in polar navigation, shares his fascination with this intriguing region of Antarctica.
How is the Weddell Sea different from the Antarctic Peninsula?
When you arrive in the Weddell Sea, you’ll be stunned by the breathtaking panoramas. You will pass from a landscape full of tall, sheer mountains along a peninsula, to a horizon that stretches almost endlessly towards the south. The west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula enjoys a milder climate because it is more sheltered than the Weddell Sea, which is exposed to freezing winds from the South Pole. As it’s covered with ice most of the year, navigation here is much more challenging and depends heavily on the weather and ice conditions.
What sort of wildlife will guests be able to see on an expedition in the Weddell Sea?
The Weddell Sea is home to amazing wildlife. Colonies of Adelie Penguins can be found on Paulet Island, near the entrance of the Antarctic Sound or further south, on the ancient volcano of Devil Island. Navigation among the ice flows allows to spot Weddell seals and crabeater seals sleeping on the ice. But one of the most fantastic experiences occurs where one can witness killer whales or leopard seals hunting.
What has been one of your most memorable experience?
A few years ago, the ship was stopped at the end of a calm day in the Weddell Sea, so our guests could enjoy the unique silence of Antarctica and the incredible view of ice flows gently drifting. I said to our expedition leader: “I think I saw something moving in the water on port side…” and then a blue whale appears from nowhere! We were all just blown away, looking at this magnificent cetacean.
What is an interesting fact about the Weddell Sea?
The Weddell Gyre is the largest cyclonic flowing gyre south of the circumpolar current. Due to its very specific environment, it is one of the most important elements in the regulation of our climate. The joined effects of the current, salinity, large ice cover and wind provide one of the largest cooling and oxygenating effects of the world ocean.
The Weddell Sea is also an area bordered by monumental ice shelves like Larsen’s, filled with gigantic tabular icebergs. Their movements are being studied so we can better understand the impact of climate change.
The Swedish explorer Otto Nordenskjöld
- The first explorer to winter on Snow Hill Island in 1902.
- He spent two years there because the ship that was supposed to rescue him got crushed by the ice
- He made incredible discoveries such as fossils of giant, extinct penguins.
- His hut is still intact
Photo credits: © iStock ; ©StudioPONANT/Olivier Blaud ; ©StudioPONANT/Sylvain Adenot