ALL ON BOARD: South African Robin A West, expedition leader of the Seabourn voyage to Antarctica in January this year
FORMER Ndlambe councillor, the globe-trotting Louise Swanepoel recounted her recent voyage to Antarctica to a meeting of the Forum for Astronomy, Science and Technology (Fast) at the Wharf Street Brew Pub’s underground cellar on Thursday.
Swanepoel joined the South African expedition aboard the Seabourn and the Quest which took place in January.
On boarding the two ships, the expedition made the dangerous crossing from Argentina, through the roaring 40s, the frightening 50s and screaming 60s in two days.
Thirty-four South Africans and 16 scientists were on board, Swanepoel said.
Over the loudspeaker their Scandinavian captain explained, as he circumnavigated a tabular iceberg, it had broken off the Ross ice shelf and drifted unusually far to the north.
“It was beautiful, full of icicles, arches into it and pools,” said Swanepoel.
Dressed like a yeti and wearing sealed gumboots, Swanepoel had to wash her feet in a foot bath before going on land.
“The ships are very respectful of the regulations,” she said.
No soil is allowed to be taken to Antarctica where food is cultivated hydroponically at the bases. Even sewerage is radiated, placed in containers and compressed to be taken home.
“Antarctica is pristine and unearthly,” said Swanepoel. “But the winds are a torment.”
Scientists have the technology to see through the ice to the topography below and found volcanic rocks only ever found in Kenya – evidence of the existence of a former supercontinent, known as Gondwanaland.
Antarctica is a desert and the snowfall freezes and never melts, so that it is believed to be 720 000 years old in places, said Swanepoel.
Snow accumulates and covers any structures so the American base at the South Pole, for example, is built on hydraulic stilts, she said.
The hole in the ozone layer is visible from the Antarctic during spring. “It is the canary in the coal mine,” Swanepoel said.
Large parts of Antarctica were claimed by Britain especially the islands, and are still administered to this day by the government of the Falklands, said Swanepoel.
The twenty-odd members of Fast were left with the words from the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.
Swanepoel’s next talk at Fast, which meets on the first Thursday of every month, will contain further fascinating facts about the flora and fauna of Antarctica.