Having a go at recording glacier calving in Drygalski Fjord – unfortunately the wind was too fierce this day! © AHT/Anna Clare
Peregrin Hyde was one of 22 young New Zealanders who travelled with the Trust to South Georgia in October 2023 for our ninth Inspiring Explorers Expedition™ to honour the centenary year of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s final expedition, the ‘Quest’.
Before we saw South Georgia, we saw mountains of ice floating on the Scotia Sea. The term “berg” in some North-European languages means “mountain”. There is no exaggeration in the term “iceberg”. These are truly mountains of ice.
Much of the crew of the Magellan Explorer did not expect to see icebergs on our voyage, as far north from the frozen continent as we were. But during our twelve days cruising around the northern coast of South Georgia, we saw thousands.
Being in the presence of these giants was humbling. During our cruise into Drygalski Fjord, they towered above us like skyscrapers, their glassy facades bursting with vibrant flashes of exceptional blues and greens. Some were smooth and rounded, suggesting that perhaps they’d become top-heavy and rolled in a thunderous cataclysm. Others were bizarre and surreal twisting spires which, on the contrary, seemed oblivious to gravity. For every berg, I found it difficult to imagine the proverbial immensity lying beneath the water – but it was surely there.
Of course, it turned out that very little in and around the majestic island of South Georgia can be described as “very little”. During our expedition, we were among towering peaks, immense glaciers, vast penguin rookeries, scores of lumbering elephant seals. The wildlife was gathered in numbers I thought I’d never see. The dramas of life played out before us, from birth to death and all the cacophony in between.
And what a cacophony it was! Fortunately, I came equipped to capture it. On the eve of my departure, my dear friend Jed was so kind as to deliver a custom-built parabolic microphone to me, which he’d 3D printed that day. It worked a charm, and during the expedition I was able to collect hours of fascinating audio clips – the sounds of South Georgia!
Have a listen:
Elephant seals protest as a line of penguin’s march through them.
© AHT/Peregrin Hyde.
King penguin colony at Right Whale Bay. © AHT/Peregrin Hyde.
King penguin footsteps and tailwag on snow. © AHT/Peregrin Hyde.
In the words of our friend and accomplished climber Lydia Brady, South Georgia is “BIG nature”. As a member of the Inspiring Explorers visual arts team who works with themes of scale, this bigness was somewhat convenient. As a visual artist who primarily uses microscopes however, it also proved to be a bit of a challenge. I was surrounded by enormous things, but my microscope lens could only show me the “very little”. So I found myself drawn to capturing imagery of what I believed to be the biggest of all deals for this enormously precious part of the world: ancient ice melting at pace.
I really have to thank the wonderful Antarctica 21 Expedition crew for their enthusiasm (and patience!) with this endeavour. If I spotted an ice floe in the frigid waters, they’d swing the zodiac around and I’d plunge my bare hands upon it only to discover it was, of course, far larger than it initially appeared. After hauling it aboard, Sasha Cheng, a member of the Inspiring Explorers climbing team, lent me an ice axe and I got to work smacking it down to size for imaging and filming under the microscope. (A shout out here to Reggie of the Antarctica 21 hotel crew, our room quite often resembled a mad lab, but he kept it feeling like such a home). As a result, I was able to collect hours of footage of ice melting, and many striking images to boot. Here’s a little sneak-peek of one of my microscopic images. Stay tuned on the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s platforms to keep informed about the visual arts team’s exhibition later this year, which will feature my best images.
Ice, a microscopic view. © AHT/Peregrin Hyde.
Among the seemingly endless unmatched experiences South Georgia had for us, there is something quite simple that I’m rather thankful for now: a point of reference for scale in the following image:
© European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-3 imagery.
This is a satellite image from March 2023. In the top right corner is South Georgia. As we have established, it is not very little.
For perspective, here is the same image with an approximately-scaled overlay of Te-Ika-a-Māui, New Zealand’s North Island in the middle of the image:
© European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-3 imagery.
In the bottom-left corner, floating like mountains don’t, is Iceberg A-76a. This iceberg is a fragment of a larger slab which calved off the Ronne Ice Shelf in 2021. It has been making its way north since then. In 2023, Iceberg A-76a was relatively unimpeded on its northward journey, which is why we saw so many icebergs. A-76a was their mothership. Sea ice – the vast plate of frozen water which effectively doubles Antarctica’s solid surface each winter and buttresses the movement of floating bergs, has seen a dramatic freefall in recent years. In 2023 it reached an anomalous and alarming low – the lowest recorded Antarctic sea-ice coverage since official record-keeping began.
All the humbling icebergs which greeted us as we arrived and surrounded us en-masse as we navigated South Georgia’s northern coast, may as well have been cubes in a blue lagoon compared to Iceberg A-76a. And that mothership was itself only a fragment of a single Antarctic ice shelf. Antarctica is a vast wilderness of ice. I genuinely don’t believe that enough individuals – nor the societies of our planet when taken all together, are suitably conscious of just how vast it is, and the implications this has for our interconnected planet. Mountains of ice lack the patience of true mountains. Ice is not stone; ice is water. It is sensitive to change, as we should be. It moves, it rolls, fragments, collapses. It melts, and it does so on a scale that is difficult to grasp, even if you witness it yourself.
I’d get a bit sentimental if I were to delve deep into the surreal day-to-day of life aboard the Magellan Explorer, the wonderful people I shared this journey with and the aptitude and generosity of all those who made it possible. The truth is my words won’t be enough, but I must express that I will take the memories and lessons of our voyage as far as I can into the future, with the hope that others will always be able to follow in our footsteps, to continue to explore this epic and inspiring part of our world.