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Nov 16 - South Georgia and King Edward Point

And so from Signy the James Clark Ross headed north to the British Antarctic Survey base of King Edward Point at South Georgia. We last left the diary on the 9th November when we eventually hit open seas after a few problems with the ice around the South Orkneys. Once hitting open water science work was to start at last . The swath was turned on, the magnetometer deployed over the stern of the ship and the first batch of science for the season was commenced.

First View of King Edward Point in High Winds From Cumberland Bay
First View of King Edward Point in High Winds From Cumberland Bay

The JCR continued north-east in moderate seas until finally arriving in Cumberland Bay early afternoon on 11th November. Conditions really weren't favourable for berthing, and after a few hours of waiting for the wind to drop, swathing as we did, the decision was made to anchor up off Hobart Rock, a task completed by 18.00. Overnight the wind eased, giving perfect conditions to head in to berth at the jetty at King Edward Point where base members were waiting to make the ship all fast. And so was to start the long and arduous task of off-loading two days' of ships cargo on to shore.

The View of KEP and Grytviken from Brown Mountain
The View of KEP and Grytviken from Brown Mountain
(Photo by Tom Elliott)

For many on board the two days at King Edward Point were a perfect chance to explore around the BAS base that is called home by other members of staff. The number of things to see there is simply legion, and two days really is not enough to give justice to such a beautiful place, rich in wildlife and history, and all set to a panoramic, rugged backdrop. Some individuals were content to spend hours watching the wildlife within just yards of the ship, whilst to others the historical interest was greater than could be discussed in this one page.

The View down on the JCR and the whole of KEP from Hodges
The View down on the JCR and the whole of KEP from Hodges

An obvious site, visible long before getting into KEP, is the cemetary next to the old whaling station of Grytviken, famous as the last resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton. He died of a heart attack in 1922 whilst on his own ship, The Quest, just out in the Bay. Shackleton's headstone is the centrepoint of the cemetary, though it contains countless other graves mainly of Whalers and Sealers dating from 1836 to the most recent, that of an Argentine submariner, Felix Artuso, from 1982.

The Grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton
The Grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton

The JCR seen from accross the bay at Grytviken
The JCR seen from accross the bay at Grytviken

Another place to visit was the church at Grytviken, initially sited in Strommen in Norway prior to being donated to the whaling station so many miles away. After being dismantled for transport it was re-erected in 1913, with the bells, cast in Tonsberg, Norway, first ringing out over South Georgia at midnight on Christmas Eve the same year. Through the nineties the church has been lovingly restored by Tim Carr, making it a most enchanting place to visit.

Grytviken Church with Hodges Peak in the Background
Grytviken Church with Hodges Peak in the Background

Bull Elephant Seal on the Beach Next to Base
Bull Elephant Seal on the Beach Next to Base

Weener Elephant Seal
Weener Elephant Seal

Wildlife wise, the first thing that was obvious to all on arrival was the shear number of Elephant Seals that were quite literally everywhere on the beach surrounding King Edward Point. Many of the weeners (pups, now abandonned by their mothers) had taken up residence in the small area next to the jetty, while large adult males lay strewn, apparently lifeless, intermixed with the smaller females all around the point. Interspersed with these mighty animals were the odd moulting King penguin and the more than occasional immature Fur Seal, itching for a way to show off its apparent dominance!! Care needed to be taken with these 'young showoffs' as even the smallest of nips could get nastily infected.

King Penguin
King Penguin

Gentoo Penguin
Gentoo Penguin

After a second day of heavy work for both ship's crew and base members a hearty meal was enjoyed by all on board, including a number of guests from ashore. It was just before 20.00 when the few residents of KEP that had joined the ships company for the evening climbed down the rope ladder back ashore and waved the ship goodbye, even if only for about 10 days. It would be in about that period of time that the ship should be heading back to KEP, just for a flying visit, with construction workers brought back accross from Bird Island. In the meantime the Swath would be re-activated and the magnetometer re-deployed for some more surveying, prior to conditions abating enough to allow the relief of Bird Island.


The Science bit either side of King Edward Point
with Alex Tate

Bathymetry, Magnetics and a wee bit of sub-bottom profiling

The Geophysics Team on the JCR had been assigned 4 days to unravel the tectonic mysteries of the central Scotia Sea. We do this using a towed magnetometer (photo not supplied as it is presently 200m behind the ship doing its thing) to tell us the magnetic field strength, the swath bathymetry system to give us a detailed look at the seabed and Topas which lets us see the top few meters of sediment.

Magnetics
We continuously record the magnetic field and end up with a wiggle trace, which can be made more exciting when combined with lines from previous cruises. These data tells us the location of magnetic reversals zones which in turn tell us how and when tectonic plates have moved through geological time.

Swath Bathymetry
Wherever we go and in whatever conditions (nearly) we swath. This is a part of BASís long term mapping work and the resulting bathymetry maps can be used by many other scientific disciplines.

Topas
Topas enables us to see sedimentary structures beneath the seabed. This information is interesting in itself but it is also a very useful tool for finding locations to core (the soft sediments) or drill (bare rock with no sediment cover) in future cruises.

The geophysics set-up is highly complicated and needs a large dedicated team to keep things going. See how many you can spot.
The geophysics set-up is highly complicated and needs a large dedicated team to keep things going. See how many you can spot.