The wind was howling as we approached the east side of Deception Island this morning. What looked like a long, unbroken coastline was, upon closer inspection, broken for only a couple hundred meters, enough to let ships like ours (and many before) into its protected harbor.
Once within the flooded caldera of Deception Island, the wind abated. The light took on a rich blue tone, like an emerging bruise on alabaster skin. West and north we went, into the recently beating heart of this flooded volcanic caldera.
Deception Island, as we see it today, began its transformation 10,000 years ago when this volcano blew its top. Over the past five decades, it has gone through fits and starts of activity, from earthquakes to smaller yet powerful eruptions that emanate from the part of the island we visited today. We walked on and around the remains of numerous, small eruptive vents throughout the morning, marveling at the stark landscape of glacial ice edging up to dark volcanic ash and small, Mt. Fuji-shaped cinder cones.
Looking down into the crater floor of these eruptive vents is not so different from looking at a black sand beach. It’s the geologic power that looms in the imagination that makes the difference. This “black sand beach,” however, is laced with meltwater streams coming from the glaciers that edge up to the numerous volcanic cones in the area.
From Deception Island, we steamed east to Half Moon Island for our first look at chinstrap penguins on the voyage. While the colony is making moves to break up soon, there were still plenty of molting penguins and a few chicks with random patches of remaining down lingering around the colony.
Another penguin breeding season is coming to a close, as is another Antarctic season for those of us who, like the Arctic terns, migrate from the Arctic to the Antarctic every year. As we pulled away from Half Moon Island, we were saying goodbye to Antarctica until November comes around again. It has been another great season, and today was a memorable culmination to an epic Antarctic expedition!